petrov boshirov
The images and timeline released by the Metropolitan Police on September 5th, when they formally accused two men of the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, contain a number of problems and oddities. These include:
  • The fact that very few of the images have the original timestamps on them, but rather have the Metropolitan Police's own timings.
  • The fact that there is an unaccounted for, yet vital, 42 minutes between the image of the men at the entrance to Summerlock Approach (said to be 13:08), and the image of the men at the train station (said to be at 13:50:56). Why is this vital? Because it not only takes just 5 minutes, rather than 42 to get from the one location to the other, but also because it potentially places the men within a few minutes walk of Sergei and Yulia Skripal within that 42 minute timeframe.
  • The fact that only stills were released, rather than actual footage (public appeals for witnesses involving CCTV usually show actual footage - why not in this case?).
But there is one crucial image which I would like to focus your attention on: CCTV Image 5 (at the top of this piece). This is one of the few pictures that is properly timestamped (11:58:48), although I have to say I'm highly sceptical that the two men could have got to that location by that time, given that The Met says they were at the station at 11:48:20. It takes over 12 minutes at a quick walk, and so unless they ran some of the way (and neither picture gives the impression that they are in a particular hurry), I think it highly likely that one or other of these times is incorrect.

The reason this image is particularly crucial is that it is the only image shown to the public, which can be said to connect the men (albeit extremely tenuously) to the claim made against them by the Met. None of the other images do this at all.

If I happened to be a juror at the trial of these two men, and I was presented with the other images, my reaction would largely be "so what?" (this is of course pure fantasy, since the Blair Government, in its infinite wisdom, tore up centuries of legal practice to allow such trials to be held without a jury on the grounds of that mindless buzz phrase, "national security"). Here are some images showing them entering and leaving the UK. So what! Here are some images of them arriving in and departing from Salisbury. So what? Here are some images of them walking around the town. Actually, this one is not so much a "so what?"; more a "hang on a minute, are you telling me they went walkies around the town after allegedly carrying out the most audacious (and stupid) assassination attempt ever seen in Britain?"

Without the Wilton Road image, none of these other images would mean diddly squat. That image, assuming it to be authentic, is the closest The Met comes to backing up its claim against them. But as we shall see, it actually turns out to be no more convincing than the others.

As I said in my previous piece, it is crucial to understand what the claim being made by The Met against the two men actually is. Here goes:
"That between approximately 12:10pm and 12:40pm on 4th March, the two men named as suspects - Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov - walked up to the house of Sergei Skripal at 47 Christie Miller Road, Salisbury, and there applied a high purity, military grade nerve agent to the handle of the front door in an attempt to assassinate Mr Skripal."
(Note: see the previous piece if you want to know why there is a 12:10-12:40pm window).

Now let's turn back to the statement made by The Met on 5th September. This is what they said:
"CCTV shows them in the vicinity of Mr Skripal's house and we believe that they contaminated the front door with Novichok."
The big question that arises from this claim is this: What is this CCTV footage, which apparently shows them in the vicinity of Mr Skripal's house? There are two basic possibilities:
Firstly, it could be that there is indeed CCTV that shows them close to Mr Skripal's house (i.e. within a few yards of it), and perhaps which even shows them applying something to the door handle.

Secondly, it could be that The Met is simply referring to the CCTV of the men on the Wilton Road, which they released in the statement.
The second is almost certainly the case, for the following reasons:
  1. If there is CCTV footage of the two men near (or at least nearer the house), why not show that rather than the Wilton Road image?
  2. If such footage does exist, why does The Met only "believe" that the two men contaminated the door handle with something called "Novichok" as opposed to "know" that they did so (note: Porton Down does not call it "Novichok", but rather "a Novichok or related agent")?
  3. When you read The Met's statement of 5th September, it is fairly clear that the reason the Wilton Road image is there, is that it is precisely this image which is being used to back up the statement about the men being in the vicinity of the house (i.e. they say: "Image five shows the suspects ten minutes later - at 11.58 - on Wilton Road, Salisbury, we say, moments before the attack").
This is deeply misleading. The Shell garage on the Wilton Road could plausibly be said to be in the vicinity of 47 Christie Miller Road if we were talking about the two locations in terms of Salisbury as a whole. But it can in no way be said to be "in the vicinity" of 47 Christie Miller Road, if it is being spoken of in connection with a highly specific claim about an assassination attempt at the door of the house. The claim is that they were at the door. The image, assuming its authenticity, shows them on a different street, many hundreds of yards away.

This sort of sloppiness and looseness has been the hallmark of the investigation from day one, and has been the reason why so many have come to treat the official claims with scepticism.

Let me caveat this, however, by saying that I don't believe Boshirov's and Petrov's claims either. The chief reason for this is that The Met says they arrived in Salisbury at 14:25 on the Saturday, and this was not disputed by them in their interview with Margarita Simonyan. What they did claim, however, is that they came to visit Stonehenge, but were unable to do so due to the bad weather. This was kind of true. Stonehenge was indeed closed that day due to bad weather. However, had it opened that day, it would have closed at 17:00 with last admissions at 15:00. Getting to Salisbury at 14:25 with the hope of then going to see Stonehenge by 15:00 is not very plausible - even if it had been good weather.

But as I've said previously, it is largely irrelevant whether Boshirov's and Petrov's account is credible. It is The Met that has accused them, and it is therefore for The Met to come up with credible evidence to back up their claim. Showing an image of the two men in broad daylight, on a completely different street, hundreds of yards away from the alleged crime scene, does not do it. Worse still, claiming that this image "shows them in the vicinity of Mr Skripal's house" - which it manifestly does not - is deeply misleading.

If The Met has more conclusive footage (footage that is, not another still), actually showing the two men in the vicinity of the house, they should release it. Until they do, we can assume the claim that "CCTV shows them in the vicinity of Mr Skripal's house" is referring to the Shell garage on the Wilton Road, which since it is not in fact in the vicinity of the house, is misleading. We can therefore continue to treat their claims with the scepticism that they have so far deserved, and to believe that there is another explanation altogether for Boshirov's and Petrov's two Salisbury trips; an explanation that neither the British or Russian Government seem very eager to come clean on.