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By John Helmer, Moscow

A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) film, broadcast on Thursday evening, has presented the first direct evidence of Wiltshire Police Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, the investigating officer who  inspected the home of Sergei and Yulia Skripal about eleven hours after they were exposed, allegedly to the nerve agent Novichok sprayed on their home’s outside door-handle.

Bailey’s testimony corrects some of the British press misreporting and internet speculation about the circumstances of his exposure. But Bailey’s statements, along with other claims broadcast by the BCC, raise new doubts; they settle none of the key forensic questions of who delivered the poison; where Bailey and the Skripals, Sergei and his daughter Yulia, were exposed; what the poison was and where it came from. Importantly, Bailey’s description of his symptoms leading to his hospitalization bears almost no resemblance to the symptoms of the Skripals, and of the Salisbury couple , Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, who were hospitalized in Salisbury for exposure to Novichok on June 30. Sturgess is the only one of the four victims who died.

The BBC’s interviewing of the chief police officer leading the investigation, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, also exposes two vital pieces of evidence for judging the credibility of  the British Government’s charge that the poisoning was a Russian state operation carried out by agents of Russian military intelligence,  the GRU. Haydon does not claim, and the BBC fails to show, any CCTV evidence that the two alleged GRU assassins, Ruslan Boshirov (Anatoly Chepiga) and Alexander Petrov (Alexander Mishkin), came directly to the Skripals’ home to administer the poison to the door-handle. Instead, Haydon acknowledged there may have been others – one or more – in the poison attack.  

Haydon also fails to say that the traces of the poison police later discovered at the London hotel room occupied by Russian duo  were of the same agent as had been found in the bloodstreams of the four victims in Salisbury. Instead, Haydon equivocated. The London evidence, he told the BBC,  were “traces of Novichok which is the same type of Novichok that linked it to the Salisbury poisoning.”

The 59-minute film bills itself as the “inside story” of the Skripal case, almost ten months after the March 4, 2018, incidents in Salisbury.  The BBC’s print report can be read here.   Watch the film here on BBC I-player by clicking.  

For the most detailed analysis available and for a point-by-point forensic challenge to the British police and media versions of the case, follow Rob Slane’s Blogmire coverage. For additional analysis of what the publicly displayed evidence, including Yulia Skripal’s statements, mean according to British legal standards, read this. 

Det. Sgt. Bailey has not spoken in public since the March 4 incidents. His appearances in the BBC film indicate that about four hours after the Skripals were hospitalized, Bailey discussed the case with fellow officers at their station. Bailey then decided, he now says (min. 03:51) “I will have a wander down there.” He was referring to the park bench in the centre of the town where the Skripals had been found. According to Bailey, “there was nothing around the bench we could see.” Bailey was at the scene at about 8 pm, according to the BBC.

Four hours later, after the police had identified Skripal, Bailey and two other policemen went to the house (min. 06:48). They donned “full forensic suits”, including gloves and face masks. Bailey says he was the first of the three to enter the house; the BBC film reconstruction shows just two men entering the house and shining torches. Bailey reports “the house was in darkness. It just looked normal. There was nothing untoward”. The police trio then left the house, took off their forensic suits, “bagged them up”, and returned to the police station. Bailey describes feeling initial symptoms of sweating and pin-prick pupils. He says he returned home that night, early Monday. He was not hospitalized until the next day – more than 24 hours later.

There are two major questions from Bailey’s testimony. Although two other policemen entered the house, also in forensic gear, the movements of the other two, including their contact with the outer door-handle and with objects in the house, have not been disclosed. The implication is that they have suffered no symptoms.

Whether their kit has subsequently revealed traces of the same poison as attacked Bailey is bound to be known to the police; it has not been revealed by the BBC. Nothing in Bailey’s statements to the BBC indicates that he believes he was contaminated by the door-handle. That is the theory of the policeman heading the investigation in London, Commissioner Haydon.

Left: Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, Wiltshire Police; right, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Dean Haydon; for more details on Haydon, read this. 

Asked how he believes he could have been exposed, Bailey says (min. 31:21): “I don’t know whether it’s gone through the gloves. I could have adjusted my face mask.” No evidence of the subsequent analysis of the gloves, inside or out, has been disclosed.

Haydon was not asked to explain.  Haydon also presents his account of the poison on the door-handle as his theory of the crime.  At no point in the film does Haydon, other police, the intelligence services spokesman, or “Professor Tim”, the BBC’s expert from Porton Down, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, identify their evidence that the door-handle or another object at the Skripal house was contaminated.

Instead, the Porton Down spokesman says (min. 09:32): “we identified that the material was a nerve agent called Novichok.” The “material” isn’t in any identifiable chain of evidence required by standard British criminal investigation and prosecution. It appears to have been found by Porton Down analysis of the blood samples taken from the Skripals and Bailey at Salisbury Hospital.

