By John Helmer, Moscow
On Friday, July 15, in London, a session took place of the British government’s public inquiry into the story of the Novichok attacks of 2018. This followed the first public session on March 25 and a closed-door session on April 4.
However, the sound and video recording system failed. The presiding chairman, former judge Lord Anthony Hughes, had no microphone and was both inaudible and invisible to the camera for more than two hours of the proceedings. Microphones at the tables of the lawyers in the courtroom, including those of the inquiry itself, the government, and the police, did not work. A single microphone had to be moved by a court clerk between speakers, but this failed to catch everything that was said. The stenographer contracted to transcribe the session was not in the courtroom; dependent on the audio and video feed, she was unable to transcribe what was said.
A spokesman for Hughes told the press “the stenographer was listening remotely and this has resulted in a delay with the transcript. I hope it will be published early next week.” Following the failure of the transcript to appear this week, the spokesman conceded “we are hoping to publish the transcript as soon as possible.” She was requested to say when the transcript and the texts of the presentations the lawyers had prepared in advance would appear. She replied: “we are aiming to publish the transcript and submissions together as soon as possible.”
The result is that the two most important revelations in what was said in court have not been recorded officially. They have also not been reported by the handful of media reporters who listed themselves at the hearing; the BBC and Salisbury Journal reports omitted them. The two dramatic disclosures were however recorded by hand, by me.
In the first, Michael Mansfield QC, said that a “jigsaw of intelligence” had been the evidence when British government officials announced the Novichok story and then charged Russian agents with the Novichok attacks. If the evidence had been good enough for public statements by Prime Minister Theresa May, her Cabinet Secretary and security advisor Sir Mark Sedwill, and then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, then what explained the delay in releasing the evidence to his clients, the family and partner of Dawn Sturgess, the lawyer asked. “Unless it’s an empty barrel”, Mansfield added.
In the second disclosure, Georgina Wolfe, junior counsel for the Home Office, was speaking in court for the government, including the prime ministry and the two security services, MI6 and MI5. She explained there was an ongoing threat to British lives of Russian attack. Her evidence for this, she added, included “the Danish investigation of the MH17 attack”. Wolfe was referring to the Dutch investigation and the ongoing court trial in The Netherlands of the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over the Ukraine in July 2014.
The truth of what caused the death of Dawn Sturgess and of the Novichok story is not what Mansfield’s and Wolfe’s statements in court last Friday meant. Mansfield wants a multi-million pound payment for his clients and himself, and is prepared to accuse the government of lying. Wolfe wants the government to get away with the lying under cover of secrecy, backed by something misbegotten in the kingdom of Denmark.
Without an official record of what was said, the lawyers and the judge can pretend Mansfield’s and Wolfe’s revelations didn’t happen.
For the only comprehensive report of the July 15 hearing published so far, click to read.
Left to right: Michael Mansfield QC; Dawn Sturgess’ parents, Stanley and Caroline; her partner, Charles Rowley.
Mansfield represents the family of Sturgess and her partner, Charles Rowley. From the beginning Mansfield has emphatically endorsed the official government version of the Russian Novichok attack. He has worked to profit from it, arguing that his clients deserve a multi-million pound compensation because, Mansfield has argued, the government knew in advance the Russians were attackers and what they were capable of; but that out of the government’s negligence or incompetence, it had failed to protect Sturgess and Rowley, and is liable to pay. Rowley has told the press: “I want justice”. He says he also wants one million pounds.
Mansfield refuses to answer press questions while he intensifies the pressure on the government to agree to the payday.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) indictments on the reported Novichok attack evidence have spelled out four criminal charges against three individuals:
For analysis, read this.
A second CPS indictment, dated September 21, 2021 – three years after the first – charged a third alleged Russian assassin, read this. There is no evidence that the announced charges have been formalized as arrest warrants distributed to the European Union or Interpol.
No formal charges have been announced in relation to the allegations that the same Novichok attack plan resulted in the death of Sturgess.
Mansfield hasn’t been engaged by Sergei and Yulia Skripal, the first two alleged victims of the Novichok attack. Sergei is a British citizen who had been housed in Salisbury at the state’s expense and who had been covertly watched and protected by the security services and by one of their informants operating under BBC cover named Mark Urban. The Skripals have disappeared, however; they may be imprisoned or dead; for more, read the book.
Mansfield also doesn’t represent Nicholas Bailey. The former detective sergeant in the Wiltshire Police was allegedly poisoned by Novichok after contact with the outer door handle of Skripal’s house. He was subsequently treated at Salisbury District Hospital in the same ward — Bailey claims without direct evidence — as the Skripals. Bailey has attempted to sue in the High Court for compensation for himself from the Wiltshire Police; they have denied liability; Bailey has dropped his case. He has also contradicted himself in public broadcasts and press statements; these have cast doubt on his reliability as a witness of the official Novichok story.
Despite Bailey’s prominence in the official statements to parliament and in the CPS indictments, he is missing from the Hughes Inquiry. Bailey has not been accepted by Hughes as a core participant; his name was not mentioned in the March 25 hearing which opened the Hughes Inquiry. The Wiltshire Police submission to Hughes, applying for core participant standing in the inquiry, omitted to mention Bailey.
By contrast, the three accused Novichok attackers have been identified and assigned a special lawyer. The counsel to the inquiry told the judge “it is unlikely that either [Alexander] Petrov, [Ruslan] Boshirov or [Sergei] Fedotov (‘the Russian nationals’) will consent to be designated as CPs [Core Participants] in this Inquiry. Nevertheless, it is important to ensure the Inquiry’s investigation takes account of the explanations provided by Mr Petrov,Mr Boshirov and the Russian Embassy for the men’s presence in London and Salisbury at the material time. [Council] submit that it would be appropriate to task one member of the team, Ms Pottle, with responsibility for ensuring that the Inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the evidence connecting the Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’ death.”
Bailey is the only target of the alleged Novichok attacks, according to the official version, who has been ignored and silenced by the Hughes Inquiry so far. He and his representatives refuse to answer press questions.
Last Friday, when Mansfield leaned forward into the only working microphone in Courtroom Number 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand, he was aiming to intensify the pressure on the government to make a deal for his clients. Their patience, he said, was “wearing thin”. About the government’s reluctance to release its evidence he added: “Unless the barrel is empty.” By that he meant that he and the Sturgess family have begun to suspect the government’s secrecy and delay are concealing the lack of evidence for the Russian Novichok story.
That suspicion is exactly what Wolfe and her clients, the Home Office and security services, intend Hughes and his inquiry to stop before it becomes public in the press. In her law firm advertisement, Wolfe says she “predominantly acts for state agents, including police forces, NHS trusts and government departments.” Her cases include defending MI6 in a notorious Libyan rendition case; and representing Welsh and Cheshire police charged with malicious prosecution. In 2016, she adds to her résumé, she was an “Inspirational Women in Law Finalist”; Wolfe was one of four runners-up.
Wolfe’s attempt to justify the secrecy of government evidence of Russian attack threats by referring to the “Danish investigation of the MH17 attack” was not a slip of the tongue. The video recording shows Wolfe reading the phrase from her prepared script. That document has also been promised for publication on the Inquiry website. It has not yet appeared.