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by John Helmer, Moscow 

A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) film, which started its three-part broadcast on Sunday, has exposed the chain of command in the town of Salisbury at the time Sergei Skripal (lead image, left) and Yulia Skripal were poisoned on March 4, 2018. That command was directed by a medical specialist working at the Porton Down compound less than nine miles from the park bench where the Skripals collapsed. He gave the orders to the city’s public health  officials depicted in the film, as well as to the police, paramedics and hospital personnel starring in the film.  He also coordinated the movement of the Skripals’ blood from the hospital’s intensive care ward to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down.  From there he reported to the officials of the Cabinet Office emergency committee, code-named COBRA, meeting in a bunker in central London. They included the head of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, MI6), Sir Alex Younger (lead image, right).

The medical commander’s name is Nicolas Gent. His title is Deputy Head of the Emergency Response Department, Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, Public Health England (PHE).  

Gent’s standing order to the Salisbury Hospital doctors taking blood samples from the Skripals, and to the DSTL analysts receiving the samples, was that “every transfer of a sample must be documented… you will need to complete a new form for each transfer (eg from the person who took the sample to the porter who will take the sample to the laboratory; from porter to scientist; from laboratory to courier service; from courier service to scientist in reference laboratory). All the forms in this chain must be numbered in sequence.”

Gent wrote the blank forms; he reviewed the completed ones after they had arrived at Porton Down and the blood was analysed. He then reported to COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Room A).   

But DSTL and the Ministry of Defence have subsequently acknowledged that “our searches have failed to locate any information that provides the exact time that the samples were collected.”  

For Gent to be telling the truth about how the blood samples were documented, and for the Ministry of Defence to be telling the truth that no forms have been found at Porton Down for the Skripal blood samples, leaves only one conclusion. If they aren’t lying, the truth is that no Skripal blood samples were delivered to Porton Down before it was decided that Novichok, made in Russia and used to attack the Skripals, had been found in their bloodstreams.

The discovery of Novichok is the lie. It started in the COBRA bunker in London, and was issued to Gent who coordinated with DSTL, and then with Salisbury Hospital. Gent is the witness who not only knows what was in the Skripals’ blood samples to start with. He also knows when Novichok was added to the Skripals’ blood, and by whom. There is no trace of Gent in the BBC film.

First discovery of Gent’s role as a major figure behind the scenes in the Skripal case was made by Liane Theuer.

On June 9, 2018, the Queen’s Birthday honours list cited Gent for the Order of the British Empire, commander rank (CBE).*  The official citation said his award was “for services to Health Protection.” A year later, Gent’s local newspaper reported his trip to Buckingham Palace to collect his medal.   The newspaper mentioned that “his work took him overseas, including time working on healthcare reconstruction in the Balkans following conflicts.” It also reported Gent had been involved in “dealing with the Barrow [Furness, Cumbria] Legionnaires Disease outbreak [2002].”

Nicolas Gent – left, at work for the WHO December 2013.   Centre: at home, tending his day lilies, summer 2018.   Right: at Buckingham Palace after receiving the CBE medal in April 2019.  

In Gent’s personal curriculum vitae, which he published in June 2018, Gent said he had been working at Porton Down since 2003; his connection to the Cabinet Office in London started a year earlier. He listed his “principal responsibilities” to “include:  providing clinical, scientific and technical advice on issues related to the release of chemical, biological and radiological materials to PHE / Department  of Health and associated agencies and government departments;  Management and direction of major incident;  Support to the departments national and international training, exercising and science and technology programmes; leading the provision of the emergency scientific advisory services provided jointly between PHE, the Atomic Weapons Establishment and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.”

Gent also listed the roles he played for the British Government abroad; they included work in the British colonies of the Caribbean following a 2017 hurricane; Ebola virus work in Africa in 2015; and in British military occupation zones — Kosovo, Iraq.

In his mid-June 2018 résumé Gent said nothing about the role he had just played in the Skripal case. Six months later, however, in December 2018, when Gent went to his old school Bolton, he told the schoolboys “how he and the small team of medical advisors have played a key role in most of the chemical, biological and radiological incidents in the UK in recent years. Dr Gent’s team was mobilised in March of this year when Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal were poisoned in Salisbury, England, with a Novichok nerve agent.”

