new scotland yard
On 5th September, the Metropolitan Police released a series of pictures showing two men, named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, along with a timeline of their movements from 2nd March to 4th March 2018, and claimed that there was enough evidence to prosecute the pair in relation to the Salisbury incident, including conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal; attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey; use and possession of Novichok contrary to the Chemical Weapons Act; and causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey.

At first glance, the claims look plausible. The two men do indeed appear to have entered the country from Moscow on 2nd March, and to have then flown back to Moscow on 4th March. And during their stay, they seem to have travelled to Salisbury, on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th March.

However, there are a number of general observations that begin to cast doubts on the central claim that these men were in Salisbury on an assassination mission.
  • Firstly, there is the fact that they are seen operating in broad daylight.
  • Secondly, there is the fact that they are always seen together.
  • Thirdly, there is the fact that they make no attempt to hide their identities or cover their tracks.
  • Fourthly, there is the fact that they are alleged to have traipsed across town on foot to dispose of the poison, when they could have done so in numerous places between Mr Skripal's house and the train station.
  • And fifthly, there is the fact that they seem to have been remarkably casual and spent an awful lot of time hanging around Salisbury - even after their alleged hit.
Needless to say, all of these actions are not what one would normally expect from intelligence officers carrying out an assassination attempt.

But there are some more specific elements to the claims made by the Metropolitan Police, that raise a lot of questions. These are the central issues:
  1. The claim that the hotel room where the men apparently stayed was contaminated with "Novichok".
  2. The movements of the suspects between 13:08 and 13:50 on Sunday 4th March.
  3. The whereabouts of the Skripals between 12:15 and 13:30 on Sunday 4th March.
These are by no means the only issues that could be raised, but they are the ones where it seems that the Metropolitan Police needs to offer an explanation. I want to take each of these in turn, and then at the end of each section, I will ask five serious questions. My apologies for what is an overly long piece. Then again, in my defence it is an overly complex case.

The Hotel Room

At the press conference held on 5th September, Assistant Commissioner, Neil Basu, stated the following:
On 4th May 2018, tests were carried out in the hotel room where the suspects had stayed. A number of samples were tested at DSTL at Porton Down. Two swabs showed contamination of Novichok at levels below that which would cause concern for public health. A decision was made to take further samples from the room as a precautionary measure, including in the same areas originally tested, and all results came back negative. We believe the first process of taking swabs removed the contamination, so low were the traces of Novichok in the room.

Following these tests, experts deemed the room was safe and that it posed no risk to the public. In terms of those who stayed in the room between 4 March and 4 May; to-date, we have had no reports of any persons falling ill.
This is extremely strange. To my knowledge, there was no mention by the Metropolitan Police or the media of possible contamination of a hotel in London until Mr Basu's statement on 5th September, which was more than six months after the men stayed at the hotel. Of course, I realise that the police do not have a duty to provide a running commentary on their investigation, but where there is a potentially deadly chemical involved, apparently situated for two months in a hotel room, and possibly longer, they surely do have an obligation to inform the public. In fact, it would seem like negligence to fail to do this.

However, what makes it even odder is the remarks of the hotel owner, Silman Mir, in an interview with The Mail:
Silman Mir said police waited six months before telling him his hotel had been contaminated with 'low levels' of the nerve agent - when TV crews turned up on his doorstep yesterday. Mr Mir, 54, said detectives had been making regular visits to the 20-room City Stay Hotel 'for four months or more' without taking him into confidence. The businessman was reluctant to disclose what the police told him of their investigations, but said they gave him no details about the connection to the Salisbury attack. He said he had still not even been told which room the two killers stayed in for two nights in March.

Speaking exclusively to Mailonline inside the hotel he said: 'I didn't know anything about Salisbury until 10am yesterday when I saw television cameras outside when I arrived here.'

Mr Mir added: 'It was clearly an important matter and we were happy to help. But I had no idea what the reasons were. The detectives would come back over the months, but I cannot even tell you which room these men stayed in because the police haven't told us. They have checked the hotel thoroughly and have all the records. But until yesterday we didn't know.'
That is frankly astonishing. That the police failed to inform the hotel owner, both before and after 4th May, that his hotel had apparently been contaminated with a nerve agent, said to be 5-8 times more toxic than VX, is as extraordinary as it is disturbing. I cannot think of any reasonable explanation why the hotel owner was not told, and the whole episode raises a number of questions which the Metropolitan Police has a public duty to answer:
  1. When did you first know that the two men you have named as suspects stayed at the hotel?
  2. If you had reason to suspect that the building was contaminated, why was it not immediately cordoned off?
  3. Were the OPCW informed of the apparent discovery of a nerve agent at the hotel?
  4. Why was Mr Mir kept in the dark about your actions, and the apparent discovery of a deadly nerve agent in his hotel?
  5. How is it possible that Mr Mir does not know which room (room or rooms?) the men stayed in, and why has he not been told?

