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By John Helmer, Moscow

It has not been proved that an unlimited number monkeys in a room with typewriters to match and an infinite amount of time would type the complete works of Shakespeare, or even one of the Bard’s lines.

But the improbability of the infinite monkey theorem is nothing compared to the certainty which the British government, its judiciary, the Metropolitan police, and the combined forces of the London Bar proved on Wednesday in a room of the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand. They proved that a troop of humans are making a monkey out of every principle of British justice and the criminal law — in order to advance the government’s war against Russia.

On September 22,  Dame Heather Hallett, the coroner in the inquest into the cause of death of Dawn Sturgess on July 8, 2018, officially ordered the prosecution of a crime without a defence; in a trial in which the verdict has already been declared by the judge herself and the prosecutors;  in which the surviving victims of the alleged crime, Sergei and Yulia Skripal, are not allowed to testify and forbidden to appear in public at all; when the three Russians accused of the crime are not permitted to be represented in the proceeding; in which there will be no jury; and in which the evidence of the crime, the weapon, the intention and motive of the perpetrators will be presented in secret so that there can be no testing for truth, fabrication,  or lie.

Hallett achieved all of this in the hearing lasting 100 minutes on Wednesday.  A verbatim transcript of the hearing can be read here.   A handful of British reporters attended, most of them by remote audio link. Jane Croft of the Financial Times and Ilya Dmitryachev of Tass were present; neither has yet to report.

Left to right: Heather Hallett; Michael Mansfield; Andrew O’Connor.

Michael Mansfield QC, the lawyer seeking a multi-million pound payout from the government for the Sturgess family, announced at the hearing: “ this process is probably the only one that is going to reach the truth of one of the most devastating  attacks…since the Second World War”.

According to Andrew O’Connor, QC, the chief prosecutor – officially he is titled counsel to Hallett – for evidence of this attack “we have made disclosure requests to other individuals and organisations, including the investigative agency  Bellingcat.” Bellingcat, a NATO and British government-financed propaganda outlet, will testify; the Skripals, the Novichok crime targets,  will not.

Bellingcat has published  the British intelligence service allegation that three Russian military intelligence (GRU) officers – Alexander Petrov (aka Alexander Mishkin), Ruslan Boshirov (Anatoly Chepiga), Sergei Fedotov (Denis Sergeyev) – carried out the Novichok attack on the Skripals in Salisbury on March 4, 2018, and then left behind a bottle of Novichok which on June 30, 2018, in an apartment in Amesbury, Sturgess sprayed on her wrists, causing her to die nine days later.

Bellingcat named Sergeyev – alias Fedotov — as the third Novichok assassin on February 14, 2019. Two years and seven months later, Dean Haydon, the Metropolitan police commander in charge of counter-terrorism, announced on Monday this week – September 21, 2021 – that Sergeyev has been charged with the attempted Novichok killings of the Skripals; Sergeyev is not charged with a crime against Sturgess.

Left: Denis Sergeyev (Fedotov) in Bellingcat’s photograph of February 2019: Bellingcat’s intelligence has claimed he is either a colonel or “possibly major-general”.   Right: Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon. Ten weeks after the Skripal incident, Haydon was promoted; a year later he was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal.

According to Haydon’s briefing in the official release, the only evidence against Sergeyev/Fedotov is that he arrived in the UK “at approximately 11:00hrs on Friday, 2 March 2018 on flight from Moscow to London Heathrow. This was around four hours prior to Petrov and Boshirov arriving from Moscow into Gatwick Airport. Detectives identified that Fedotov stayed at a hotel in central London between 2 March and 4 March 2018. Tests were carried out in the room Fedotov is believed to have stayed in, but no traces of Novichok and no risk to the public were identified from these. Evidence gathered by the investigation team suggests that Fedotov met with Petrov and Boshirov on more than one occasion in central London over the course of the weekend. Fedotov left the UK on Sunday, 4 March 2018 on a flight to Moscow departing from Heathrow at approximately 13:45hrs.”

Haydon said more and also less, according to press reporters. “The three operated as a small team with a view to deploying Novichok to kill individuals in this country. I can prove they were here operating as a unit linked to the GRU. Evidentially, I can prove three were here.”

Haydon also attempted to explain his delay in charging Sergeyev/Fedotov. “We were able to evidence the first two pretty quickly but the third man has taken slightly [sic] longer. We have to follow due process, and by that I mean investigation, putting it into evidence, putting it before the Crown Prosecution Service, and then eventually we ended up where we are today.”

Haydon’s press briefing was cited several times during Hallett’s hearing. At the conclusion, she ordered: “The provisional scope of the inquest is amended (at paragraph (b)(ii)(a) of paragraph 4 of the directions of 30 March 2021) to include the involvement of Denis Sergeev (also known as Sergey Fedotov) in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.”

Hallett’s orders also transform the inquest into a public inquiry. The difference in these terms signals a profound change in the legal principles:  the admissibility of evidence, the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt, the presumption of innocence,  the right of the accused to defence, and verdict by jury do not apply in a public inquiry. “I have…firmly concluded,” Hallett announced, “that I cannot conduct a full, fair and effective investigation into the death of Dawn Sturgess if these proceedings continue as an inquest. I have seen and my team have seen sufficient material of a highly relevant and relevant nature to the investigation that is far too sensitive to be made  public”.

This move by the British government was reported three months ago here.  

Two years earlier, it was clear this would be the outcome of the Sturgess inquest when the Wiltshire county coroner David Ridley issued his ruling on  December 20, 2019. He warned then  that if the Sturgess family lawyers wanted money, and if the government wanted to pursue the  Russians, the coroner’s court, and the laws regulating evidence and verdicts, would have to be abandoned.

Replacing Ridley earlier this year, Hallett made the switch official yesterday.

Source: https://dawnsturgessinquest.org.uk/

The reason in British law is that the evidence of the Novichok allegation and of the Russian involvement is so secret, it cannot be tested for truth or faking in a coroner’s court proceeding. To preserve the allegation but conceal the evidence, the public inquiry has been substituted which Hallett will now lead. This is not likely to start its public hearings for another year at least, Hallett and her lawyers admitted on Wednesday.

In the meantime, she has ordered the Metropolitan police to assemble their evidence and witnesses in what is being called Operation VERBASCO.  

Left: Verbasco called Mullein in the UK.  Centre: the Novichok weapon alleged to have killed Sturgess; right, read the truth of the allegations.

Turning the law on its head and concealing the truth of the evidence is the plan on which Hallett, her prosecutors, and the lawyers for Sturgess have agreed with government officials. “Their view”, Adam Straw QC, another of the Sturgess family lawyers, said in court yesterday,  “ is that a public inquiry should be established now and we invite you to make that suggestion to the Home Secretary at this stage.  Although they [Sturgess family]  consider that there may be some advantages to an inquest, for example a jury is a possibility in this sort of case, their overriding concern is to ensure  that the truth of how Ms Sturgess died is established. You [Hallett] have made it as clear as you can do that there are critical documents, critical information, which is  highly relevant to the scope of the inquest but which will have to be excluded from the inquest and therefore the only way that that can be considered is through the means of a public inquiry.”

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