The BBC reconstruction now claims the Skripals were at home on the Sunday afternoon, March 4, when the poison was applied to their outside door-handle. The BBC also claims the Skripals left their house at 1:30. Although all published expert evidence about Novichok indicates it is deadly and fast-acting, there is no explanation by the BBC film of the three-hour interval after the Skripals left home,  before they showed symptoms;  nor of the 11-hour interval before Bailey was first exposed.  Also, Bailey confirms it was more than 24 hours before his symptoms deteriorated to the point where he and his wife decided to go to hospital.

There are also serious discrepancies between the symptoms of Novichok reported for the Skripals and the later victims Sturgess and Rowley, and those which Bailey reports for himself. Vil Mirzayanov, the Soviet researcher who claims to have been the developer of Novichok in the 1980s, before he moved to the US, enumerated the symptoms for the BBC. They start, he said (min. 12:00), with sudden blindness, followed by difficulty breathing, then constant vomiting and “uncontrollable convulsions”.

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/ — min. 12:00.

Witnesses in the Salisbury city centre who responded to the Skripals in collapse, confirm most of these symptoms. A friend of Sturgess and Rowley, who witnessed Sturgess being taken from her home by ambulance men and was present when Rowley fell ill, told the BBC both were foaming at the mouth and displaying convulsions. Bailey’s symptoms, according to the account he has given, were none of these.

The BBC has labelled its version of the attack a “reconstruction” using actors, props, and film shot in Salisbury spliced together.  The BBC voice-over claims “it is CCTV that unlocks the mystery of who tries to kill [Sergei Skripal]”. Haydon then tells the BBC the police had combed through more than eleven thousand hours of CCTV.  He also claims this process achieved a “gotcha moment of – we identified the two attackers. We were now on to them” (min. 43:24). The film claims to show the Skripal door-handle being sprayed with Novichok from a dispenser made to appear to be a perfume bottle (Min. 44:54). Haydon for the Metropolitan Police does not claim to have CCTV evidence of the alleged attackers at the Skripal house or on their street.    He says: “these two individuals were around where the two Skripals actually lived” (min. 43:30) – he doesn’t say when; he doesn’t show the pictures.

The BBC displays one CCTV picture of the two Russians “on the way to the Skripals’ home”, according to Haydon’s commentary. The frame’s time identification shows it was then 11:58:49. If Haydon’s evidence is accurate, that is more than 90 minutes before the Skripals suffered the alleged attack. Multiple independent calculations reported from Salisbury place the location of this CCTV image at less than 5 minutes’ walk from the Skripal house. If the BBC reconstruction is accurate, the attackers were arriving at the scene of the crime much too early. At that time, the alleged assassins were risking detection for themselves and discovery of their weapon;  or if they arrived early and got clean away, the dilution and loss of lethal effect for their poison.

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/ — min.44:35.

According to Haydon, “they would have been there for, literally, a matter of seconds” (min. 45:05).  Earlier British press reports have quoted their police sources as claiming that “about an hour after the attack, at 1.05pm, they [Russian attackers] were in the city centre on Fisherton Street, according to the British authorities.”   The BBC version of Haydon’s evidence doesn’t identify when the door-handle was sprayed.  

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/ — min.44:54.

In the BBC reconstruction of the crime, the Skripals were contaminated at 1:30,  as “father and daughter head out for lunch” (min. 45:13).  It is now uncertain whether the poison had been on the handle for an hour or more.

Haydon’s commentary is that “ Sergei came out first of all; he got Novichok on his hands [plural], and then Yulia came out second, and then she also got Novichok on her hands [plural]” (min. 45:00).

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/ — min. 45:15.

In the reconstruction, the Sergei figure is bare-handed when he touches the outside door-handle to close the door. The Yulia figure doesn’t touch the handle and appears to be wearing gloves.  

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The US and the UK have claimed that Interpol’s vote yesterday for a retired South Korean policeman to be the new president of the global police organization was a convincing defeat of the Russian candidate who was rejected by a two-thirds majority of Interpol’s member states. “Blow to Russia” headlined the London Guardian.   The US Government’s Voice of America reported the ballot as the defeat of the Russian “front-runner in the race”.   “Russia in surprise loss to South Korea”, the British Government’s BBC claimed.  “Blow to Russia… Decision comes after successful push by western countries to thwart Moscow’s candidate”, trumpeted the Financial Times. This was the fake news.

