The Salisbury Poisonings – an informed opinion
The BBC Drama that has had over 7 million viewers, The Salisbury Poisonings, was a emotional look back at yet another unprecedented incident, the first use of the deadly nerve agent Novichok anywhere in the world, never mind on the streets of Salisbury, a sleepy hollow nicknamed ‘Smallsbury’ because of its village feel but made famous through its now infamous 142 m spire.
A difficult story to tell in a drama because there were and are so many moving components. We have to remember the incident is still subject to an active murder investigation after the death of Dawn Sturgess, having sprayed herself with what she and her boyfriend Charlie Rowley thought was perfume. In reality it was Novichok from a container discarded by the pair of would be assassins, Colonel Dr Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga of the GRU, the Russian Military Intelligence.
The drama focused on the human stories behind The Director of Wiltshire’s Public Health, Tracy Daszkiewicz, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, one of the early responders, and Dawn Sturgess, rather than the incident, the actual response, the investigation and the unresolved issues. It was a powerful piece of television especially considering the potential impact on many of these involved who are still coming to terms with what was a life changing event.
A clearly deliberate move gave the series a direction that people not familiar with the story could relate to and in a very emotionally charged way, it highlighted many of the stresses and strains of the time. It gave a personality to Dawn Sturgess, who in press reporting at the time had her as a person clouded by many of the daemons she was battling but never gave her that personality. It also showed the stress on the Bailey family and the impact of having their lives turned upside down. It tried to highlight the complexity Tracy Daszkiewicz had to face when coordinating a large multi-agency response but missed elements of that to concentrate on her personal journey.
For the informed as with any drama there will be frustrations, I am sure A&E consultants and staff cringe at Casualty when it is on, but still find it entertaining, so these observations are meant in that vein. I don’t think the initial paramedic and A&E response was portrayed as well as it could and the scenes in the hospital at times were a little wooden, as was the portrayal of Porton Down; but these were not central to the plot, the people were.
I was frustrated at the lack of trying to further interpret many of the unanswered questions, but that frustration is tempered by the fact is it still an ongoing and active murder investigation, so that speculation couldn’t have happened in any detail and wouldn’t have added to the people element of the story.
Some of the questions to my mind that remain unanswered include;
Why the public were not warned about a clear and present danger remaining, I had reported the probability to CT Police, written a detailed blog about it and had a story about it published in the Sunday Papers on 15thMarch as well as having commented on it on many radio and TV interviews?
What evidence is there of a second team that will have carried out a pattern of life study against Sergei Skripal in the days prior to the attack? How were he and his daughter Yulia monitored by Russian Intelligence and does Salisbury have a permanent interest from Russian Military Intelligence?
What were the full movements of Mishkin and Chepiga on the weekend of the attack? Where else did they go in Salisbury, who else did they meet? Why have we not seen more of the CCTV?
What happened to the gloves and other potential PPE Mishkin and Chepiga will have worn as they deployed the Novichok on Sergei Skripal’s front door? Why has that never been found and what is the real story surrounding the perfume bottle found by Charlie Rowley? Why has there not been a definitive statement about any potential remaining threat?
In all a very good series and well put together. However, I have to ask if it was too soon after the incident? Only Tracy, Nick and Dawns family can answer that. I feel it has reopened many of the questions I have highlighted above and think there should be a more documentary style look back at the whole, unprecedented event soon. I would go further and ask more about the Russian influence in the UK, their intelligence operations and if they have a particular continual interest in Salisbury and its surrounds?
A link to my collated blogs from the time is here: https://greyharemedia.com/the-skripal-affair-a-history-in-blogs/ – if you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE
**Updated 19th July 2018**
How did Dawn and Charlie get contaminated?
I have been talking to a number of press outlets regarding how the detritus from the Skripal attack could have come to be in a position to contaminate and kill Dawn Sturgess and put her partner Charlie Rowley into intensive care in Salisbury District Hospital.
I will caveat this piece from the outset – it is based on speculation, this is purely scenarios I have come up with using a bit of knowledge from my intelligence background and a knowledge of how Novichok and other chemical agents work. As background reading on what Novichok is and more please see my previous article here: https://greyharemedia.com/salisbury-and-novichok-the-truth-and-myth/
One fact we have is that ‘ground zero’ for the Skripal attack was Sergei Skripal’s front door so I am going to work from that point.
Sergei and Julia Skripal were contaminated with Novichok on 4thMarch 2018, however this was not some random act that just happened on that day. The person or more likely persons involved in the attack will have been preparing for some time.
The first thing that will have been happening once the target was chosen is what is called a pattern of life study to establish Sergei Skripal’s regular routine. This will have required a surveillance team physically watching Sergei Skripal over a period of days or weeks as well as monitoring his communications and those of his relatives and associates. We already know Julia Skripal’s emails were being monitored by the Russian state and her phone will almost certainly have been monitored and if they could, the Russians will have been monitoring Sergei Skripals’ communications and online activity.
Whilst the pattern of life study was happening, the would-be assassination team would be practicing working with such a deadly substance, initially with inert substances and possibly have a final practice with the ‘live’ agent. They will he rehearsing their approach to a house in an estate and the application of the agent as well as carrying our many map studies of Salisbury and their route to the Skripal house.
