Lady Hallett vows to carry out ‘fearless’ inquiry into death of woman poisoned with nerve agent
The role the Russian state played in the death of a Wiltshire woman who was poisoned with the nerve agent novichok is to be investigated in detail at her inquest.
Lady Hallett, a retired high court judge, also revealed she planned to look into the actions of the police and public health officials to keep the people of Wiltshire safe after the initial novichok attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal four months before Sturgess’s death.
In addition, she told a pre-inquest review in London she proposed to examine the “sufficiency” of the medical treatment Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother of three, received after she was poisoned.
Skripal was the target of a novichok attack in Salisbury on 4 Maart 2018. Hy, his daughter, Yulia, and a police officer, DS Nick Bailey, were poisoned but survived.
In June 2018, Sturgess and her partner, Charlie Rowley, were poisoned in Amesbury, eight miles north of Salisbury, after he found a fake perfume bottle containing novichok. Rowley recovered but Sturgess died on 8 Julie.
The senior Wiltshire and Swindon coroner, David Ridley, said he would consider the actions of the Russians Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, allegedly the agents on the ground who carried out the attack on Skripal, at Sturgess’s inquest.
But Ridley maintained her death was too remote from the attempted murder of Skripal to allow the scope of her inquest to widen to look at elements such as the possible role of Moscow.
Hallett said: “To conduct an investigation of the death of Miss Dawn Sturgess without investigating how the novichok got to be in Salisbury and then Amesbury, why it was brought to this country, if it was, and who brought it and who directed the people who brought it – this would be incomplete and potentially misleading. I have no doubt whatsoever that the provisional scope should include the source of the novichok and Russian state responsibility.”
Hallett said she said she had not decided if the scope should take into account the protection the British state was giving to Skripal. Sturgess’s family argue that “failing” to protect Skripal, who was living in Salisbury, exposed British citizens to danger.
They point to a letter written by Sir Mark Sedwill, then the government’s national security adviser, to Nato claiming the British government had “information indicating Russian intelligence service interest in the Skripals, dating back at least as far as 2013, when email accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted.”
At the start of the hearing, Hallett expressed sympathy to the Sturgess family, saying they had lost a loved one in circumstances that attracted national and international attention.
Sy het bygevoeg: “They and all Wiltshire need a fearless, timely, thorough and fair investigation.”
Hallett expessed “dismay” when she was told by the Home Office’s barrister that it could take two years for the sensitive material she needed for the full inquest to be collated.
Another element due to be considered at the final inquest is the medical treatment Sturgess received. As the Guardian revealed, Rowley was given an anti-nerve agent drug – atropine – but Sturgess did not.
Further preliminary hearings will take place later this year and the final inquest may be partly heard in Salisbury.