Source: https://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/

“A spokesman for Bolton School said: ‘Dr Gent praised the education he received at Bolton School and his former teachers, saying that in his work he still regularly uses the basic principles of biology, chemistry and physics which he learnt here and urged any aspiring medics to study physics, as he believes an understanding of this is a good basis for any medical career.  He went on to give an enthralling account of his role in the Salisbury and Amesbury incidents, describing how a multi-agency response is coordinated when a major incident such as this is declared. He explained what a nerve agent actually is, how they work and what the signs and symptoms of nerve agent exposure are, as well as giving details of how to treat the patients.’”

Nick Gent briefing a meeting in December 2018 of Bolton schoolboys on how he had tracked the movements of the Skripals before their collapse and hospitalisation.

Gent didn’t tell the schoolboys he had been one of the briefers of the Cabinet Office and the COBRA group in London during the Skripal incident. This COBRA role he began to play much earlier, he explained in a briefing on September 13, 2016, to the Select Committee on Science and Technology of the House of Commons.  His role would start,  he said,  with “a teleconference between DSTL, AWE [Atom Weapons Establishment] and PHE personnel with relevant expertise, and aims to provide the necessary scientific advice during the earliest stages of the response to an incident.”  Gent would then create a coordinating committee of local and national officials, called a Scientific and Technical Advice Cell (STAC). “The first scientific adviser and senior medical adviser would be online to those first responders within minutes. The whole coordinated group of science adviser services that cover all three agencies comes together in the next 10 to 20 minutes, and that bridges the gap until the formal advisory structures that sit in rooms and provide face-to-face advice come together in the one, two or three hours after that.”

From directing the local STAC, Gent explained, he would move on to briefing the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). “SAGE provides national level advice to the Cabinet Office emergency committee (known as ‘COBR’ or ‘Cobra’)…The SAGE group is the principal group, usually chaired by the Government Chief Scientist or the Chief Medical Officer, that advises the ministerial meetings or senior officials meetings sitting in the Cabinet Office briefing rooms—the Cobra mechanism—about the science picture.”

COBRA’s orders would then be passed down the chain of command through Gent.

In his testimony to the parliamentary committee in September 2016, Gent said he had worked with Home Office and other officials to prepare the government’s evidence for the Litvinenko Inquiry,  Sir Robert Owen’s substitute for a court  inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. “The important thing for us” said Gent’s colleague at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) about Gent and an official from the DSTL, “is that we have always worked as a community of three for years, from my perspective, right back to the death of Alexander Litvinenko.”  The Owen paper reported that Gent was at work with police, the AWE and Litvinenko himself in November 2006, before Litvinenko’s death. Gent was one of the signatories of the experts’ report on polonium poisoning as the cause of Litvinenko’s death.  

For his work on the Litvinenko case, Gent received the “Metropolitan Police Commissioners Commendation (SO15 – Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism Command) for support to the investigation into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.”

When the Skripal incident began, Gent told the Bolton schoolboys, he was giving running orders to the Wiltshire Council’s public health executive, Tracy Daszkiewicz, a non-medical administrator.   

Left: the real Tracy Daszkiewicz, Wiltshire. She has refused to answer press questions directly. She has also promoted herself through Twitter with a “36K retweet reach”.   Right: the BBC’s Tracy Daszkiewicz. The real Daszkiewicz no longer works for the Wiltshire council; from June 1 she is a lower-ranked executive for a larger public health area, based in Bristol.  

According to the BBC, “at the centre of The Salisbury Poisonings is Tracy Daszkiewicz (played by Anne-Marie Duff), the director of public health for Wiltshire. She had been appointed just three months before the Skripals were poisoned, but had worked for Wiltshire Council for more than a decade. In reality, Daszkiewicz played an integral role of the response to the poisoning, but avoided media exposure – in part to not betray the trust of local residents.”   

Watch the first 57-minute episode of the film here.

“Daszkiewicz worked with the police and intelligence services to identify the toxin as nerve agent Novichok,” according to another press report. The Murdoch media claim:  “Tracy was responsible for tracing the movements of the Skripals — likely poisoned by Russian agents — around the city of Salisbury in order to limit the spread of the poison… Tracy’s story hasn’t been told. It seems such an irony because she was very much there — orchestrating and negotiating things.”

The public record Gent has made shows none of this is true. In fact, Daszkiewicz has been put up by the British media to conceal the role of Gent and other officials at the Porton Down complex, as well as at MI6, the Defence Ministry, and the Foreign Office in London.  They were at the head of the COBRA chain of command in London; Gent was in the middle at Porton Down; Daszkiewicz was at the bottom in Salisbury.