Comment: There's also the fact that Zizzi's was closed down and essentially quarantined as a 'precaution', even though there has been no indication that it was contaminated.

The Movements of the Suspects

The movements of the suspects, as shown by the various CCTV images released by the Metropolitan Police, are puzzling, to put it mildly. Whereas they have apparently been released in order to demonstrate the case against the two men as having carried out an assassination attempt at the home of Mr Skripal in Christie Miller Road, they do nothing of the sort. For a start with, Christie Miller Road is roughly North West of the station, and about a 20-something minutes walk. Yet two of the images, taken after the alleged assassination, show the men in the town about 5-10 minutes from the station in an East-Southeast direction. These movements are difficult to fit with the claim that they had just carried out an attempted assassination, and they raise yet more questions that Scotland Yard needs to answer.

But there is more. Here is a brief timeline of three particular images, with the images themselves underneath:
Image 6 - 13:05: Shows the two suspects on the bridge at Fisherton street, opposite The Mill Pub, and walking towards the train station, on the correct side of the road to reach the station. According to the overall timeline presented, this would have been almost an hour after they were at Mr Skripal's house.

Image 7 - 13:08: Shows the two suspects having crossed the road, and standing (or walking very slowly) at the entrance to Summerlock Approach. This is on the incorrect side of the road to reach the train station (i.e. having crossed the road, they would have to cross back over to get to the station).

Image 8 - 13:50:56: Shows the two suspects at the train station, with Boshirov having just gone through the turnstile, and Petrov about to do the same.
salisbury petrov cctv
As I pointed out in my last piece, this leaves a missing 42 minutes between Image 7 and Image 8, whereas the distance between the two places is walkable in under five minutes. What were they doing during that time, was the question I asked in that piece. This is an absolutely crucial question, especially since according to the official timeline, they had already carried out their hit on Mr Skripal's house, and could have got the next train back to London, which was at 13:27. Does this fit the profile of two professional assassins having just carried out their mission?

However, the 42 minute question was subsequently made even more confusing by the release of actual CCTV video from the Dauwalders stamp and coin shop on Fisherton Street. For context, this shop is positioned roughly halfway between the location of the two men in Image 6 and 7, on the same side of the road as Image 7. My initial reaction on seeing it was to assume that they had crossed the road after being on the bridge in Image 6 (there is a zebra crossing just after the bridge), with this footage of them being taken between those two images.

However, this is not so. Firstly, the order of the two men is different than the other two images. On Images 6 and 7, Petrov is walking to the left of Boshorov. In the Dauwalders footage, when they first start walking past, the order is reversed. As a general rule, guys walking along the road together do not tend to crisscross one another.

But far more crucial was the timestamp on the footage, which you can see here. These ranged from about 13:48 to 13:49.02. Now, there have been few certainties in this case, but here is one: it is absolutely impossible to get from Dauwalders to the train station and through the turnstiles on foot in 1 minute and 54 seconds, which is what the timestamp at Dauwalders and the Metropolitan Police timing of the men at the station suggests. It can be stated with absolute, 100%, cast iron certainty that one of those times is wrong.

All of which raises yet more questions which the Metropolitan Police have a public duty to answer, since they are the ones who have released the timeline and the images:
  1. What were the two men doing in the 42 minutes between Image 7 and Image 8?
  2. The footage from Dauwalders, showing 13:48 - 13:49:02 suggests that after Image 7 (at 13:08) the pair went back into town. Can you confirm which route they took?
  3. Do you know why they went back into town?
  4. Did they go to any of the places that Mr Skripal is known to have gone to, such as the car park at Sainsbury's or the Avon Playground (where he fed the ducks with three local boys at 13:45)?
  5. It is impossible for the timestamp on the Dauwalders footage, and the time you have given for the two men at Salisbury station to both be right. Which one is incorrect?

The Whereabouts of the Skripals

Image 5 (below) shows the two suspects outside the Shell garage on the Wilton Road at 11:58:48. On the opposite side of the road, about ten yards or so on, there is a passage way that leads to Montgomery Gardens, through which you can get to Christie Miller Road. Assuming the authenticity of the image, the two suspects could have gone that way, in which case they might have reached Mr Skripal's house at about 12:05pm.
skripal suspects
However, it appears to me from the image that this is not the route they would have taken. To cross the road to get to that passage, the easiest way would have been either to cross at traffic lights much earlier on, or failing that there is a small "pedestrian refuge island" in the road, which they are almost parallel with in the image (it's just out of sight on the left of the picture). Since they appear to be walking and looking straight on, it seems to me that they don't intend to make use of the island, and therefore probably didn't use that passageway. This would mean that if they did indeed make their way to Christie Miller Road, they would have done so by going up Canadian Avenue, onto St. Gregory's Avenue, and then to their destination. In which case they would have reached Mr Skripal's house at approximately 12:10.

