THE PUTIN INTERVIEWS


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Saturday, 21 April 2018

Rob Slane -- The Lady and the Curiously Absent Suspect — Yet Another 20 Questions on the Skripal Case


Okay, so I’m up to 70 questions so far on this case (herehere and here), and here come another 20. Most of these are focused on Yulia Skripal, but there are also a number of questions at the end relating to the main character in the case, who so far seems to have been almost entirely forgotten. Let’s just call him or her or them “A. Suspect”, and note that so far he or she or they have been curiously conspicuous by their absence.


1. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were admitted to Salisbury District Hospital (SDH) on 4thMarch 2018 and were said to have been in a coma in the weeks that followed. During this time, what actions were taken by the Hospital Trust to inform their next of kin of their condition – particularly Mr Skripal’s 90-year-old mother (and of course Yulia’s grandmother) –, and to keep them updated throughout their illness?
2. According to reports on 28th March, both Mr Skripal and his daughter were in a critical condition, and it was even suggested that the likelihood of either of them surviving was so remote that a judgement might be needed to make the “politically-sensitive decision over whether to maintain life support” for them. Yet just eight days later, on 5th April, it emerged that Yulia Skripal had contacted her cousin, Viktoria, by telephone, and that she had repeatedly stressed that “everything is fine” and “everyone is fine”, including her father, who she said was “having a sleep”. This suggests that the two of them had recovered a good while before the phone call. On what dates did the two of them regain consciousness?
3. The telephone conversation, which was recorded by Viktoria and played on Russian television, was the first public information that both Yulia and her father were no longer in a “critical condition”. Why was this information not made public before her phone call was aired?

