A public inquiry will be held into the death of Dawn Sturgess, who was unwittingly poisoned by Novichok brought to the UK by Russian agents sent to murder Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.
The 44-year-old died three years ago after spraying the nerve agent on her skin from a discarded bottle in Wiltshire in the belief that it was perfume. Her partner, Charlie Rowley, became seriously ill but survived.
Moscow’s intended target was Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer who became a double agent for Britain, and his daughter Yulia, who were both poisoned but survived, and are now believed to be hiding in the United States.
Two suspects in the case were identified by police in 2018 – Alexander Mishkin, who used the name Alexander Petrov while in the UK, and Anatoliy Chepiga, who used the alias Ruslan Boshirov. And in September the Met said Sergey Fedotov, real name Denis Sergeev, was the mystery ‘third man’ in the plot.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has now granted permission for 44-year-old Ms Sturgess’s inquest to be converted into a public inquiry to better examine any possible Russian involvement, amid allegations she died as an indirect result of Kremlin-sponsored poisoning.
In her letter to the coroner Baroness Heather Hallett, Ms Patel said: ‘I hope this inquiry will bring comfort to (Ms Sturgess’s family and others affected) through a greater understanding of the circumstances of Ms Sturgess’ death and recognise the bravery and resilience of those who responded.’
The inquiry would be likely to be held in both Salisbury Guildhall and at venues in London, and be established ‘as soon as is reasonably possible in 2022’, Ms Patel said.
A public inquiry will be held following the death of Dawn Sturgess, who was unwittingly poisoned by Novichok brought to the UK by Russian agents sent to murder Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, Priti Patel has said
The counterfeit perfume box found by Mr Rowley in June 2018. Ms Sturgess died after being exposed to the nerve agent that had been discarded in a perfume bottle following the attack
Russian agents spied on Sergei and Yulia Skripal (pictured) five years before the Salisbury novichok poisoning – they survived but tragically Dawn Sturgess died
Timeline of Salisbury horror that shocked the world and the hunt for Putin’s Novochok agents
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and police officer Nick Bailey were poisoned with Novichok in Salisbury in March 2018. Here is a timeline of how events unfolded:
– March 4 2018: Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
– March 7: Police say a nerve agent was used to poison the pair and the case is being treated as attempted murder.
– March 12: Then-prime minister Theresa May tells the House of Commons the nerve agent Novichok is of Russian origin and the Government has concluded it is ‘highly likely’ Russia is responsible for the poisoning.
– March 22: DS Bailey is discharged from hospital but says life will ‘probably never be the same’.
– March 26: Britain’s allies announce more than 100 Russian agents are being sent home from 22 countries, in what Mrs May calls the ‘largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history’.
– April 10: Ms Skripal is discharged from hospital, followed by her father just over a month later.
– June 30: Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley fall ill at a flat in Muggleton Road in Amesbury, eight miles from Salisbury, and are taken to hospital.
– July 4: Police declare a ‘major incident’ after revealing Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley have been exposed to an ‘unknown substance’, later confirmed to be Novichok.
– July 8: Ms Sturgess dies in hospital after exposure to the nerve agent and a murder investigation is launched.
– July 10: Mr Rowley regains consciousness and is discharged from hospital later that month.
– September 12: Russian President Vladimir Putin says there is ‘nothing criminal’ about Petrov and Boshirov. Downing Street insists they are GRU officers ‘who used a devastatingly toxic illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country’.
– September 13: Petrov and Boshirov are interviewed by Russian state-funded news channel RT in which they claim they were tourists visiting Salisbury.
– March 2021: Three years on from the attack, UK counter-terrorism police say they ‘remain as determined and committed as ever’ to bring those responsible to justice.
– September 2021: Investigators say they have sufficient evidence to charge a third man over the poisonings – Russian spy Denis Sergeev, also known as Sergey Fedotov.
– November 2021: A public inquiry will be held following the death of 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, who was poisoned by Novichok in Amesbury, Wiltshire, in 2018, Home Secretary, Priti Patel has confirms
Ms Sturgess died in hospital on July 8after she and her partner, Charlie Rowley, became seriously ill in Amesbury, Wiltshire, when they came into contact with Novichok on a discarded perfume bottle.
It followed the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia, and ex-police officer Nick Bailey, who were poisoned in nearby Salisbury in March that year when members of a Russian military intelligence squad are believed to have smeared the deadly nerve agent on Mr Skripal’s door handle in Salisbury.
All three survived, as did Mr Rowley.
