FIRST DAY SHOCK AT THE HER MAJESTY’S GOVERNMENT INQUEST – BELLINGCAT TO BE CALLED TO TESTIFY, BUT NOT SERGEI OR YULIA SKRIPAL
By John Helmer, Moscow
The first session of the inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, held in London on Tuesday, was almost entirely predictable.
The counsel for the coroner, like the lawyers for the Sturgess family and for the Home Office, repeated without qualification the allegation that a Novichok poison weapon they say was produced in Russia and taken to the UK by Russian assassins, caused the unplanned death of Sturgess. This followed twelve weeks after an attempt at assassinating Sergei Skripal with the same weapon on March 4, 2018. Sturgess was the unintended victim of leftover poison, they say.
In short, this is an inquiry into evidence everyone in court already agrees can mean only one thing, beyond reasonable doubt — the Russians did it. A court proceeding to demonstrate what has already been announced; aka a show trial.
There were two surprises, though. These appear to have been as unintended by Her Majesty’s Government as Sturgess’s Novichok death.
The first was the disclosure by the inquest counsel from the pathologists’ post-mortem report on Sturgess, after her death was recorded at Salisbury District Hospital on July 8, 2018. The cause of her death, according to these medical findings, was “Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity”. This is the first time the post-mortem results and the names of the two doctors who reached them have been disclosed publicly. The Wiltshire county coroner David Ridley, who conducted the case for almost three years, kept this secret.
The disclosure means that Sturgess died first of a heart attack, loss of oxygen to brain, and bleeding in brain, possibly at the apartment of her partner in Amesbury before ambulance men arrived, or on her way to hospital. “She was pronounced dead in hospital,” the lawyer added. Only later was “Novichok toxicity” discovered. But when?
For the first time, it is revealed that the post-mortem examination was done on July 17; the post-mortem report did not follow until November 29. The gaps in time, and also in biochemical and forensic meaning between “1a, cardiac arrest” and “1b, Novichok toxicity”, are so large, it is shocking that the presiding coroner, Lady Heather Hallett, indicated no plan to call the pathologists to testify under cross-examination.
The second surprise is not less of a shock. It appears in the list of witnesses. “Our current intention,” the counsel to the inquest announced, “is to make disclosure requests to the following individuals and organisations following the PIR [pre-inquest review]”. Eighteen names of witnesses follow whose testimony is planned. They start with Sturgess’s family and her companion, Charles Rowley, allegedly a survivor of the same poisoning which killed her. The local and London police follow on the list; then ambulance crews; hospital staff; the secret intelligence agencies; the Cabinet Office in London; and finally, at No. 18, “Bellingcat”. This is the well-known NATO-funded evidence fabricator and cyber warfare unit.
The Hallett inquest will call Bellingcat to testify. Missing from the list, excluded from testifying in court, are two names – Sergei and Yulia Skripal.(more…)