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By John Helmer, Moscow 

In the 50-year history of the nerve agent Novichok, no human being has died from it with the exception of Dawn Sturgess in Amesbury, Wiltshire, on July 8, 2018.  Only Sturgess didn’t.

The cause of her death, according to the post-mortem performed the next day, July 9, 2018, by  Philip Lumb (lead image, right), was “post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage”, according to the report he signed. This means that Sturgess suffered from a heart attack, which then stopped the flow of oxygen to her brain (hypoxia). An unfortunate, but also very common cause of death, according to the medical research.  Lumb did not report what caused Sturgess’s heart to stop.

Lumb is a career pathologist registered with the Home Office for suspicious death forensic  investigations in the northwest England and Wales,     and a consultant at Sheffield’s Medico-Legal Centre, one of the leading medical forensic centres in the UK. He is also current president of the British Association in Forensic Medicine, the standard-setter for the country. Lumb has a sharp sense of his professional and ethical duty. “If you make a mistake,” he has told a press interview, “somebody could go to prison for 20-odd years.”   

Lumb didn’t make a mistake with the sequence of events which killed Sturgess – heart failure, then loss of oxygen to the brain, then brain death. But this wasn’t what the British government (lead image, left) wanted to hear.  So a second pathologist was called in to conduct a second post-mortem on July 17. His name is Guy Rutty (centre), once a colleague of Lumb’s at Sheffield and also a professor. But Rutty didn’t sign his name to his report on the cause of Sturgess’s death until November 29. The interval was four and a half months.  

That second report, kept secret for another two and a half years, was revealed in the Wiltshire coroner’s court on March 30 of this year. The cause of Sturgess’s death, which Rutty signed and which was sworn to by the counsel for the coroner, was read out in court: “Ia post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity”.

Semi-colons are punctuation; they have no medical or logical meaning. British toxicologists and pathologists consulted for the interpretation of Rutty’s cause of death report say it is highly unusual for its lack of precision on sequence, cause and effect; and for the order Ia/Ib which Rutty signed. The toxicologists believe that paralysis of the lungs leading to asphyxiation is the usual trigger for death by nerve agents.

No toxicologist, forensic pathologist or registered Home Office post-mortem investigator can be found who will explain why after the two post-mortems on July 9 and July 18, a delay would be required to produce the November 29 finding. Lumb and Rutty refuse to provide details of their roles in the two post-mortems or to explain the delay between them and the official report.

Rutty referred his questions to Martin Smith, the newly appointed solicitor to the new inquest and a veteran of politically sensitive inquests in the past.  “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Smith has responded, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.”

These details of the only Novichok fatality in history are the nails in the proverbial horseshoe for loss of which the battle was lost, then the kingdom.

The new disclosures of the post-mortem evidence have come from the second coroner to investigate the Novichok cases, Baroness Heather Hallett, a former appeals court judge in London and now a legal consultant for hire. She is also an employee of a secret, top-security agency under the Cabinet Office.  She has employed Smith, also a commercial lawyer in London, in an investigation of the London terrorist bombings of July 7, 2005, when they exonerated  the police, the security services, and the Cabinet Office’s chain of command from widely published charges of negligence and culpability.

Smith was also the solicitor assisting the inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2010 which ended in explicit blame for ordering the death by President Vladimir Putin. Read Hallett’s and Smith’s record here.

Left to right: Baroness Hallett; Martin Smith; David Ridley.

Wiltshire county coroner David Ridley was the coroner in charge of the Sturgess case from the time of her death until he was removed and replaced by Hallett at the start of this year. Ridley’s record can be followed in the book of the Skripal case.  

Sturgess had been sustained on life-support equipment at Salisbury District Hospital between her admission on June 30 until July 8, when her family signed their consent to turn off the machines.  Ridley took charge immediately. He was in charge the next day when Lumb conducted his post-mortem.

Ridley’s report of the sequence of events, published for the first time on December 20, 2019,  concealed the timing and the results of Lumb’s post-mortem.

According to Ridley’s report, Sturgess was “unresponsive” at her home when the ambulance arrived, and she remained “unresponsive” on admission to Salisbury District Hospital until her death eight days later. The new information from the Hallett inquiry record, with hints from the medical personnel at the hospital and other sources, indicates that Sturgess’s heart had failed on June 30; her organs were sustained on life-support equipment until July 8.

Source:  Skripal in Prison and this . Ridley deliberately omitted to report whether the paramedics logged Sturgess’s pulse rate. In the protocols of emergency medicine, “a clinically dead patient is defined as any unresponsive patient found without respirations and without a palpable carotid pulse”.

According to the sequence of events, disclosed by Hallett on March 30 but reported to court a month earlier, on February 28,  Rutty was called in for a post-mortem on July 17.

Revealed by this report,  but camouflaged,  was Lumb’s earlier post-mortem of July 9. The secret slipped out in the line, “[Rutty] was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist”.

Source: https://drive.google.com/

A senior British toxicologist commented after discussing the Hallett disclosure with other forensic pathologists, noting “the importance of the word ‘independent’. My tox friends agree that the use of this word means it was the second post-mortem, the first being the official Home Office post-mortem. In normal times, the family or an interested person can request a second PM. It is a professional courtesy that the second pathologist conducts the new PM in the presence of the first.”

The senior toxicologist added: “If Rutty was the initial pathologist, then independent is the wrong adjective, and suspicious. Was his post-mortem on behalf of the Sturgess family, or for some other reason? The other most obvious ‘other reason’ would be to get Novichok – that’s Ib — on the report of cause of death.”

