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By John Helmer, Moscow

Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, left), the chairman of the newly appointed inquiry into  allegations of Novichok plots and death in England in 2018, revealed on Friday that a British lawyer has been engaged to represent Sergei (centre) and Yulia Skripal (right) in the investigation he is conducting. This may mean they are alive.  It does not mean the Skripals will be allowed to appear and to answer questions freely in public.

Sergei Skripal has not been seen in public since the day of the alleged Novichok attack, March 4, 2018. He has not been heard on the telephone by family members since June 26, 2019.   Yulia Skripal was last seen in a British and US directed interview at a US bomber base  in May 2018;    her last telephone call was heard on November 20, 2020.   

Hughes’s staff and spokesman refuse to identify the Skripals’ lawyer by name.

At the London court session on March 25, Hughes was told by the counsel to the proceeding that earlier this month a letter had been received “from legal representatives of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, representing their designation as core participants in the inquiry. They had not sought interested person status in the inquest. In any event, since the terms of reference for this inquiry expressly require you to investigate the events surrounding their poisoning, we submit that their significant interest in the matters to which the inquiry relates is self evident and, accordingly, we support the that matter of core participant status, but that is all I was proposing to say about that issue.”

Hughes then read the proposed list of core participants, including the Skripals. “I designate core participant to all those listed in paragraph 14 of your written submissions and outlined to me orally just now,” he said.

An hour later Martin Smith, the solicitor to the inquiry, was asked to name the legal representative of the Skripals; he refused. Hughes, he said, “will need to designate the lawyer concerned as the Core Participants’ recognised legal representative following this hearing. When he has done so, the Inquiry will publish this information.”

Hughes is a retired Court of Appeal judge who specialised in criminal cases. He has replaced Dame Heather Hallett, the second coroner appointed by the British government to run the investigation of the death of Dawn Sturgess on July 8, 2018. Hallett had refused to recognize any role for the Skripals in her investigation.

Hughes and the others working for him have stumbled over whether to call the proceeding a  “public inquiry” or an “independent inquiry”. Both terms are the new method which the British government has decided on,  in order to allow evidence to be given in secret; this was not permitted when the investigation was a coroner’s inquest, first by Wiltshire county coroner David Ridley, and then  by Hallett. For that story, read this.  

Hughes opened Friday’s hearing by declaring “this is a public inquiry established by the Home Secretary under section 1 of the Public Inquiries Act 2005. The formal setting up date of the inquiry was 17 March 2022.” The judge made a mistake. The statute is in fact titled the Inquiries Act of 2005.  The independence of the proceeding was impossible when Hallett was in charge; she is employed by the security and intelligence agencies.  

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

Source: https://www.dawnsturgess.independent-inquiry.uk/ 

For the transcript of the March 25 hearing, click to read.

Hughes opened with doubt about his independence to investigate since he, like Hallett, announced that  he has no doubt what caused Sturgess’s death. “This is the first hearing of the public inquiry that has been established to investigate the circumstances of the death of Dawn Sturgess, who died in Salisbury in 2018. The circumstances are quite well known, she became ill suddenly, having sprayed what she thought was perfume on herself. She was taken to Salisbury District Hospital, where she was diagnosed as having been poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent. She died in hospital on 8 July 2018.”

For the evidence of the poison which did not materialise until ten days after police had searched Sturgess’s flat and of the records of Salisbury Hospital’s testing; of the Porton Down chemical warfare laboratory as the source for the diagnosis;  of the conflict of medical diagnoses in the two following post-mortem reports;  and of the cover-up of Coroner Ridley’s cremation certificate, read the book.  

A year ago Hallett had mentioned the Skripals only to dismiss their participation as witnesses or core participants in favour of the government official who directed British policy against Russia. “I should also add that my provisional view is that an investigation into possible Russian state responsibility must inevitably involve some (albeit limited) investigation into Mr Skripal’s relationship with the Russian state and the circumstances of his leaving Russia.” For her “investigation” into that, Hallett said she would call several policemen to testify as “interested persons”; along with ambulance crews; Wiltshire county councilors; and state officials representing the security and intelligence services, the Defence Ministry, and the laboratory at Porton Down.   

Hallett also said she would call to testify Sir Mark Sedwill, who had run the Novichok operation from the Cabinet Office in London and whose letter to NATO Hallett quoted as evidence. “A letter from the then National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill to the NATO Secretary General stated that Russian military intelligence (the ‘GRU’) had targeted Yulia Skripal’s email accounts at least as far back as 2013 and, during the 2000s, had tested methods for depositing nerve agents on door handles.” Sedwill is currently the British candidate to be the next Secretary-General of NATO.  

Left to right: Dame Heather Hallett; Sir Mark Sedwill; Eliot Higgins, head of the Bellingcat unit.

For corroboration, Hallett also proposed the Bellingcat propaganda unit.   “The investigative agency Bellingcat has made further claims; in particular it has reported that the names of the two individuals Petrov and Boshirov are in fact GRU military intelligence officers Anatoliy Chepiga and Dr Alexander Mishkin, and that a third member of the GRU (whom Bellingcat has named as Denis Sergeev, operating under the cover identity of Sergey Fedotov) travelled to London during the time of the Salisbury poisoning and may have been involved.”  

Last week, although Hughes’ assistants explicitly blamed Russia for the Novichok attack and for the “real-time threat posed [to the UK] by the Russian state”, Hughes himself mentioned Russia only once. “This has to be a full and thorough investigation,” he said. “The issues raised by the terms of reference include those of the utmost gravity, including the allegation which has been publicly made of Russian state responsibility for the killing of Ms Sturgess indirectly.”

In fact, the official terms of reference make no such allegation.  

Source: https://www.dawnsturgess.independent-inquiry.uk/
 The reference in Point 2 to Section 2 of the Inquiries Act says: “An inquiry panel is not to rule on, and has no power to determine, any person's civil or criminal liability…But an inquiry panel is not to be inhibited in the discharge of its functions by any likelihood of liability being inferred from facts that it determines or recommendations that it makes.”

Hughes did announce that he agrees to appointing a lawyer to represent the three Russian military officers whom the British police have charged with attempted murder. The three are Alexander Petrov (also known as Alexander Mishkin); Ruslan Boshirov (Anatoly Chepiga); and Denis Sergeyev (Sergei Fedotov). The British charges against them do not make any allegation of involvement in Sturgess’s death.  For evidence that the British government has faked their arrest warrants, read this.

Hughes announced on Friday: “The accusations that have been made against these three people have been made very publicly and they have been made both at a high political level and at a legal level — they have been charged [sic]. An inquiry like this does not conduct a trial, it cannot convict anybody of anything. But it will be necessary, as I see it, to consider whether the facts alleged are proved or are not. In our system, whether or not a named suspect such as these chooses to take part in the process, it is axiomatic that attention must be paid to his interests as the evidence is investigated. I am minded to accept the suggestion not simply that the legal team has that in mind, but much more, that one of its members is designated to make it her particular responsibility to put on the hat serving the interests  of those who have been publicly accused… this will mean a distinct legal task for her, part of course of what the inquiry legal team generally has responsibility for, but it will mean particular focus on the named suspects, it will mean from time to time putting on, as it were, the hat of the interests of those three people and ensuring that any point which any of them could properly take is considered.”

“There has been a public rebuttal issued by the Russian Embassy, amongst other things it says it raises a number of specific questions, so part of Ms Pottle’s  function will be to ensure that those questions are properly addressed, there may be answers or there may not. Along with any others which emerge as the inquiry proceeds. Her function would also involve, if improbably, at any point there were to be detectable a conflict of interest between this part of her task and the functions of the inquiry legal team generally, then I should rely on her duty as an advocate to alert me to it.”

Emilie Pottle (right), the lawyer appointed, is not independent. She is being paid by the British government to run the inquiry and advise Hughes. According to her biography,  she is a specialist on international criminal
law; she has not been involved in a Russian case before. She was engaged in the team defending Saif Qaddafi in a prosecution of the International Criminal Court; she was defeated.  Pottle’s husband, Michael Gibb, also works as a “freelance journalist” and consultant in post-invasion Libya and Iraq.  

On the legal representation for Sergei and Yulia Skripal, Hughes was silent. In the rules he is following according to the Inquiries Act, the status of “core participants” has three meanings.   They may have played a role in the events under investigation; they may have an interest; or they may be a target of criticism. Hughes and his staff aren’t saying which they intend apply to the Skripals, nor are they explaining their decision to appoint a single legal representative for them both, instead of independent lawyers for Sergei and for Yulia. This is a hint that the Skripals did not instruct the lawyer directly, nor have they engaged the representation of their own free will.  

Source: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/

The rules governing the Hughes inquiry also do not require the Skripals to be called to testify as witnesses. If they are called, their testimony may be held in secret with strict limits on what they may be asked and what they may be allowed to say. What they do say may never be published.  

A recent House of Commons paper on the operation of such inquiries warned that the criminal law standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt, or even the civil law standard of balance of probabilities may not apply to the Sturgess proceeding. “The 2005 Act does not dictate what standard of proof an inquiry should use. Public inquiries generally can choose their own standard of proof.”

Because the Skripals have now been designated core participants, this means they will not be paying for the lawyer. That bill will be paid by the British government, which, Hughes has also announced, will be paying the lawyers for the Sturgess family and for Charles Rowley, Dawn Sturgess’s partner.  Since the money for the representation is coming from the government, there is in fact no independent evidence of the Skripals at all.

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