Novichok death of Dawn Sturgess to be examined by public inquiry

A public inquiry is to be launched into the death of a woman killed in the 2018 Wiltshire novichok poisonings, the home secretary has announced.

The inquiry into Dawn Sturgess’s death will be able to consider sensitive information in secret and allow the judge leading it to examine the role played by the Russian state.

In June 2018, Sturgess, 44, and her partner, Charlie Rowley, were poisoned after he found a fake perfume bottle containing novichok. Rowley recovered but Sturgess died.

Sturgess’s family had pushed for her inquest, which is being overseen by the life peer Heather Hallett, to be converted into a public inquiry, believing that this would be the best way to get to the truth of what happened.

Dawn’s father, Stan Sturgess, said he was pleased at the development. He said: “We welcome the decision, our legal team has worked tirelessly on our behalf and hopefully in the near future we will finally have closure.”

The family had been concerned at a suggestion from Home Office lawyers that the full hearing the poisonings might not be heard until 2023. Sturgess said he was pleased at the prospect of it taking place next year.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, said on Thursday: “The government is establishing an inquiry after careful consideration of advice from Lady Hallett that this is necessary to permit all relevant evidence to be heard. This is an important step in ensuring that the family of Dawn Sturgess get the answers they need. The current inquest will be adjourned after the establishment of the inquiry.

“The inquiry’s investigations will be a matter for the chair. As the sponsoring department, the Home Office will provide support and ensure that the inquiry has the resources that it needs.”

Patel said she was keen to keep the Sturgess family at the heart of the inquiry and has written to them explaining her decision.

Rowley also welcomed the move. He said: “We want to find out as much as we can about how and why Dawn died. I’m pleased there’ll be a public inquiry.” Rowley continues to suffer ill health after his exposure to novichok.

Patel said the inquiry would undertaken by Hallett alone as chair. In a letter to Hallett, Patel said: “There are a number of administrative and security details our teams will need to resolve, but I hope you will agree that we should aim to establish the inquiry as soon as is reasonably possible in 2022.

“My officials will do all they can to support you throughout the course of the inquiry. Like you, I am keen that this inquiry keeps the family of Ms Sturgess at its heart in its pursuit to understand how she died.”

Hallett welcomed the announcement and said: “My team will now work through all the necessary arrangements so the inquiry can be set up early in 2022.”

The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was the target of a novichok attack in Salisbury in March 2018. He and his daughter, Yulia, and a police officer, DS Nick Bailey, were poisoned but survived.

It is hoped that an inquiry may help to explain the gap between the attack on the Skripals and the poisoning of Sturgess.

At a preliminary inquest hearing in September, a Sturgess family lawyer argued that there was a wide public interest in investigating the circumstances, especially after a claim by the senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing, Dean Haydon, that thousands of people could have been killed in the poisonings, which the UK government blames on the Russian state.

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