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THE CAUSE OF DAWN STURGESS’S DEATH — FUNERAL AND CREMATION RECORDS CAST FRESH DOUBT ON NOVICHOK

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with [1]

New evidence has surfaced from interviews with sources at the Salisbury undertaker and crematorium in charge of the obsequies for Dawn Sturgess, whose death at Salisbury District Hospital on July 8, 2018, is the only death officially recorded from the Novichok nerve agent. Their testimony raises fresh doubts that Novichok was the cause of her death, and suspicion that the two state coroners and two state pathologists responsible for the investigation have been concealing material evidence of timing and records in the case.

A report published [2]last week  exposed the refusal of the two pathologists, Philip Lumb and Guy Rutty, to discuss the two autopsies they conducted to determine the cause of Sturgess’s death. This was despite the public disclosure on March 30, during a hearing of the coroner’s inquest directed by secret service advisor, Baroness Heather Hallett. Lumb’s identity was revealed for the first time, along with indications that at a first autopsy he conducted on July 9, the cause of death he noted did not identify  Novichok poisoning. Lumb’s conclusion was that Sturgess had died of “post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage”.

That was not listed officially until Rutty presented the report of his findings on November 29, 2018; Rutty’s autopsy, according to the Hallett inquest record, had occurred four and a half months earlier, on July 17. Rutty’s reported conclusion was “Novichok toxicity”. Read the transcript of the March 30 coroner’s court hearing conducted by Hallett by clicking here [3]

Transcript source: https://drive.google.com/ [3]
Analysis: http://johnhelmer.net/ [4]
A leading British toxicologist and specialist on organophosphate poisoning comments: “There we have Rutty who is a proponent of non-invasive post-mortems using CT scans, being involved in scanning a body which had already, no doubt, had the organs removed, then replaced, in order to look for tissue damage caused by the nerve agent. Rutty would have had a hard job to show and prove Novichok as cause of death with all major organs removed. If all the toxicology and histology work had been performed at the behest of Lumb, then in practice, Rutty's scanner work could not have added to this. As we know, asphyxiation would be expected with organophosphate poisoning. The evidence of this would have been that somewhere, at some time in the hospital, post mortem, lung fluid would have been present and drained. This would have been crucial in pointing towards nerve agent poisoning, but Lumb did not conclude this. It cannot have been visible to Rutty’s scanner.”

The anomalies in the Hallett inquest record have not been detected in the mainstream press so far. This month, Hallett’s legal advisor Martin Smith attempted to stonewall enquiries and prevent the release of additional information. Replying for Rutty on the dates of the two autopsies, Lumb’s role, and the reason for the report delay,  Smith said: “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.” Read the full story here [2].

Lumb has been contacted independently with similar questions; he refuses to answer.

Hallett revealed additional new information for the first time. “On 5 July 2018”,  she claimed at page 4 of the transcript [3], “a diagnosis of Novichok poisoning was recorded in her [Sturgess]  medical notes.”  The timing of this “record in medical notes” was six days after Sturgess had been admitted to Salisbury District Hospital “unresponsive” with what Lumb later diagnosed as heart and brain injuries.  

The “record in medical notes” was missed by the first coroner to investigate the case, Wiltshire county coroner David Ridley.  In his first formal report, dated December 20, 2019, Ridley claimed that Novichok had not been detected until after July 11; this was following the police report of discovering a bottle of fake perfume on the kitchen table of the apartment in which Sturgess had been staying with her partner, Charles Rowley.  

Source: For analysis, read the book [5].   

The revelation that the Novichok notation in Sturgess’s “medical notes” was dated six days before the source of the Novichok was discovered by police, despite their searches of the apartment for illegal drugs days earlier, is new.

First coroner Ridley turns out to have made a more consistent, but significantly less revealing record than second coroner Hallett. When she resumes her inquest hearing in June or early July, she is expected to announce that on account of classified evidence she has been shown from MI6, she will be terminating the open proceeding required by the UK Coroners and Justice Act.

Unaccountably, Ridley also missed and failed to report either autopsies of July 9 or July 17, the names of the pathologists he had himself directed to conduct the post-mortem investigation; and  the Rutty report of November 29, 2018, which had been sent to Ridley a year before he issued his own report.

