By John Helmer, Moscow
The allegation that the Russian leadership in Moscow ordered its soldiers to take a lethal nerve agent called Novichok to England and kill Sergei Skripal began on March 4, 2018, in the offices of the British prime ministry and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).
Skripal himself and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, are the only direct witnesses of the alleged crime, of who committed it, what weapon was used, and what happened. Their names appear on the indictments and arrest warrants of the Crown Prosecution Service, and in statements to the House of Commons by the Prime Minister accusing Russian military intelligence agency officers of conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, use and possession of Novichok, and causing grievous bodily harm.
For four years the Skripals have not been allowed by the British authorities to testify freely and in public. Sergei Skripal has not been heard or seen by his family members on a telephone for almost three years. Yulia Skripal has not been heard or seen on the telephone for a year and a half. Sergei Skripal may be dead; both of them may be in prison.
Can they, did they, of their own free will recently communicate directly with a London lawyer named Adam Chapman (lead image, right), and request him to represent them in the official public inquiry, an investigation of the Novichok allegations opened last month by Lord Anthony Hughes, a retired judge (2nd from left)?
Are Chapman and Hughes the first public witnesses in four years that the Skripals are alive, well, free, and able to communicate without control or coercion?
Through his principal legal advisor Martin Smith (3rd left), Hughes was asked to say what he knows. His answers were given late yesterday. Judge what these answers mean, if anything.
In yesterday’s report, Adam Chapman, the London lawyer, failed to materialise in person, and failed to confirm that he has been in communication with the Skripals. Chapman, his assistants and their law firm Kingsley Tapley refused to provide any evidence of the representation agreement with the Skripals which was announced by Hughes on April 4.
In the weeks, months and years which have followed the alleged Novichok attack, their alleged hospitalisation, recovery, and discharge to a secret location, the Skripals have not engaged a lawyer to file an application for habeas corpus in the British courts, and confirm the legality of the terms of their confinement. A survey of London lawyers in 2018 found no one willing to take their case to the High Court.
A fortnight after the alleged attack, a lawyer appointed by the Home Office to represent the Skripals in a High Court hearing held to authorise their blood testing misrepresented their medical condition at the time and their family’s wishes. The lawyer also refused to answer press questions.
THE JUDGE, THE SOLICITORS AND THE BARRISTER WHO OUGHT TO KNOW IF THE SKRIPALS ARE ALIVE AND FREE TO COMMUNICATE
Left to right: Lord Anthony Hughes; Martin Smith; Adam Chapman; Vikram Sachdeva QC.
Months before the alleged attack, a BBC reporter named Mark Urban working with MI6 says that after an initial interview or two, Sergei Skripal cut off all contact and refused to speak with Urban again.
Through Smith, the solicitor leading the new inquiry, and through Hughes’s press spokesman, Hughes was asked a series of questions to determine who arranged Chapman’s “representation” since Chapman himself refuses to say. Initial answers from Smith were published yesterday. Hughes and Smith were then asked: “how do you know the [representation] appointment was made directly by the Skripals and how has Lord Hughes verified the personal wish of Sergei Skripal and the personal wish of Yulia Skripal?”
Smith answered: “The Skripals’ application was received by the Inquiry from Kingsley Napley, whose conduct is regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA). Solicitors such as Kingsley Napley have obligations to verify the identity of their clients (para 8.1 SRA Code of Conduct) and not to mislead the court or others (para 1.4 of the SRA Code of Conduct). Where a core participant or other person has appointed a qualified lawyer to act for them, the Chair is required by rule 6 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 to designate that lawyer as their recognised legal representative. The Inquiry has relied on an application submitted by regulated legal professionals in doing so. There is nothing unusual about this approach.”
Smith, replying for Hughes, does not say that either of them has direct evidence that Sergei Skripal is alive; that he and his daughter have directly and freely communicated with Chapman; and that they have not been coerced into the representation arrangement which Hughes has announced.
Smith claims that verification is the duty of Chapman and Kingsley Tapley, and that he and Hughes aren’t direct witnesses at all. Rule 6 of the Inquiry Rules directs Hughes. He “must designate” Chapman as the Skripals’ representative in the inquiry if they have “appointed” Chapman. The evidence they say they rely on is the “Skripals’ application…from Kingsley Napley”.
However, Smith and Hughes omit to mention Rule 7. This requires Hughes to “consider” whether Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal should be represented jointly by a single lawyer, whether their interests in the outcome of the inquiry are “similar”; whether the “facts they rely on” are “similar”; and whether it is “fair and proper” for them to be represented by Chapman.
How is it possible for Hughes to have complied with this rule and adjudicated on the available evidence what is “similar” and also what is “fair and proper”?
In the limited evidence of their telephone calls and the statement Yulia Skripal signed under the direction of MI6 officials – for that record, click to read — the interests of the convicted double agent and his innocent daughter are not similar; the medical evidence is quite different; and their views about the Russian government’s involvement in the case also different. In the paper Yulia signed, the English and the Russian mean different things; the handwriting isn’t the same; and what she signed and said identified her views and wishes, not her father’s.
In passing the buck to Chapman and Kingsley Tapley, Smith for Hughes also refers to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) Code of Conduct, citing paragraphs 1.4 and 8.1. But he has left out Para 6.2. That requires the interests and views of Sergei and Yulia Skripal should be carefully examined and compared. Where an obvious conflict of interest arises, or the risk of such a conflict is recognised, each of them must provide evidence of “informed consent in writing”.
Chapman, Smith and Hughes make no claim that they have verified this fundamental point and the signatures of the Skripals.
“There is nothing unusual about this approach”, Smith, speaking for Hughes, is now claiming. The forensic evidence of the Skripals is already plain. What is unusual is that Hughes and Smith are ignoring it. They are also trying to keep this secret. Asked for a copy of the Skripal application, they replied: “the Inquiry does not publish core participant applications.”