By John Helmer, Moscow
The weakest link in the British government’s four-year long story of Russian Novichok assassination operations in the UK – prelude to the current war – is an English medical expert by the name of Guy Rutty (lead image, standing).
A government-appointed pathologist advising the Home Office, police, and county coroners, Rutty is the head of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit in Leicester, he is the author of a post-mortem report, dated November 29, 2018, claiming that the only fatality in the history of the Novichok nerve agent (lead image, document), Dawn Sturgess, had died of Novichok poisoning on July 8, 2018. Rutty’s finding was added four months after initial post-mortem results and a coroner’s cremation certificate stopped short of confirming that Novichok had been the cause of her death.
Rutty’s Novichok finding was a state secret for more than two years. It was revealed publicly by the second government coroner to investigate Sturgess’s death, Dame Heather Hallett, at a public hearing in London on March 30, 2021. In written evidence it was reported that “on 17th July 2018, Professor Guy Rutty MBE, a Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist conducted an independent post-mortem examination. He was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist. Professor Rutty’s Post-Mortem Report of 29th November 2018 records the cause of death as Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity.”
Hallett, Rutty, Lumb, and others engaged by the government to work on the Novichok case have refused to answer questions about the post-mortem investigations which followed immediately after Sturgess’s death was reported at Salisbury District Hospital; and a cause of death report signed by the Wiltshire Country coroner David Ridley, when Sturgess’s body was released to her family for funeral and cremation on July 30, 2018.
After another three years, Ridley was replaced as coroner in the case by Hallett in March 2021. Hallett was replaced by Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, sitting) in March 2022.
The cause-of-death documents remain state secrets. “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Hallett’s and Rutty’s spokesman Martin Smith said on May 17, 2021, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.”
Since then official leaks have revealed that Rutty had been despatched by the Home Office in London to take charge of the Sturgess post-mortem, and Lumb ordered not to undertake an autopsy or draw conclusions on the cause of Sturgess’s death until Rutty arrived. Why? The sources are not saying whether the two forensic professors differed in their interpretation of the evidence; and if so, whether the published excerpt of Rutty’s report of Novichok poisoning is the full story.
New developments in the official investigation of Sturgess’s death, now directed by Hughes, have removed the state secrecy cover for Rutty, Lumb, and other medical specialists who attended the post-mortem on July 17, 2018. The appointment by Hughes of a London lawyer, Adam Chapman, to represent Sergei and Yulia Skripal, opens these post-mortem documents to the Skripals, along with the cremation certificate, and related hospital, ambulance and laboratory records. Chapman’s role is “appropriate” – Smith’s term – for the Skripals to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb and add independent expert evidence.
Hughes’s appointment of another lawyer, Emilie Pottle (lead image, top left), to act on behalf of the three Russian military officers accused of the Novichok attack exposes this evidence to testing at the same forensic standard. According to Hughes, it is Pottle’s “responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the evidence connecting those Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’s death.” Pottle’s responsibility is to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb.
Follow the story of Chapman’s involvement in the Novichok case here. On July 15, in Chapman’s (right) first public appearance in a courtroom on behalf of the Skripals, he was asked by Hughes if he had anything to say to the court for Sergei and Yulia Skripal. “Nothing”, Chapman replied. Pottle was not asked to speak for the three Russians accused, Alexander Petrov, Ruslan Boshirov, and Sergei Fedotov.*
Chapman’s and Pottle’s roles in the Sturgess inquiry focus now on Rutty because he is the only publicly identified source of forensic medical evidence of Novichok; and because to date he refuses to answer questions about his conduct of the Sturgess post-mortem investigations of 2018, the delay of four and a half months for signing the post-mortem report; and the meaning of the cause-of-death formula in the report combining “Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage”, with “Ib Novichok toxicity.”
The Ib Novichok report is a toxicologist’s finding, not a pathologist’s conclusion. In Rutty’s list of research publications, there are none on poisoning and toxicology; Rutty has signed the Sturgess report for a toxicologist who has not been identified yet. According to an expert familiar with the case, “a pathologist cannot conclude Ib COD [cause of death], so who was the toxicologist involved?” If doubt in Rutty’s report is opened, cross-examined, and substantiated in the ongoing Hughes public inquiry, the British government’s case against the Kremlin for both the Sturgess and the Skripal Novichok cases risks exposure as fabrication.
For the archive of reports on Rutty, Lumb, and the Sturgess post-mortem investigations, start here.
The official guidelines issued in 2018 by the Royal College of Pathologists (RCP) for post-mortems in toxic poisoning or drug death cases required the Sturgess autopsy to have taken place within 24 hours of her death. Had Lumb conducted the post-mortem then, however, the police would not have reported finding the alleged Novichok poison on the kitchen table where Sturgess allegedly sprayed it on herself on June 30. Despite extensive police searches of the home, that discovery did not materialise until at least two days after Sturgess’s death on July 8.
In March 2021, when Hallett revealed the Ia/Ib report on the cause of her death, sources believed there had been two post-mortems, the first by Lumb and the second by Rutty; for more details, read this.
Fresh source information now indicates there was only one post-mortem; that Lumb had been commissioned to undertake it by County Coroner Ridley; but that officials in London intervened to delay Lumb and put Rutty in charge. He had been Lumb’s academic superior earlier in their careers; Rutty had more experience than Lumb in dealing with chemical warfare agents, sources claim.
In the past Rutty has been rewarded by the British government for his services to the police, prosecutors, the Home Office, and other government agencies. In 2008 he received a Metropolitan Police award for his work on Exercise Torch the year before; Torch was a simulation by British military
and security forces of mass fatalities in chemical and nuclear warfare.
In 2010 Rutty received a Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal for services to the police. He and his pathology unit have received many government grants for application of mobile computer scanning technology to replace conventional invasive autopsies, especially in cases of mass fatalities. Rutty describes the technology and its police and forensic applications in this research paper. He has also patented a mobile device for tissue sampling after a chemical, biological, radiation or nuclear incident. Rutty has advertised the forensic superiority of his post-mortem computerised tomography (CT) methods compared to conventional autopsies in numerous academic publications.
Lumb’s (right) career record also reveals his expertise in mass fatality post-mortem investigations using both computer tomography and conventional autopsy methods; in the Manchester Arena terrorist bombing of 2017,
for example. That was a year before the Sturgess case. Lumb and Rutty were engaged side by side in the forensic investigations of cause of death in
the Hillsborough Football Stadium mass fatality disaster of 1989. Lumb was the forensic expert advising the victim families in the inquests of 2014-2016; Rutty was advising the coroner; they are co-authors of a research paper on the Hillsborough case published last year.
Since Rutty’s and Lumb’s refusals to respond to emailed questions in May 2021, they have not been contacted again. No British newspaper or television news medium has reported on their roles in the Sturgess case and the Novichok allegations.
Video film clip of Dr Guy Rutty’s examination of the skull of King Richard III to identify the cause of his death; the film was released publicly by the University of Leicester. “’I approached this examination as that of any patient – just because he was a King did not make a difference,’ said Professor Rutty. ‘Everyone is treated the same with the same doctor/patient relationship, the same respect in death and the same level of professional investigation. The key to this sequence is that alongside my role at the University of Leicester, I am a Home office forensic pathologist. Thus I was able to look at the large injury in the base of the skull and, through experience, I was able to identify the key injury’.” Rutty’s analysis recorded here avoids the 500-year controversy over whether Richard’s wounds show that he had been fatally wounded in combat or executed after he had been disarmed -- “piteously slain and murdered” as was claimed at the time by his supporters, and denied by the Tudor dynasty and its successors ever since.
It is not known whether Hughes plans to call both Lumb and Rutty as expert witnesses in the Sturgess inquiry, either in closed or open hearings; and whether cross-examination will be allowed to lawyers for the Sturgess and Skripal families to probe whether the Lumb and Rutty findings differed on the cause of Sturgess’s death.
Earlier this month, the Russian Embassy in London published a new appeal for information about Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The notice appeared in Russian on September 2; it has not been translated into English. The Embassy makes no mention of Chapman. “We are perplexed to state that for the past four and a half years, the Russian side has remained in the dark about the fate of two of our citizens, Sergei and Yulia Skripal…There is still no official information about their state of health, legal status, or at least their location…We have repeatedly appealed to the UK authorities…There was no meaningful response to our requests…We cannot perceive such an approach as anything other than London’s desire to conceal the truth about what happened and prevent the disclosure of its true causes, although we believe that ordinary Britons are no less interested in knowing them.”
Russian reporters who have been covering the Skripal case since 2018 do not know why the Embassy has launched this appeal now.
Chapman was asked by email to say if he knew of the statement and whether he had communicated with Skripal family members in Russia, or with the Russian Embassy before or since the September 2 statement was published. He has not replied.
In his latest action in the case, Hughes issued a secrecy order on August 19. This will conceal the names of officials of “ SCS [Senior Civil Service] and military equivalent, except when the person concerned has been officially publicly linked to the 2018 events in the role and capacity that is to be disclosed or published; and… all UK Intelligence Community (‘UKIC’) staff, unless publicly avowed such as the Chief of SIS and MI5’s Director General, and including any cover names used by such staff.”
For the time being this means that medical experts like Rutty and Lumb, the toxicologist and others present at the Sturgess post-mortem, and Salisbury hospital doctors, nurses, and ambulance staff who came into contact with the Skripals or Sturgess, will not be kept secret in the proceedings.
The next public hearing Hughes says he will hold is unlikely before November.
[*] These are the names reported in the official British documents and in the March 25, 2022, and July 15, 2022, Hughes hearings. Western media report these names as aliases; journalists are not consistent in identifying the real names of the three as Alexander Mishkin, Anatoliy Chepiga, and Denis Sergeyev.