Skripals ask not to appear at Salisbury novichok poisoning inquiry

The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, do not want to appear at an independent inquiry on the Salisbury novichok poisonings because they fear their security cannot be guaranteed, it has emerged.

At a preliminary inquiry hearing, it was also made clear that the family of Dawn Sturgess, who died after being exposed to the nerve agent, are keen that the adequacy of the medical care she received is fully explored.

The UK government has asked for stringent measures, including a 15-minute delay in streaming the full hearing in case anyone accidentally says something that could harm national security.

Skripal was the target of the poisoning in March 2018. He, Yulia and a police officer, DS Nick Bailey, were poisoned but survived.

Four months later, Sturgess, 44, and her partner, Charlie Rowley, were also poisoned after he found a fake perfume bottle containing novichok. Rowley recovered but Sturgess died on 8 July 2018.

Sturgess’s family have battled to find out the truth of what happened to her, and pushed for the inquest to be converted into an inquiry as that has more power to examine issues such as the role of the Russian state.

During the preliminary hearing in London, the Skripals’ barrister, Jack Holborn, said they believed there was enough evidence from them in transcripts of police interviews and other material to mean there was no need for them to be called.

There will be tight security measures around the full inquiry, which begins at Salisbury Guildhall in October but, Holborn said, “No security measures are perfect”. He also said giving live evidence would cause the Skripals distress and that others were better placed to address the issue of whether Sturgess’s death could have been prevented.

Sturgess’s family have expressed sympathy with the Skripals and said they understood their reluctance, but added they had not had access to their police interviews and statements and so wanted them to be kept on the list of possible witnesses.

The chair of the inquiry, the former supreme court justice Anthony Hughes, said: “My inclination is to await the disclosure of the interviews and any other material before making any final decision about the Skripals. I’m acutely conscious of the risk they would be subjected to but, if it’s necessary, we will see.”

The counsel to the inquiry, Andrew O’Connor KC, said Sturgess’s family had “consistently identified the quality of the medical care received by Dawn Sturgess as an issue that they wish to be investigated”.

The Guardian revealed in 2019 that paramedics used an anti-novichok drug, atropine, on Rowley, which may have saved his life. One issue the family want examined is why Sturgess was not given atropine.

Michael Mansfield KC, for the family, said they were keen to hear from a clinician who decided that it was not necessary to administer the drug to try to find out “if it would have made a difference”. The chair agreed the clinician should give evidence if possible.

Cathryn McGahey KC, for the UK government, told the inquiry that a 15-minute delay before the inquiry was broadcast was needed to reduce the possibility of security breaches. She said: “The stakes are very high, bearing in mind the hostile actors taking an interest in these proceedings.”


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