The pattern of life team will then be carrying out practice runs to Sergei Skripals front door. They will adopt an alias based on the pattern of life study – so the delivery of the local takeaway menu, or local free newspaper, or charity clothes bag – all to check and see if Sergei or his neighbours would notice something slightly different.
At some time before 4thMarch 2018 the Novichok nerve agent will have been flown into the UK in a container, probably inside another container and sealed to ensure there could be no leakage. Probably separately the individual or more likely individuals who would be carrying out the attack will have flown in using false identities.
In a few days before the 4thMarch it is probable that the would-be assassins will have been taken to Salisbury and driven around and past the Skripal’s house so they could familiarise themselves with the ground and confirm their detailed map reconnaissance’s.
I now get into the scenarios as to how detritus from the attack could have got into Queen Elizabeth park and remain in a concentration to kill Dawn Sturgess and put her partner Charlie Rowley into intensive care. This is pure speculation on my behalf, including the pick-up and drop off points and routes taken to the Skripals house. The only two fixed locations are Christie Miller Road where Sergei Skripal lived and Queen Elizabeth Park where Dawn and Charlie were contaminated.
Scenario 1: It came from pre-attack preparation.
The attack team is dropped off in the carpark beside Queen Elizabeth Park – they are sitting on a park bench, it is dark, they are looking like 2 drug users, regular visitors to the area.
On the bench they open a plastic bag and take out a Tupperware type container, it is dark, no one notices they are wearing elbow length protective gloves, unfolding the bubble wrap in the Tupperware container there is a small syringe containing a hand gel-like substance contaminated with the deadly Novichok nerve agent. They squirt the agent onto a cloth and put it back into the Tupperware container – that cloth will be used to smear the nerve agent onto the Skripal’s front door.
Knowing how deadly the agent is and the adrenalin rush of the live op, the would-be assassins are nervous, they accidentally knock the syringe on the ground. Not able to see it quickly and knowing they had a mission to do they left the syringe where it was.
They walk slowly along Churchfields Road, turn right onto Cherry Orchard lane and the cross the A36 down Canadian Avenue and make their way to Christie Miller Road, a quick walk to Sergei’s front door where the cloth is removed from the container and quickly wiped over the door, pretending to post something through the door.
The team moves quickly up India Avenue to the A360, in the process putting the contaminated cloth in a new bag and stripping off their gloves and anything else that could be contaminated and disposing of it in a bin on the A360 before being picked up and driven off to escape the country.
Scenario 2: It came from post-attack disposal of attack means.
The team are dropped off at the India Avenue and A360 junction and walk slowly to Christie Miller Road – they have a cloth in a Tupperware container pre-soaked with a Novichok solution cloth and after quickly wiping it onto Sergei Skripal’s front door they walk south, down Canadian Avenue, up through the industrial area of Lower Road and Churchfield road, heading for Queen Elizabeth Gardens, chosen so they could look like drug users as they took their protective clothing off and dispose of their contaminated detritus.
Unfortunately, as they carefully place everything into another bag, having removed their gloves, the Tupperware container falls to the ground. Un-gloved and unprotected they have no desire to touch it and leave it where it lies. The bag containing gloves, cloth, and other items is placed in a bin near the toilets. Walking down Crane Street to New Street they make their way to the A36 to be whisked away by a pick-up team.
Dawn and Charlie….
Sitting on a bench in Queen Elizabeth Park, Dawn sees a Tupperware container sitting under the bush, thinking “that could be useful” she picks it up and puts it in her handbag, thinking nothing of it, not knowing of its deadly contamination. Or, she sees a syringe and knowing children play in the park she picked it up meaning to put it safely in a bin. Either way, she is a short time off touching the contaminated part of the object and the countdown clock starts for her exhibiting symptoms.
Holding hands on the bus from Salisbury to Amesbury, some of the Novichok is passed from Dawn’s hand to Charlie’s hand. The countdown for him succumbing to the nerve agent started.
Scenario 3 is what happened, it could be a mix of one and two or most likely is something else, but I have highlighted these to show what could have happened. The real story will help the police and security services focus their intelligence processes and potentially identify the would-be assassins and their supporting team. Rest assured this was a team effort.
Under any and all of these scenarios, we have a few common factors. There were a number of people in the original assassination team and it was a carefully planned attack. More worryingly, there is likely to be more contaminated detritus than the one container the police are looking for at the moment.
The police investigation potentially identifying a number of “Russian” suspects is what I would expect at this stage of a complex investigation. However, the reports of a perfume spray cause me to raise an eyebrow as it would be a dangerous method for would-be assassins to deploy such a deadly substance. Dangerous because a spray would create an aerosol of this deadly substance that is absorbed through the skin so all exposed skin would have to be covered and the splash back risk from spraying ti would be great potentially contaminating more fo the would-be assassin’s clothing. I would describe it as a ‘brave’ way of deploying a nerve agent. Time will tell.
The reports of several attackers fit with the theoretical scenarios I have outlined above. I would expect the assassination team to be long gone out of the country but Salisbury will always remain a ‘spooks playground.’ https://greyharemedia.com/salisbury-sleepy-hollow-or-spooks-playground/.
This is a very complex investigation and we may never get all of the answers. No matter what I have written, the risk to the general public remains small, but there is a risk, that risk should get smaller as time goes on.
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE