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By John Helmer, Moscow

The British public telephone is two years short of a century old. The Salisbury Hospital has dismantled the outdoor models because it is now possible for patients  to receive and make telephone calls from their bedside. The hospital has contracted with a company called Hospedia to provide patients with personal access to telephones (television, internet, games too). The patients must pay.

The business of overcharging them for incoming and outgoing calls was such a corrupt scandal, Hospedia’s predecessor company went bankrupt. The Royal Bank of Scotland took over the assets, and then went even more corruptly bankrupt itself.  So the bank sold the hospital telephone business to Marlin Equity Partners. That company presently controls most British hospital patient telephones; it is an American group specializing in investment in signal and cyber operations of every sort. It is based in Los Angeles and London.

If you are Yulia Skripal, you are likely to want to use Salisbury Hospital’s Hospedia telephone system to call home in Moscow. There she has a family consisting of a grandmother and a cousin; an uncle lives in St. Petersburg and another cousin in Primorye.  All of them have been identified by name and address in the Russian press. Yulia Skripal also has a fiancé with whom she was living, and about whom considerable detail of his marital intentions, occupation, mother, father, home address and black Land Rover have also been published. Their 90-second telephone call before Yulia took off on her fateful Aeroflot flight to London on March 3 has been published.  So have details of her father Sergei’s request that she bring him packages of kasha and bay leaf in her luggage.   Even  the address of the pet hotel where Yulia Skripal’s dog Noir is staying at Rb800 per day is reported in the free Russian press.  

Two Moscow reporters have specialized in this investigation – Lev Speransky and Yekaterina Sveshnikova. They have also published excerpts from the Skripal family photo album.   Their evidence is that Yulia Skripal is human enough to want to call home.

However, she cannot do so. Salisbury Hospital officials, who have confirmed her capacity to listen and speak by telephone, will not say why.

On March 22, a High Court judge ruled in London that Yulia Skripal was almost totally incapacitated. She was alive, comatose, stable medically, but “unable to communicate in any meaningful way… It is not possible to say when or to what extent Mr or Ms Skripal may regain capacity.”  For the court judgement, click to open. For the larger story of the court proceeding, read this.

High Court Justice David Williams (right) repeatedly decided he knew what the Skripals would want if they could talk. He wrote that they “would wish for the further analysis [of blood samples]”; that testing for poison was what they “would wish be conducted and they would want to assist in that by providing samples”; that they “would be likely to want to support the work of the international body [Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons] set up by international law knowing that its processes are unimpeachable”; and “they would want to support the UK Government in taking steps on the international plane to hold those responsible to account.”

Despite this volubility of the Skripals, the judge didn’t say whether they would wish to use the telephone to take a call or make a call with their next of kin.  He ruled instead that in their comatose state, “it did not appear practicable or appropriate to seek the views of others who might be interested in the welfare of Mr Skripal (his mother perhaps) or Ms Skripal’s (perhaps a fiancé).”

Williams wrote that on March 22. Three days later, Speransky and Sveshnikova reported in Moskovsky Komsomolets (MK)  how the court and the hospital could get in contact with both Skripal’s mother, Yulia’s grandmother, and Yulia’s fiancé. By then, and for several days earlier,  Yulia’s Moscow cousin Victoria Skripal had reportedly made telephone contact with Salisbury Hospital and with the Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko. Yakovenko requested proofs of Victoria’s identity and relationship, and Victoria has told reporters Speransky and Sveshnikova that she provided them.

Justice Williams also ruled there was no legal obligation for the Russian Embassy in London to be informed by the hospital or the government  “pursuant to Articles 36 and 37 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 24 April 1963 as Ms Skripal is a Russian national.” The reason the judge gave was that because Article 37 had not been incorporated in domestic British law, it did not apply to the case of Yulia Skripal.

Noone in court challenged this. Neither the court-appointed lawyer for Skripal, Vikram Sacheva,  nor the judge appears to have known that a bilateral consular convention between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union was ratified by the British parliament and became legally binding domestic law in 1968; it is much more explicit  than the Vienna Convention.   The treaty text, signed in Moscow in 1965 and presented to the House of Commons in November 1968, can be read here.  

Russian Embassy access to Yulia Skripal is required by Articles 30, 31(f), 35 and 36.  The last of these is the most explicit. In British statutes the word “shall” means must — obligatory, mandatory, required, no discretion allowed.

For a detailed review of the law, read Alexander Mercouris.

Article 36(1)(a) makes it illegal under British law for the British Government to prevent Russian Embassy officials from having access to Yulia Skripal in hospital directly or indirectly. One of the indirect measures the Russian Embassy has yet to take is the engagement of British lawyers to represent her in a court action for habeas corpus and to require the Home Office to justify to a judge the restrictions they have imposed on Skripal at the hospital; for details, read this

The second sub-section of the Article makes it illegal for the Salisbury Hospital to prevent Yulia Skripal communicating with Russian Embassy officials in London and their lawyers, or vice versa.

On March 29, the hospital reported she was “improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition.  Her condition is now stable. Her father remains in a critical but stable condition.”     The British state radio has reported “separate sources that Ms Skripal is conscious and talking.”

Following these reports, the head of the hospital Cara Charles-Barks (right) and her two press spokesmen were asked what telephone contact Yulia Skripal has made with her next of kin in Moscow. They are refusing to answer. They were also asked to clarify the hospital’s policy on contact between patients and next of kin, and to give  their legal authority for blocking communication between Yulia Skripal and her next of kin in Russia.  They do not reply.

Yesterday Speransky reported that cousin Victoria Skripal is applying for her international passport so she can travel to Salisbury. She has yet to file for a British visa. “I hope I will be able to understand something there on the place,” Victoria Skripal told the newspaper.


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