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By John Helmer, Moscow

The British Government’s narrative that a Kremlin-ordered assassination plot against a former GRU agent, Sergei Skripal, in March of 2018 also caused the death of a woman, Dawn Sturgess,  three months later,  has collapsed for lack of evidence admissible in court.  

After nineteen months of investigations by hundreds of police, military personnel, forensic scientists, and secret service agents, including Skripal himself and his daughter Yulia, the Metropolitan Police have been unable to present their case for the cause of death of Dawn Sturgess to the Wiltshire and Swindon County senior coroner, David Ridley (lead image). Ridley’s court is located at 26 Endless Street, Salisbury, the town in which Skripal was allegedly attacked on March 4, 2018. Sturgess fell ill on June 30 at her companion’s home in Amesbury, nine miles from Salisbury. She died on July 8.

Because Ridley cannot rule on the cause of death according to the requirements of British law, the Government has decided to prevent an inquest from being held. Although Ridley has ordered postponements of the inquest every six months since he convened the first pre-inquest review (PIR) on July 19, 2018, he and his superiors in London decided last week that the hearing scheduled for this week should not be held at all, and that the Sturgess inquest should be delayed sine die, without a date being set.

This is tantamount to ending the legal process – without a ruling that Sturgess had been the victim of murder. That in turn casts grave legal doubt on the British police, government and press allegations of what caused Skripal’s collapse, and who was responsible.

On Friday Ridley attempted to cover up the blocking of the court process by claiming he had issued a press release announcing the inquest postponement through the Counter Terrorism unit of the Metropolitan Police in London. “I would advise you,” said Ridley’s spokesman Debra Twort, “that the Senior Coroner issued a press release advising of the postponement through Counter Terrorism. A further date has not been set.”

No such press release has been issued by the police;  Ridley and Twort have refused repeated requests to produce it. Twort has been ordered to lie to the press in order to cover up the collapse of the case of the so-called Novichok murder.

“Why won’t, or why can’t the British Government,” commented a surprised London investigative source, “support their own narrative of the Skripal case in court after so much time has elapsed for the investigation? This isn’t a matter of catching those culpable,  but of proving, at least to the satisfaction of the Coroner, that a Russian plot and a Russian-sourced nerve agent Novichok were the cause of Sturgess’s death. No inquest means no murder — no murder means no Russian plot. You’d think the British press would be all over this news.”

The cause of Sturgess’s death was announced more than a year ago by Prime Minister Theresa May, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, spokesmen for the Metropolitan Police, and the British media. According to May on September 5, 2018, “hard evidence has enabled the independent Crown Prosecution Service to conclude they have a sufficient basis on which to bring charges against these two men [alleged GRU agents] for the attack in Salisbury. The same two men are now also the prime suspects in the case of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley too. There is no other line of inquiry beyond this. And the police have today formally linked the attack on the Skripals and the events in Amesbury – such that it now forms one investigation.”

The government narrative was that the same Novichok allegedly sprayed on the front door-handle of Skripal’s Salisbury house, leading to his collapse in the centre of town, alongside his daughter, materialized later in a perfume bottle with which Sturgess sprayed herself, with lethal  result. The head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Unit, Neil Basu, announced:  “To date, more than 400 exhibits have been recovered as part of the Amesbury investigation, of which a significant number are potentially contaminated and have been submitted to DSTL [Defence Science and Technology Laboratory] labs for analysis. This includes the small bottle, which was recovered from the address in Muggleton Road and which detectives now believe to be source of the contamination of Charlie and Dawn. Work is ongoing to establish whether the nerve agent is from the same batch as used in the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March, and this remains a main line of enquiry for the investigation team.”

Although the two incidents occurred almost twelve weeks apart in time and nine miles in geography, the British Government has claimed that Russian military intelligence (GRU)  agents were culpable in both. The evidence Basu claimed to substantiate the allegation was contradicted in public statements by the Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson.  

For details of the Sturgess case, and the failure of her companion Charlie Rowley to identify if or how the bottle appeared in his apartment, read this. For the full investigation archive on the Skripal case, click to open

Coroner Ridley’s inquest is legally required to test the Novichok-in-the-bottle claim by identifying precisely what caused Sturgess’s death; what was in the bottle recovered from the Amesbury kitchen; where the bottle had come from before it reached Sturgess, local police and Ridley in Amesbury. A post-mortem on Sturgess was carried out on July 18, the day before the inquest opened — ten days after her death.

The Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner’s Court, 26 Endless Street, Salisbury.

The Coroner’s hearings list for this week photographed on the Wiltshire court’s public noticeboard. There is no listing for the case of Dawn Sturgess.

The statute which Ridley identified last January as regulating his conduct of PIRs and inquests, and also the postponements in the Sturgess case, is the Coroners and Justice Act of 2009. It can be read in full here. Note that Ridley doesn’t have a choice. The statute’s Section 6 says: “A senior coroner who conducts an investigation under this Part into a person’s death must (as part of the investigation) hold an inquest into the death.”  Must means no alternative for Senior Coroner Ridley.   

The statute allows postponement, however, according to Section 11. This says: “Duty or power to suspend or resume investigations — Schedule 1 makes provision about suspension and resumption of investigations.” When asked last January for the legal authority for his postponements of the Sturgess case hearings, Ridley and his spokesman cited Schedule 1 of the Coroners Act, Part 1:

Source: http://www.legislation.gov.uk-- page 130.

It is plain the statute doesn’t allow Ridley to say or do nothing at all. Sub-section 2 requires him to judge the evidence he has been given by the Metropolitan Police and the “prosecuting authority” and decide whether it indicates either a sub-section 2(a) “homicide”, or a sub-section 2(b) “offence…that is alleged to be a related offence.”

It is also plain from the law that Ridley must – another must meaning no alternative — indicate for how long he is postponing the Sturgess inquest. Sub-section 4(b) requires Ridley to identify “whatever longer period” he specifies. Accordingly, coronial experts believe, no publication of a postponement notice and Twort’s statement, “a further date has not been set”, appear to be  violations of the Coroners Act.

If Ridley and Twort believe that others might judge them to be acting unlawfully, they attempted last week to act in secret. On Friday Ridley was sent this email request.

Ridley replied through Twort, claiming at first: “Unfortunately as you are not an Interested Person the Senior Coroner is unable to answer your questions.”

A second email followed, clarifying to Ridley and Twort that “Mr Ridley is perfectly well aware, as are you, that the Sturgess case has not ceased to be of national and international press interest. Are you now claiming on his behalf that the County Coroner’s Court, Coroner Ridley, and you are not obliged to make accountable to the press and public the statutory authority for your conduct of this case? I repeat: you are Crown and Court officers. You owe a duty of accountability and compliance with the statute. Are you claiming that you owe a statutory duty only to ‘interested persons’? Lacking a clear response, I shall be obliged to report that Mr Ridley and you are acting unlawfully, and in violation of the statute explicitly indicated by Mr Ridley in January.”

Twort then replied for Ridley:

Because Twort used the past tense, implying Ridley and the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism unit had already issued their press release, a search was made of the police website. This reveals   there have been thirteen releases altogether, the latest of which was published on October 8; just three releases have been issued relating to the Sturgess case.

The first of these three was issued on July 5 last year. It was followed by a second on July 13 after police claim to have identified Novichok in “a small bottle … recovered during searches of Charlie Rowley’s house in Amesbury [on July 11].”   The following day Scotland Yard added the qualification: “Work is ongoing to establish whether the nerve agent is from the same batch as used in the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March, and this remains a main line of enquiry for the investigation team.” 

On July 14, 2018, that was the last word from the police. There has been no subsequent press release on the Sturgess case.  

Last Friday afternoon Ridley and Twort were asked to “provide…a copy of the press release to which you refer with delay, as there is no Met Police-Counter Terrorism record of it, as you can see. Since Mr Ridley arranged the text of the police press release; since you claim ‘the Senior Coroner issued a press release through Counter Terrorism’; and since you fail to provide the purported release with your email below, unless you provide the purported statement by prompt return of email, I am obliged to report that Mr Ridley did no such thing, and that you and he are fabricating a claim.” Ridley has not replied.

No British press organ has contacted Ridley recently to ask for an explanation of his delay in opening in court the evidence of murder which Prime Minister May told parliament was certain more than a year ago.

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