British Coroner Calls for Public Inquiry into Novichok Poisonings | World news
By SYLVIA HUI, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) – A coroner presiding over an inquest into the death of a Briton who was poisoned by a nerve agent developed by the Soviets after an attack on a former Russian spy said on Wednesday she wanted the investigation transformed in public inquiry so that it can examine the possible involvement of Russia.
Unlike an investigation, UK law allows a public inquiry to examine sensitive intelligence in partially closed hearings. Inquest coroner Heather Hallett has asked to examine any role the Russian government played in Dawn Sturgess’ death in 2018 would likely not begin until 2023.
Sturgess, 44, and his partner collapsed in Amesbury, southwest England, after coming into contact with a small bottle of perfume containing Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent.
The couple were exposed three months after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were disgusted in an attack on Novichok in the nearby town of Salisbury.
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Adam Straw, a lawyer representing Sturgess ‘family and his partner, Charlie Rowley, said that “the overriding concern is to ensure that the truth about Ms Sturgess’ death is established.”
“No family should wait five and a half years to find out how someone died,” he said.
The British government on Tuesday appointed and charged a third Russian suspect in the Novichok poisonings. He alleges that three men working for the Russian military intelligence service traveled to the UK on a mission targeting the Skripals before returning to Moscow. Russia vehemently denies these allegations.
Rowley told authorities he found the perfume bottle containing traces of the nerve agent in a trash can.
Britain has acknowledged that extradition requests for the three suspects will be unsuccessful and that they cannot be brought to justice as long as they remain in Russia. While there is almost no chance of a criminal trial, lawyers believe a public inquiry is the best way to find out what happened.
The Skripals fell seriously ill after Novichok was smeared on Sergei Skripal’s doorknob in March 2018. Father and daughter survived. Sturgess died in July of the same year after she and Rowley came into contact with the discarded perfume bottle the previous month. Rowley later recovered.
Police said they couldn’t explain where the perfume bottle was between the attack on the Skripals and when Rowley said they found it three months later.
Cathryn McGahey, a lawyer representing the UK government, said she hoped authorities would make a decision on the public hearing by the end of the year.
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