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By John Helmer, Moscow

The British Government announced this week that after cancelling   the coroner’s court inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess from alleged Russian Novichok attack, the public inquiry replacing the inquest will not start for more than a year — until February 2023.

Sturgess died in Salisbury District Hospital on July 8, 2018, four months after Sergei and Yulia Skripal were allegedly attacked by Novichok and recovered in the same hospital. The second coroner appointed to investigate, Baroness Heather Hallett, has already ruled officially, and posted on her inquest website, that “the post mortem indicated the cause of her death was Novichok poisoning.”  The medical evidence has not been  disclosed, tested forensically, or cross-examined according to British coroner’s court standards. Those standards have now been replaced by a more secretive proceeding, called a public inquiry,  in which Hallett will play prosecutor, judge, jury, and also censor.

When the public inquiry opens, new papers released in court now reveal, government officials will have designed what they call “a bespoke disclosure strategy” to prevent open cross-examination of witnesses and public analysis of documents, including the ambulance, hospital and post-mortem medical reports. Witnesses and potential whistleblowers, including the three survivors of the alleged Novichok attack – the Skripals and Wiltshire police sergeant Nicholas Bailey – will be excluded as “interested persons” or “core participants” from the ongoing proceeding.  

To preserve their silence, and enforce the silence of others on the Wiltshire county police force and at Salisbury Hospital, special “restriction notices” are being prepared – the court papers disclose — for “a regime of ministerial restriction notices and inquiry restriction orders to allow documents or information to be withheld if it is in the public interest.” Hallett will supervise this secrecy operation to prevent “disclosure or publication of any evidence or documents given, produced or provided to an inquiry.” This gag will “continue in force indefinitely.”  

This week’s court papers also reveal that the official records now under review of the Novichok investigations have “emanated from the Home Office; the Cabinet Office; the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, Public Health England, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Government Office for Science.”   Missing from this list, and thus from the evidence records to be submitted to the public inquiry, are the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the signals intelligence agency GCHQ, and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down.

If Russian military agents had attacked with a Novichok nerve agent, according to the official narrative, these were the front-line agencies in charge.

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

Hallett, a former judge and currently chairman of a government panel regulating the secret services,  has been holding a series of hearings this year with her legal team and lawyers representing the government, the police, and the Sturgess family. In the course of the hearings, Hallett has let slip several telling pieces of evidence, the most important of which has been the disagreement over the cause of Sturgess’s death by the first and second pathologists who carried out two post-mortems. Read more here.  

A hearing had been scheduled by Hallett for this Friday,  but it was cancelled, according to her press spokesman, “because the announcement of an inquiry has been made and there is insufficient business to proceed with a hearing with the increased Covid threat and guidance around that.”

Instead, written submissions to Hallett from the government, police, Wiltshire county council, and the Sturgess family have been posted, as well as a paper from Hallett’s own legal team. Read these  new documents here. And for the questions of forensic evidence and public accountability of the British operation to convict the Russian government at the highest level, follow this report of Hallett’s last hearing in September here.

For the only book in print on what the evidence proves did not happen to the Skripals, and what explains their disappearance and enforced silence ever since, start here and then click to read the book.  

Left: Skripal in Prison, first published in March 2020:  Centre: Dawn Sturgess. Right: Dr Philip Lumb, the first pathologist to conduct a post-mortem and whose report of the cause of Sturgess’ death appears to have been modified by a second pathologist and several months of delay in their reporting. For details of this story, click to read.  

Source: https://dawnsturgessinquest.org.uk

In its submission to Hallett, lawyers for the government spelled out what they are doing now to decide the methods and rules for conducting the public part of the investigation after it starts in 2023. The lawyers said the government “will give consideration to the issue of restriction notices and (once the inquiry is established) to restriction orders… The ILT [Hallett’s Inquest Legal Team] has helpfully highlighted the special sensitivities of the case and the need for an exceptionally careful, complex and therefore necessarily time-consuming process for all stages of disclosure. The sensitivities in this case cannot be overstated and the ongoing disclosure work needs to take place with the utmost care in order to protect the UK from threats to our national security.”

Government officials, the lawyers said, “are devising a bespoke disclosure strategy for each government department and agency which holds or might hold relevant material that is or could be relevant to the inquiry. These strategies will be finalised through further liaison with the ILT.”  

Papers released this week from the Metropolitan Police in London and the Wiltshire police reveal that former local policeman Nick Bailey will be excluded as either an “interested person” for the inquest, or a “core participant” for the successor inquiry.     Under British coronial law, an “interested person” has a right to participate in an inquest, receive all the evidence, ask questions through counsel, and provide evidence of his involvement in the circumstances of the death. However, that right is subject to the discretion of the coroner, and Hallett has decided to exclude Bailey, as well as the Skripals. Here is Hallett’s list of “interested persons”:   Charles Rowley has been included in the list, not as an alleged survivor of a Novichok attack, but rather as “Ms Sturgess’ partner”.

Source: http://johnhelmer.net/

Hallett has also decided with the Metropolitan Police to restrict the Wiltshire police and subordinate whatever they have to say as witnesses and record-keepers to command and control through what the Met is calling Operation VERBASCO. “Whilst Wiltshire Police are not a part of Operation Verbasco, the two teams have been working closely in order to ensure a consistent police approach. The Operation Verbasco team are assisting Wiltshire Police in their disclosure exercise,  which will follow the same process, and have dedicated significant resource to  setting up the relevant infrastructure to assist Wiltshire Police to provide relevant  disclosure to the Coroner in a manner which does not harm national security.”  

Hallett’s plan is for a single London police commander to provide “an overarching corporate witness statement from a senior officer (involved in the investigations or with the relevant knowledge), setting out the narrative of events leading to Ms Sturgess’ death and the investigations that  took place”   — para 8.This chain of command will also decide what witnesses will be included at the inquiry, and who will be excluded. “It is anticipated,” the Met is now saying, “that this statement will be of assistance to the Inquiry in identifying  provisional witnesses and lines of enquiry and may also help to indicate at an early  stage what parts of the evidence may or may not be adduced in OPEN session. “

The Wiltshire police have accepted their subordinate role.   “To avoid any inadvertent disclosure of sensitive material, Wiltshire Police should adhere to the disclosure process developed by Operation Verbasco… It was agreed between Wiltshire Police, TVP [Thames Valley Police] and the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service]  that Wiltshire Police would follow the  Operation Verbasco process, while remaining a separate legal entity and retaining sole ownership of Wiltshire Police material. Wiltshire Police will not join Operation Verbasco, but it is intended that there shall be a close working relationship in respect of disclosure to ensure that national security equities and the integrity of the criminal proceedings are protected.”

The Wiltshire police told Hallett  it wants funding from the central government to pay for an extra  nine staff to work on the investigation, plus secure new offices, special computer systems, and training.  

Wiltshire County Council also told Hallett to lobby the government in London for more money “for the Inquest costs due to the national interest issues involved and to avoid the costs of the Inquest falling disproportionately on the residents of Wiltshire. To date Wiltshire Council has not received a substantive response to this request.”

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