dawn sturgess
© Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian
Dawn Sturgess died after being poisoned with nerve agent following the Sergei Skripal incident
There are still a number of people commenting on the piece I posted about the delay to the Inquest into Dawn Sturgess's death, and because that comment section is now vast and barely navigable, and the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner's court has just released a document relating to the scope of the Inquest (which you can download here), it seemed to be an opportune time to start a new thread so that comments do not get completely lost.

I will just comment briefly on that coroner's report. It is basically a response to the request of Dawn Sturgess's family's legal team for the coroner to consider Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states:
"Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law."
The Sturgess legal team had argued that:
"...the UK authorities failed to take reasonable steps to protect members of the public, including Ms Sturgess, from Novichok after it was discovered in early 2018."
The coroner, David Ridley, rejects the application on the grounds that:
"I have found no evidence that leads me to form the view that the UK state or agents of the UK state 'failed to take measures within the scope of their powers which, judged reasonably, might have been expected to avoid that risk'. I do not realistically see what more the authorities could have done apart from evacuate the whole area which would have been wholly disproportionate to what was known at the relevant time. To suggest that the authorities should have done more is something I am unable to see from what I have been told and viewed. The expression of 'looking for a needle in a haystack' comes to mind. The phrase is used to generally describe something that is impossible or extremely difficult to undertake. The task that faced the authorities here was more akin to a suggestion that there might be something of interest in the haystack or there might not be and if there is something in the haystack it is not known what the item of interest looks like - a wholly impossible task."
I do not wish to comment on the legal arguments contained in the report, but would like to highlight a number of concerning elements to Mr Ridley's statements.

The first is that he appears to have accepted the popular explanation that Dawn Sturgess was killed by a nerve agent called "Novichok":
"It is additionally advanced that the scope should not include questions as regards who was ultimately responsible for Ms Sturgess' death and/or the source of the Novichok."
Why has he stated this to be the case, when neither of the ultimate authorities in either Salisbury or Amesbury has confirmed it? For instance, the OPCW, in its public report on the Amesbury incident did not use the name "Novichok" but instead referred to the substance as follows:
"The toxic chemical compound, which displays the toxic properties of a nerve agent, is the same toxic chemical that was found in the biomedical and environmental samples relating to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Mr Nicholas Bailey on 4 March 2018 in Salisbury."
Their report on the Salisbury incident failed to mention the word "Novichok" either, instead referring to it as:
"... a toxic chemical — allegedly a nerve agent."
Nor did Porton Down's official representation to the High Court on 22nd March 2018 confirm it. Rather, their statement said the following:
"Blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent."
So despite the repeated use of the word "Novichok" by the media and the Government, Porton Down's only official legal statement on the case was highly ambiguous and extremely elastic. And so when the OPCW confirmed that the "toxic chemical" they found was the same as the UK said it was, all they were really saying is that it was "a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent."

David Ridley Sturgess novichok salisbury coroner

David Ridley, Wiltshire coroner
So my question to Mr Ridley would be, what actual chemical substance caused the death of Dawn Sturgess? Any answer needs to omit the word "Novichok", which is clearly meaningless, and instead give us the name of the actual substance.

The second issue I have with Mr Ridley's report is the fact that he fails to mention even once that the bottle or perfume allegedly picked up by Charlie Rowley was cellophane wrapped (with Charlie describing it as like "bacon wrapper"). This is a massively important point, because it effectively means that it is impossible to connect the two cases - Salisbury and Amesbury - using the explanation that the authorities have given, and which Mr Ridley appears to accept.


To accept that the two cases were related — within the bounds of the official explanation — one has to accept one of the following scenarios:
  1. That the two suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, dumped a sealed, unused bottle of Novichok in Salisbury (possibly a bin), but took the unsealed, used bottle of "Novichok" with them back to Moscow (or perhaps dumped that as well).
  2. Or, they were carrying a cellophane wrapping machine with them, and after they had allegedly daubed or sprayed the door handle of 47 Christie Miller Road, they put the bottle back in the box, wrapped it in cellophane using their device, and then dumped it somewhere.
Does Mr Ridley believe either of these scenarios? If not, could he explain how he appears to believe that an unwrapped box came to be in Charlie Rowley's possession? But more to the point, why has he failed to mention this extremely important point in his report?

I have to say that given that it is not mentioned, but it is assumed to be the same box and bottle that were used in Salisbury, it seems to me that what this Inquest is really set to do is to quietly bury Charlie Rowley's inconvenient revelation of the cellophane wrapping. If the Inquest can ignore it, then as far as the authorities and media are concerned it didn't happen. Which will then, through a process of smokes and mirrors, free up the Crown Prosecution Service to press ahead and charge the suspects with Amesbury as well as Salisbury — even though it is logically untenable. But of course the cellophane wrapping did happen. And of course covering up such things is really not a good idea, and doing so may well come back to bite.
charlie Rowley salisbury novichok sturgess
© ITV News
Charlie Rowley
The third and final thing that I wanted to briefly draw attention to is Mr Ridley's interest in the movements of the two Russians. He mentions that his investigation will:
"... also examine in detail their movements after they were spotted by a CCTV camera on the Wilton Road in Salisbury, a location which is in close proximity to Mr Skripal's home, and when they were subsequently picked up by other cameras closer to and in the centre of Salisbury."
Good. Allow me to make some suggestions for Mr Ridley. Firstly, I suggest that he requests from police CCTV footage of the two men on the previous day, Saturday 3rd March, when according to The Met, they were on a reconnaissance mission. Well yes, they almost certainly were. But where? Let's just say that I have almost total confidence that it was nowhere near Mr Skripal's house, and I have equal confidence that it was in the centre of Salisbury - in The Maltings and near The Mill pub, perhaps?
skripal suspects salisbury

'So. Here we are. Yep...'
I would also suggest that he asks for footage from the camera on the Shell garage directly after the one that showed the pair on the Wilton Road. This one would show whether they crossed the road and went up either of the routes that they would have needed to take to go to Christie Miller Road. I take it from Mr Ridley's comment that he has not seen footage from this camera. Somehow that doesn't surprise me, but I wonder that he has not asked to see it.

I would also suggest that he asks to see footage of the two suspects between 1:40 and 1:48, when they were in far closer proximity to the Skripals than they ever were to 47 Christie Miller Road.

And finally, I suggest that he asks to see proper footage of the two people who were caught on CCTV in Market Walk. If he's really game, he might ask why there were no appeals made for these two to come forward and whether the police know who they are and where they are from (which of course they do). I'm certain that they are persons of interest and I would hope Mr Ridley would also find them to be of interest.


As ever, your comments will be much appreciated.
Rob Slane is the author of The God Reality: A Critique of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, The Universe & Everything. He written monthly worldview articles for the American health sharing company, Samaritan Ministries, and has regularly contributed to The Conservative Woman and the Canadian magazine, Reformed Perspective.