4. On 22nd March, the High Court in London made a judgement, giving authorisation for specialists from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to take blood samples from Mr Skripal and his daughter, since they were apparently not in a position to agree to this process themselves at that time. When the samples were taken, was this done in accordance with the High Court judgement or had the Skripals emerged from their comas by then?
5. According to Articles 36 and 37 of the 1963 Vienna Convention and Article 35 (1) of the 1965 Consular Convention, as citizens of the Russian Federation, both Mr Skripal (who retains dual nationality) and his daughter are entitled to consular access from the Russian Embassy in London. In the statement released by Scotland Yard on behalf of Yulia Skripal on 11th April, she stated that she was “aware of my specific contacts at the Russian Embassy who have kindly offered me their assistance in any way they can,” but then went on to say that she did not wish “to avail myself of their services”.
However, during the period when both she and her father were in a coma, neither was in a position to either request, or to refuse, consular access. In this case, denial of consular access when their wishes remained unknown could be seen to constitute a breach of their legal rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Can the Government comment on how the decision was arrived at to assume that the Skripals would not want consular access, since this could not have been known whilst they were unconscious?
6. Furthermore, since the decision to deny them consular access whilst they were incapacitated represents a possible breach of their human rights, both Mr Skripal and his daughter were surely in a position where – despite their condition – they were entitled to legal representation. Can the Government confirm whether legal representation was granted to them?
7. Yulia Skripal has now been out of hospital since 10th April and is said to be residing at a secure location. Can the Government confirm that she currently has access to legal representation?
8. What is the name of the law firm that has been representing her interests?
9. In the statement issued on her behalf by Scotland Yard on 11th April, Yulia stated that she had “access to my friends and family.” Can the Government comment on whether she has availed herself of this access and, if so, which family members she has contacted?
10. The telephone conversation between Yulia and her cousin, Viktoria, was odd for a number of reasons. However, the single strangest thing about it was not the conversation itself, but its duration, which was approximately 1:34 minutes. Why is this odd? Because it was Yulia, not Viktoria, who initiated the call. Had it been Viktoria who called, the brevity of the conversation could perhaps be explained away on account of Yulia not wishing to speak to her cousin. However, since it was Yulia who made the call, it is clear that she did want to speak to her. It is therefore somewhat bizarre that having been in a coma for weeks, having been the victim of poisoning from some sort of toxic chemical, and indeed finding herself at the centre of a huge international scandal, after deciding to call her cousin, she then broke it off after little more than a minute and a half. Is there a credible explanation for this very strange occurrence?
11. During the conversation with her cousin, Yulia stated that she was calling on a “temporary telephone.” Can it be confirmed whose telephone this was?
12. Why was she not able to use her personal mobile to make the call?
13. Did she then, and does she now, have access to her own mobile?
14. It is not unreasonable to suppose that most people, finding themselves in the situation which Yulia found herself in, would wish to speak at much greater length to their relative regarding their condition and their circumstances. However, the fact that it was Yulia who initiated the call, but then chose to end it after just 94 seconds, is suggestive that she was not at liberty to speak for any longer. Indeed, it is highly suggestive of one of two possibilities:
  • Either that she was given the telephone by someone in the hospital who wanted her to contact her cousin, without the knowledge of the “specially trained officers available to me” (as she put it in her statement released through Scotland Yard)
  • Or that she was given the telephone by one of those specially trained officers, who was in the room with her whilst she made the call.
Whilst their may be another explanation, can the Government or the Hospital Trust confirm that when she made the call, she was at liberty to speak to her cousin for as long as she liked?
15. The statement put out on Yulia Skripal’s behalf by Scotland Yard on 11th April, was notable, amongst other things, for its rather precise language and polished turns of phrase. For example:
“I was treated there with obvious clinical expertise
“I find myself in a totally different life than the ordinary one I left just over a month ago, and I am seeking to come to terms with my prospects, whilst also recovering from this attack on me.”
“I have specially trained officers available to me, who are helping to take care of me and to explain the investigative processes that are being undertaken.”
“…I have been made aware of my specific contacts at the Russian Embassy…”
“At the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services, but, if I change my mind I know how to contact them.”
These do not automatically look like the sorts of phrases a person who had been through a huge ordeal would use, especially if they were not using their native language. The statement said that the words were being released “on her behalf”, but can it be confirmed whether the statement was:
a) written by Yulia Skripal, and released on her behalf, or
b) written for Yulia Skripal and released on her behalf?
16. On 5th April, Yulia clearly wanted to speak to her cousin, Viktoria, as she made contact with her by telephone. However, on 11th April, the Scotland Yard statement on her behalf noted the following:
“Until that time, I want to stress that no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves. I thank my cousin Viktoria for her concern for us, but ask that she does not visit me or try to contact me for the time being. Her opinions and assertions are not mine and they are not my father’s.”
Taken at face value, she appears to have had a complete change of heart during the days between the telephone call and the statement. This has been put down by many to the fact that Viktoria recorded the conversation, without Yulia’s knowledge, and that it was subsequently played on Russian television.
The problem with this explanation, however, is that this is not the reason Yulia cites. She clearly links not wanting to be contacted by, or visited by, Viktoria with her “opinions and assertions.” However, this is problematic in itself, because Viktoria aired a number of opinions and assertions about the case a long while before the telephone conversation. Was Yulia only made aware of her cousin’s “opinions and assertions” after she made contact with her, and was it upon realising this that she had a change of heart regarding wishing to speak with her?
17. Although there have been a good many oddities and discrepancies in this case so far, by far and away the oddest has been the complete lack of a suspect for the actual poisoning, and the apparent lack of interest in this subject in the media. Indeed, this may well be the first case in investigative history where the motive, the weapon and culpability were apparently established less than a week after the incident, yet over a month-and-a-half later — to my knowledge — there has been absolutely no word from the Government, the Metropolitan Police, or the media about who may have carried out the actual poisoning. Is there a credible explanation for this?
18. Have the Metropolitan Police identified any suspects in the case, or anyone they wish to speak to in connection with the incident?
19. An article in the The Mail on Sunday on 7th April stated that “security sources” had revealed the following:
“Russian agents watched Sergei Skripal for a fortnight and chose to strike on a Sunday morning so no postmen or delivery men would be exposed accidentally to the nerve agent.”
How is it possible that “security sources” apparently possess knowledge of the movements and actions of the Russian agents for the two weeks before 4th March, yet are unable to identify any suspects who may have carried out the poisoning?
20. The same article also made the following claim:
“The nerve agent used to poison former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter was specially designed to take about four hours to kill them so their assassins could flee Britain. Security sources told The Mail on Sunday that to help the agents avoid capture, the Russians developed a less powerful ‘boutique’ Novichok that could be absorbed through the skin. Novichok is normally administered as in gas form and kills its victims within minutes.”
(Note: This report contains an oft repeated but misleading claim that Mr Skripal was a Russian agent. Yes he is Russian, and yes he was an agent, but he was never a “Russian agent”, but rather a “British agent” working for the MI6 and not for the KGB/FSB).
If the information offered by the security sources is correct, and the attackers used a slow-working nerve agent in order to give them time to escape the country, then it ought to be possible to check passenger records for flights out of the UK in the afternoon of 4th March, especially those to Russia, and from this to begin to identify a list of possible suspects. Has this been done and if so, are there any potential suspects that the Metropolitan Police have identified in connection with the poisoning in Salisbury?


Postscript: Just after I posted this piece, I noticed that there has now been an article in The Telegraph on possible suspects in the case. No names are mentioned at this stage. What is particularly interesting about the article is that it states that “Police have also drawn on extensive footage in Salisbury.” This is itself an interesting statement, as one of the curious elements to this story has been the sparse CCTV footage of the Skripals on the day of the poisoning, despite the area around Zizzis, The Market Walk and The Maltings having at least five CCTV cameras that could have recorded them. We shall see how this develops.


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