The record published by a technical team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reveals that they “deployed to the United Kingdom from 15 July to 18 July 2018 to collect biomedical samples and again on 13 August 2018 to obtain an additional environmental sample.” The OPCW team “attended and observed the post-mortem (autopsy) of Ms Dawn Sturgess. The team was able to collect a number of biomedical samples (mainly tissue samples) for transport to the OPCW Laboratory and subsequent analysis by OPCW Designated Laboratories. Consent for this procedure was obtained from the next-of-kin of Ms Sturgess, and the activity was carried out in compliance with the United Kingdom Human Tissue Act. 6. The team requested and received splits of biomedical samples collected by the British authorities for delivery to the OPCW Laboratory and subsequent analysis by OPCW Designated Laboratories.”

This OPCW report appeared on September 4, 2018. It too failed to mention Lumb’s post-mortem on July 9.

Left:  Philip Lumb; he appears on the Home Office register for the area of northwest England where he lives in Sheffield.   Right, Guy Rutty, whose professorial appointment is at Leicester, in central England. 

Sturgess’s funeral was held on July 30 at the Salisbury Crematorium, according to the press records.  The “special security measures” announced in advance by the press to guard against Novichok contamination from the coffin and crematorium workers from the cremation,  “were absent.”

Ridley had signed the standard coroner’s release of Sturgess’s body to allow her funeral, according to the coronial rules. These provide that “a coroner to whom a death has been notified has legal authority over the body for as long as is necessary for enquiries and investigation into the death. The coroner will release the body to the bereaved family for burial or cremation as soon as practicable. The time within which a body can be released will depend upon the time required for enquiries and decisions of the kinds outlined above.” 

Ridley has refused to answer questions in the past, claiming that while his inquest was proceeding this was not lawful. This week he was asked to confirm the date of his signature on the release document. He refused, claiming through a spokesman that “Baroness Hallett is now the coroner in charge of the investigation. Your request has been forwarded to her legal team.” In reply, it was pointed out that his replacement by Hallett was not a lawful reason for withholding the information. Ridley refused again to reply. Instead, Smith replied for both Ridley and Hallett, and also for Rutty.

This email, like Ridley’s earlier response, reveals how secret the details of Sturgess’s death remain, timing as much as cause, because the two of them are closely connected in the official Novichok narrative. The secret of Ridley’s release document, unimportant forensically but revealing the British government’s concealment, has been exposed by local sources who claim the coroner’s release followed shortly before the cremation ceremony on July 30.  

The secret of Lumb’s post-mortem on July 9 is much more significant, and this is the reason for Smith’s intervention this week to declare it is “not appropriate” for the press to know the date.

The English practice is for the Home Office, as the interior or domestic security ministry is called in the UK, to operate a register of experts for conducting suspicious death or forensic investigations. According to a ministry document, “Home Office registered forensic pathologists,  often referred to as ‘Home Office pathologists’  are not employed by the Home Office… but are individuals who are either self-employed or employees of a University or NHS Trust. The Home Office does not directly enlist any members of the Register to carry out post-mortem examinations. A pathologist is instructed by a coroner and in cases of suspicious death, on the request of the police, a Home Office registered forensic pathologist will be instructed to carry out a post-mortem examination. The report is a formal document written for the coroner; copies of which can be requested by writing to the coroner who dealt with the case.”

Ridley knows that Lumb conducted the first post-mortem on July 9, and he knows that Lumb reported the cause of Sturgess’s death at the time. This is the state secret Ridley, then Hallett and Smith have been keeping out of the public inquest record.

The secret Hallett, Smith,  and their courtroom counsel revealed that the cause of Sturgess’s death had been “Ia. post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity” has been challenged by British and American toxicologists and pathologists who are expert on nerve agent organophosphate poisoning. They believe the record of cardiac arrest leading to brain death is proof that Novichok toxicity was not (repeat not) the cause of Sturgess’s  death.

According to one of these experts, summarising his colleagues’ assessments, “Novichok leads to low acetylcholine esterase levels, and the victim essentially drowns, i.e. lungs fill with fluid. Lung fluid would have been detected in the first PM, unless the experts at Salisbury drained the lungs as part of their treatment.” Another expert on organophosphate poisoning, who works in hospital emergency wards,  says that nerve agents cause paralysis of the lungs, so asphyxia is the usually given as the cause of death. He too expresses surprise at the report of cardiac arrest.

If Coroner Hallett and her counsel are telling the truth that the first post-mortem report revealed cardiac arrest, then that is proof Novichok cannot have caused Sturgess to die. Evidence in that report of accumulated fluid in the lungs, or the absence of fluid in the report would be additional evidence. According to the senior British toxicologist, a second post-mortem “was needed because the first one [July 9] had no COD [cause of death] due to nerve agent presence or poisoning. Rutty’s work [July 17] became the fait accompli. Dawn’s cremation [July 30] made Rutty’s conclusion impossible to challenge. Even so, the delay in signing the report [November 29] is inexplicable and inexcusable. Perhaps Lumb refused to sign anything which contradicted his initial post-mortem findings.”

Lumb was asked to say if Ia, cardiac arrest, had been the cause of death identified at his July 9 post-mortem; whether he had signed the November 29 report; and what reason there was for the delay between the post-mortems and the report. He has not replied.

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