When the tallies of three rounds of balloting by the 162 members of the General Assembly who cast votes are examined carefully, it is clear the Anglo-American candidate, Kim Jong-Yang,  fell short of a two-thirds majority at every round; that the Russian candidate, Alexander Prokopchuk (lead image, log), started with almost 40% of the vote; and that when all the abstentions and absentees among the member states eligible to vote are counted, the outcome of the election was a split of the Interpol membership almost exactly in half.

It is also clear that the six-week Anglo-American campaign to defeat the Russian because he is Russian was a violation of Article 3 of Interpol’s Constitution.  That says: “It is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.” (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The outflow of private and corporate capital from Russia is accelerating.

Pressured by the cutoff of incoming investment and bank loans, the closure of Russian depositor bank accounts in Europe, and the threat of asset confiscation in the UK – all ordered by US sanctions with  threats of more to come — the loss of domestic investment funds continues, undeterred,  to squeeze the Russian economy. That is exactly the US war aim.

In the history of warfare against Russia, defending by retreating has been tried before, though this isn’t what Russian capital is doing this time. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

President Vladimir Putin has announced a change of Russian policy in Syria after disclosing it to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  when they met in Paris on November 11. Netanyahu has reported in Israel that what Putin said was “very important”.

With Netanyahu, Putin was not accompanied by Russian officials and the interpreter was an Israeli. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the meeting was a “short talk”, but  gave no other detail. The Kremlin website did not report it at all. The Kremlin press office refuses to clarify why Putin and Netanyahu met with only Netanyahu’s interpreter present. (more…)

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By Marios Evriviades*, Athens

Can a man gasping for breath as he is is forcibly suffocated with a plastic bag over his head,   articulate his survival problem multisyllabically with a medicalized request to which he invited his killers to consent? “I’m suffocating… Take this bag off my head, I’m claustrophobic”. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

In medieval sheep-herding practice it was customary to hang a bell around a single sheep in the flock to alert the shepherd to where they were heading. The shepherd used to castrate the bellwether ram first, so his bell didn’t ring needlessly. Doubts about his leadership of the flock are natural. Bellwethers in our time are still considered, sardonically, to be sheep who lead the shepherd. Are there Russian bellwethers now, and what are their bells telling? (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The Australian head of state, a retired army general, has told an Australian reporter that when he was placed next to President Vladimir Putin (lead image, centre) during the centenary World War I armistice ceremonies in Paris on Sunday, he was sorry protocol disallowed his striking the Russian president .

“It was an uncomfortable position to be in,” Sir Peter Cosgrove (lead image, right),  the Australian Governor-General, led a reporter for Sydney and Melbourne newspapers to publish. “But then, someone had to sit there,   and it was not the time or place for shirtfronting.” Shirtfronting is an Australian football term for a violent charge into the chest of an opponent; it’s outlawed by the  rules of the game. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Sisto Malaspina was killed on Friday outside his Pellegrinis coffee bar in Melbourne, Australia. The police are calling it a terrorist incident related to the war in Syria.

More than fifty years ago, Sisto taught me why nobody in Italy, or in the rest of the world, could make espresso and long black coffee as he could. His secret, he said, was to ask the coffee-drinker what taste between bitter and sweet, strong or weak, he wanted, and then brew it. 

(more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The end of the Soviet Union, and the election in 1991, then re-election in 1996 of Boris Yeltsin as President of the Russian Federation, are usually depicted in Russia as a kind of election defeat for the Communist Party as well as of leftwing, socialist or communist policy.  Yeltsin’s destruction of the Russian parliament, elected in 1990, by artillery and special forces units loyal to the Kremlin, wasn’t  electoral. The constitution Yeltsin then drafted wasn’t an electoral mandate either: it was preceded by Yeltsin’s dismissal of the Constitutional Court and followed by a rigged and fraudulent vote to enact  the document.  

For a commentary in Vzglyad  last week to describe the political outcomes of the 1991-93 period as “the rejection by our country of the Communist ideology” is fake history. Just how feeble the fake is in current political terms is revealed by the efforts of the principal anti-communist elements in the country to make themselves appear to be representative, even comprehensive politically under the President, Vladimir Putin, and Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. (more…)

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced on the eve of yesterday’s elections in the US that “there is no need to delude ourselves hoping that they will somehow clarify things [how Russian-US ties will develop]. So far, there is no definite trend towards normalizing relations.”   This morning, Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, said: “The outcome of the elections is in line with the main forecasts. Naturally, both [parties] will try to present the outcome as their victory. But I’m afraid that the US political system will be among losers, becoming even more misbalanced and unpredictable, up to attempts to launch the impeachment procedure.” 

Both officials were speaking mistakenly. The lessons for Russian policy during the two-year campaign just starting for the presidential election of 2020 are clearer than the Kremlin dares to acknowledge because it wishes to avoid a public Russian debate on the choices required. (more…)