Add on around five minutes for the alleged door handle smearing/spraying and you have a time of departure from Mr Skripal's house of between 12:10 and 12:15. However, for sake of argument, we'll take the earlier time as our point of reference.

Mr Skripal was then seen driving towards the town, firstly on India Avenue at 13:33 (the footage actually shows 14:55, but the Metropolitan Police stated that this was incorrect), and then outside the Devizes Road Inn at 13:34. This being the case, it seems safe to assume that the car was driven from the house at approximately 13:30.

This leads us to a very important point. For the claims of the Metropolitan Police to be true, that these two men were the assassins and that they placed "Novichok" on Mr Skripal's door handle, two things must be shown to be true:
  • Firstly, the Skripals must have been out between the hours of 12:10 and 13:30.
  • Secondly, the Skripals must have returned at some point between these two times.
Why so?
  • Firstly, if the Skripal's were at home before 12:10, the claims collapse since firstly the "assassins" would almost certainly not have targeted them whilst they were at home (Mr Skripal's garage was used as an office, and so the car would be in the drive), but more crucially both Sergei and Yulia could not have both touched the outside door handle.
  • Secondly, if the Skripals were out at 12:10, but did not return between then and 13:30, again the claims would be proven false since there would be no possible way that they could have touched the door handle.
The Met's entire case presented on 5th September therefore rests on a period of 1 hour 20 minutes, during which time the Skripals must have come back to the house, having been out at 12:10.

Yet the astonishing thing is that the official position of the Metropolitan Police is that they don't know the answer to this question. To my knowledge, the last official timeline of the Skripals' movements on the morning of 4th March, was given by Assistant Commissioner, Neil Basu, on 17th March. Here is what he said:
"We believe that at around 9:15am on Sunday, 4 March, Sergei's car may have been in the areas of London Road, Churchill Way North and Wilton Road. Then at around 1:30pm it was seen being driven down Devizes Road, towards the town centre."
We believe? May have been? This is amazingly vague, given the amount of CCTV cameras in Salisbury. The part in the actual timeline relating to this is slightly more certain, but still extremely vague, in that it gives only one time, but three locations:
"09.15hrs on Sunday, 4 March: Sergei's car is seen in the area of London Road, Churchill Way North and Wilton Road."
However, despite being very nebulous statements, one thing they both do is give an order of events that suggests that the car was seen in the London Road first (this is where the cemetery is located), Churchill Way North second, and Wilton Road third. That is to say, both Mr Basu's statement and the timeline suggest that Mr Skripal's car was not being driven from his house to the cemetery at 09:15, but rather was coming back to the house from the cemetery.

We cannot be sure of this from these statements alone, since they are vague and there are no accurate timings involved, but given that the locations are repeated in the same order, and given that normal practice would be to give out the first location first, the second next and so on, it does tend to suggest that Mr Skripal went to the cemetery early that morning, and returned home just after 9:15.

Given the abundance of CCTV cameras that were working that day, as has been shown by the Met itself, it is truly remarkable that this timeline has not been updated since. Officially, at least, the Metropolitan Police still do not know where Mr Skripal's car was between 9:15 in the morning, and 13:30 in the afternoon, and therefore they do not know where he was. Officially, at least, they do not know whether Mr Skripal was at home or out at 12:10, or whether he was out and returned before 13:30.

And yet their whole case rests on this.

One person that does think he knows is Mr Skripal's friend, Ross Cassidy, the man who seems to have been closest to him. This from The Mail:
But Mr Cassidy questions the police timeline. It is his understanding that Sergei and Yulia were at home until 1pm. And he said Mr Skripal's 'heightened state of awareness' would have frustrated any attack in broad daylight. ...

'However, I was surprised that they said the Novichok was placed on the Sunday lunchtime. I have always thought it was placed on the Saturday afternoon when we were collecting Yulia from Heathrow, or even Saturday night. These guys are professional assassins. It would have been far too brazen for them to have walked down a dead end cul-de-sac in broad daylight on a Sunday lunchtime. Sergei's house faces up the cul-de-sac. He had a converted garage that he used as his office - this gives a full view of the street. Almost always, Sergei used to open the door to us before we had chance to knock. Whenever we visited, he'd see us approaching.'
All of which raises yet more questions which the Metropolitan Police has a public duty to provide answers to:
  1. Why have you not updated your timeline from 17th March to show where Mr Skripal's car was at various times on the morning of Sunday 4th March?
  2. Have you now established his whereabouts during that time?
  3. Can you confirm, and provide CCTV evidence, that Mr Skripal and Yulia were not at home at 12:05-12:10 that day?
  4. Can you confirm, and provide CCTV evidence, that Mr Skripal and Yulia returned to the house between 12:10 and 13:30 that day?
  5. Is Mr Skripal himself willing to publicly testify to the above?