According to Mark Urban, a BBC spokesman for the intelligence and security services, “early on Wednesday 7 March a group of senior officials and ministers made their way to the Cabinet Office on Whitehall…down to the basement and Cobra…Around thirty people arrived that morning”. Writing in a book published months later,  Urban claimed that “none of them harboured any doubt any doubt that Russia was responsible for what had happened in Salisbury” (paperback edition, page 235). This was the outcome of the COBRA session, and it was in the running orders sent down the line to Gent, and from Gent to Daszkiewicz.

But the evidence for “Russian responsibility” – that was identification of Novichok at Porton Down — had not started upwards to COBRA from the Skripals’ blood samples. This evidence is in Gent’s orders to the intensive care unit staff at Salisbury Hospital, and the forms he required them to fill in when they took the Skripals’ blood before dispatching the samples to Porton Down.   

Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/  -- Gent’s orders on blood sampling appear on page 26. Gent's blood sample chain of evidence forms date from the first edition of his manual, published in April 2008 (page 17).  

Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/

Gent’s forms required that for each of the Skripals, then at the hospital’s Radnor Ward, the blood sampling required the names of two doctors, one to initiate and supervise the sampling and a more senior one, the consultant, to authorize it. The process of transferring the samples from the hospital to Porton Down also had to be documented with three names and signatures – the hospital staff member handing over the blood and the forms; the courier making the pick-up at the hospital and then the delivery to Porton Down; and the Porton Down recipient. For each blood sample and for each step of the transfer, Gent required a notation of the date and time.

However, in March 2019, when the Ministry of Defence and DSTL were asked to clarify the records of the blood sampling of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the first 36 hours of their hospitalisation, here is what they replied:

The PTN or patient numbers for the Skripals, and the precise time of delivery by the courier of their blood samples at Porton Down  are the clues to Gent’s record-keeping. The PTN must have been entered on to the second line of Gent’s first form.  The delivery date and time must have been entered on the third line of Gent’s second form. It is impossible for the data in between not to have been filled in, just as Gent had ordered.

Accordingly, how can it have happened that “our searches have failed to locate any information that provides the exact time that the samples were collected?”

Gent was asked this question, and a follow-up: Was the batch of Skripal blood samples recorded as delivered to Porton Down on March 5, more than 24 hours after they were first tested at Salisbury Hospital, the only ones to have been despatched and received with the Skripal names on them?  The implication is that the missing, unrecorded, or undisclosed Skripal blood samples were the first to be taken at the hospital after their admission on March 4 — and they did not reveal Novichok.  That discovery came later, after Gent had conferenced with SAGE and then with COBRA.

Gent is refusing to answer.  

[*] Buckingham Palace reveals the order of precedence decided in retrospect by COBRA for several people who received state medals for their participation in the Skripal case. Gent’s award came first, ahead of all others ; his award was also higher ranking than the others.  A year later, in the Queen’s Birthday honours list for 2019, three DSTL analysts, Timothy Atkins, Mark Fulop and Sarah Stubbs, received the OBE “for their scientific support to the incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury during March and July 2018”. In addition, Atkins was cited “for his service to UK defence and security, as well as providing scientific advice and support in the response to the incidents.” On the same 2019 list, a Salisbury Hospital manager received an MBE. On the staff of the Wiltshire Council, a director received an OBE and two lower-level apparatchiki received MBEs.  Daszkiewicz received no official award.  

Left: the real Timothy Atkins from DSTL and Ministry of Defence. Right: the BBC’s Atkins. In Episode 1 of the BBC film -- Min 42:46  -- Atkins  is depicted briefing police and county executives on March 6. In the film, Atkins’s briefing is the first to mention Russian Novichok.

Last in the medal lineup by six more months appeared two Wiltshire policemen; they had been high in the local police chain of command but did not come near the Skripals. Salisbury Hospital, or a source of contamination.  At the end of December 2019, they were awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for administrative service, not for gallantry in action.   In the BBC film, these two policemen, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills and Superintendent David Minty, were depicted as giving Daszkiewicz her information and operational orders on the morning of March 5, just hours after the Skripals had been hospitalised. That morning, according to the film, Mills told Daszkiewicz he was about to go into a tele-conference with COBRA. That timing was roughly 24 hours earlier than previous reports, including Urban’s account from MI6.

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