The Metropolitan Police have identified three suspects wanted in connection with the poisonings: Denis Sergeev, Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga, who used the aliases Sergey Fedotov, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov respectively while in the UK.
Police have appealed to the public for any information about how the bottle came to be found eight miles from Salisbury, and where it was stored between the departure of the would-be assassins from the UK in March and its discovery three months later.
They believe that the three suspects identified so far are in Russia, and with no extradition treaty with the country there is little chance of them being brought to the UK.
Ms Patel previously condemned the ‘appalling’ attack, and told the House of Commons that the UK would ‘take every possible step to detain and extradite them to face justice’ should the suspects ever leave Russia.
A further pre-inquest review is planned for next month.
The coroner previously wrote to Ms Patel, pressing her case for a public inquiry on the basis that an inquest – which is limited in scope – ‘cannot make any finding of civil or criminal liability against a named person, and it cannot attribute blame or impose any sanction or punishment’.
Speaking at the last hearing in September at the Royal Courts of Justice, Baroness Hallett said: ‘I have firmly concluded that I cannot conduct a full, fair and effective inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess if these proceedings continue as an inquest.’
Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement, with President Vladimir Putin claiming the suspects were civilians, and Petrov and Boshirov stating in an interview that they were tourists visiting Salisbury Cathedral.
The movements of two intelligence officers – who used the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – will be investigated during the probe into the death of Dawn Sturgess, Coroner Baroness Hallett said in March.
Her death followed the attempted poisoning of former Russian double agent Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, who were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury four months earlier.
They were both discharged from hospital before Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley fell ill.
Baroness Hallett said the inquest into Ms Sturgess’s death will examine whether the Kremlin was responsible for the chemical attack and where the substance used to poison her came from.
She told the pre-inquest review looking at Ms Sturgess’s death in isolation could result in an ‘incomplete and potentially misleading investigation’.
She also vowed to pursue a ‘fair, fearless and thorough’ investigation into the 44-year-old’s death.
Mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess (left) and her partner Charlie Rowley (right) fell ill at the flat after she handled a perfume bottle containing the poison. She died in hospital in Salisbury, Wiltshire, on July 8 that year. Mr Rowley was left seriously ill but recovered
Demolition work on the former flat of Charlie Rowley and a neighbouring flat after they became contaminated (pictured last year)
Former Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey (pictured with wife Sarah) was also taken seriously ill but went on to recover
The 2013 movements of two intelligence officers – who used the aliases Alexander Petrov (left) and Ruslan Boshirov (right) – will be investigated during the probe into the death of Dawn Sturgess, Coroner Baroness Hallett said
Both of the suspects are spotted at Salisbury train station, where authorities believe they are carrying out reconnaissance mission. Russia claims they were just tourists visiting the famous cathedral’s tall spire
Outlining the provisional scope of the inquest, Baroness Hallett said: ‘To my mind, there is very considerable force in submissions made by Mr O’Connor (Andrew O’Connor QC, counsel to the inquest) that to conduct an investigation into the death of Dawn Sturgess without investigating how Novichok got to be in Salisbury, and then in Amesbury, how or why it was brought to this country, who brought it and who directed them – this would be an incomplete and potentially misleading investigation.’
Officers identified the third Salisbury poisoning suspect as Sergey Fedotov (real name Denis Sergeev) and said he was a Russian national, aged about 50. This image is taken from his travel documents
Police previously said there was enough evidence to charge two Russians, known as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with offences including conspiracy to murder, over the attack on the Skripals.
But the men denied any involvement and gave a much-derided interview to state television in which they said they were only in Salisbury for a sightseeing tour of the cathedral.
Russia repeatedly denied any involvement, with President Vladimir Putin claiming the two suspects were merely civilians, not military officers.
Mr O’Connor said the suspects had failed to engage with the inquest process so far, and asked for the investigation to examine wider issues about Russian state involvement.
He said: ‘Our submission is that the investigation … should encompass not only the conduct of Mr Petrov and Mr Boshirov, but also the source of the Novichok and wider Russian state responsibility.
‘Where did the Novichok come from? Who sent those two men to Salisbury and with what instructions? And at what level was that decision approved?’
He said there was ‘very significant public interest in exposing the full facts of these matters’, adding: ‘This is likely to be the only opportunity to do so, forensically, in a legal forum.’
The coroner said a decision on whether or not to convert the inquest into a public inquiry would be made at a later date.
The hearing was adjourned until another pre-inquest review in June or July. The coroner also said the inquest may yet be held in Wiltshire.
She said: ‘It would be very important to reassure the citizens of Wiltshire and the family we are doing all we can to investigate this matter.’