A British Broadcasting Corporation report of July 19, 2018  – published [6]without reporter’s byline   — claimed that at Ridley’s first inquest hearing on that day he had taken testimony from one of Sturgess’s relatives and evidence from others, including police and medical personnel. “The hearing was told Ms Sturgess’s body was left in the hospital room where she died with guards on duty outside overnight. Her remains were placed in a sealed bag with unique serial numbers the next day [July 9], before being taken away under police escort for tests, the court heard. Coroner Mr Ridley said the results of a post-mortem examination held on Tuesday [July 17] would not be revealed until more tests had been carried out. He also confirmed swabs taken from both Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley tested positive at Porton Down for the nerve agent.”

Earlier public reports had placed the first autopsy on the day after Sturgess’s death, July 9. If Ridley’s courtroom remarks were correctly reported by the BBC, he was concealing this ten days later. Ridley was also implying that even after the July 17 autopsy, now confirmed to have been conducted by Lumb and Rutty, with experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) attending as well,  there were still “more tests [to be] carried out”.  However, even after these had been reported to him on November 29, 2018, Ridley refused to disclose them as he had promised in court.

According to the BBC report, Ridley told his July 19 hearing that he had “released Ms Sturgess’ body so her funeral could be held.” This was untrue, according to new testimony given by Becky Perry, a manager for Chris White Funeral Directors of Salisbury.

Left to right: Dawn Sturgess; David Ridley; Becky Perry.

Perry confirmed last week that she had supervised the funeral arrangements for Sturgess. Asked when the body was released and collected by the undertaker from the mortuary, Perry said the customary practice was either the night before or the morning of the scheduled funeral. “I don’t remember precisely. It was either the evening before the funeral or early the same day of the funeral.”  This places the release of Sturgess on Ridley’s signature on July 29 or July 30.

This month Ridley was asked for “the date you signed the document releasing the body of Dawn Sturgess to her family for cremation and burial in July 2018. I am obliged to point out that the applicable law and regulations require you to have signed the release, and that should you refuse to confirm the date, or refuse to reply to this question, you will be reported as refusing.” Ridley refused to answer.

Coronial court experts and undertakers acknowledge that for the coroner to delay releasing Sturgess’s body for twelve days from the July 17 post-mortem, through the July 19 coroner’s hearing, to the funeral date of July 30 is highly unusual. Equally exceptional, they believe, is Ridley’s attempt to conceal the date of his signature on the release form.  

Perry the undertaker refused to comment, claiming she was reluctant to provide any information about the funeral arrangements without the family’s permission. The Sturgess family and her companion Rowley are represented by London lawyers Michael Mansfield and Irene Nembhard, who are seeking a multi-million pound compensation agreement from the British Government. If the evidence for Novichok poisoning is exposed as doubtful or false, their money claim will fail. For more details of their case, read the book [7],  and this update [8].

A source at the Salisbury crematorium, where Sturgess’s funeral was held on the afternoon of July 30 and where her body was cremated, said last week the body had been handed over to the undertakers sealed, and that the undertaker had done nothing more than place the sealed body bag into the coffin which was then delivered by White’s hearse to the crematorium chapel. The source added that he was given “government orders from London” for the handling of the cremation. He was assured of the safety of the crematorium staff,  he said, because the body had been sealed at handover and was sealed in the coffin at cremation.  He identified no other special measures.

One of two photographs published on July 30 by the Murdoch press, apparently the only ones of Dawn Sturgess’s coffin arriving at the Salisbury Crematorium in the afternoon of that day. The hearse belongs to Chris White Funeral Directors. A Sky News reporter claimed to have been told that “special health measures are in place to keep mourners safe at the funeral of the Amesbury novichok victim Dawn Sturgess.  There will be no pallbearers at the mother-of-three's cremation in Salisbury today, and her coffin will already be in place when people arrive. Public Health England has issued [9]advice to prevent mourners from being exposed to the nerve agent that led to Ms Sturgess' death.” This proved to be untrue, according to a SkyNews report [10]which followed an hour later.   A toxicology source says: “Novichok in tissue degrades, so nothing measurable would remain in cremation ashes.” If the tissue evidence proved Sturgess had not been poisoned by Novichok, the toxicologist adds that cremation would erase it.