"How exactly is it now remotely possible for a fair investigation to be held, much less a free and fair trial of suspects, since you have already publicly declared who was behind it?"
Readers of this blog may be aware that I happen to live in the rather lovely city of Salisbury — a name that until last week was synonymous with its wonderful 13th Century gothic-style Cathedral and the world’s most famous pile of stones about 8 miles away. Unfortunately, it is now synonymous with international espionage and what looks like a case of attempted murder using some sort of nerve agent.
I have been reluctant to comment on the case for one very simple reason: I do not have many facts at my fingertips which would allow me to comment in any great detail on the incident itself. Indeed, I keep an entirely open mind as to the possible suspects and their motives.
What I would like to comment on, though, is what can only be described as the irrational, hysterical and frankly propagandistic reaction of the British media and Government. Within hours of the incident, before any of the essential facts can have been known to them, many of them came out and either implicitly or explicitly pointed the finger at the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin as having ordered the assassination.
And today, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, after just one week of what is bound to be an intensely complex investigation, in which the authorities have not yet ascertained where, when and how the poison was administered, went to the House of Commons to blame the incident on a sovereign state, reversing the burden of proof by informing the Government of Russia that it has 36 hours to effectively prove its innocence, or it will assumed to be guilty.
I am thoroughly ashamed of the Government of my country and indeed Parliament (not for the first time, and probably not the last). Whether or not Mr Putin was behind the attack, this is simply not how a law-governed state goes about its business. The sheer speed at which fingers have been pointed, accusations made, and threats uttered, before any facts arose as to where, when and how the poison was administered, let alone who administered it, shows that as a nation we are closer to becoming the kind of state that we claim Mr Putin heads than we would like to imagine.
For all I know, Mr Putin may have personally ordered this attack, although I must say I struggle to see the motive for the attempted murder of a man his Government pardoned eight years ago, in such a botched way that was bound to attract massive attention around the world — unless of course it is now his policy to deliberately turn his country into an international pariah state. Yet I simply have no idea how conclusions are supposed to be drawn when the investigation has hardly started. Investigation first, conclusion last, not the other way around dears.
Let me turn to the great Sherlock Holmes to try to inject a hint of rationality into the irrational frenzy that we are currently witnessing:
“It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
You’d think the country that was home to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would instinctively understand this. Sadly not. Indeed, within hours of the incident, the absence of data did not stop that great bloviating blowhard, Boris Johnson, from making statements to the House of Commons clearly pointing the finger of blame. Neither did it stop the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and others from doing the same. The media has been shameless. Sanctions have been threatened. England may pull out of the World Cup.
Here’s some questions that the “law” makers in Westminster would do well to answer: How exactly is it now remotely possible for a fair investigation to be held, much less a free and fair trial of suspects, since you have already publicly declared who was behind it? Haven’t you destroyed that possibility forever? Do you care?
I can hardly express how grieved I am at this behaviour. I want to be able to be confident that a fair investigation has taken place. I want to see the evidence tested in open court, with the accused and their defence lawyers given access to all the evidence. I want to be able to trust the verdict of the court beyond reasonable doubt. This is what everybody who cares about this case should want. It’s called truth and it’s called justice. Quaint old notions, I know. Yet how can any reasonable person now have any confidence in the investigation and the aftermath when our Government has named the culprit and threatened the punishment before the investigators are sure of even the most basic pieces of evidence?
According to Mrs May’s statement, the only piece of evidence they have uncovered so far is that the agent used was Novichok, which is a nerve agent developed in the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s. Forgive me for being a little bit sceptical about this claim. According to many reports, Novichok is eight times more potent than VX nerve gas. And yet Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia are still alive. Novichok is apparently eight times more potent than VX nerve gas. And yet despite the fact that the authorities are claiming to have found traces of it in the Zizzi restaurant and Mill pub, only Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey came down with serious illness. Novichok is apparently eight times more potent than nerve gas, and yet the authorities’ advice to people who had been in the pub or the restaurant was to “Wipe personal items such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby wipes and dispose of the wipes in the bin (ordinary domestic waste disposal).” So the deadly nerve agent Novichok, which is eight times more toxic than VX, can be combatted with baby wipes? Something doesn’t add up, does it?
But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say it was Novichok. So what? Does this prove that it was “the Russians what did it?” Only if the use of the VX nerve agent anywhere in the world would prove that it was “the British what did it”, since VX was developed at Porton Down, just down the road from Salisbury. But that doesn’t hold up, does it?
Oh, and there is also the fact that Novichok was produced at the Soviet State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology in Nukus, Uzbekistan. According to Wikipedia:
“Since its independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has been working with the government of the United States to dismantle and decontaminate the sites where the Novichok agents and other chemical weapons were tested and developed.”
I would imagine that means that the United States knows how to produce Novichok, and I’d be amazed if the fellows at Porton Down are unaware of this too.
Quite apart from anything, what the British Government are asking us to believe is that the Russian state just tried to poison someone, or perhaps two people, choosing to use a substance that they would know would be used to accuse them. As I said earlier, I suppose this is plausible, but it is verging on insanity, isn’t it?
Don’t misunderstand me: I am in no way making a comment as to whether the British Government’s conclusion is ultimately right or wrong. I can have no idea. But it is simply to say that if the only evidence they can present for having reached their conclusion is that Novichok was used, then they do not currently have remotely the kind of evidence that could at this stage allow them to reach the conclusion they have reached. Simple as that.
What about other suspects and motives? Are there any? Of course there are. Mr Skripal was recruited in the mid-1990s by an MI6 agent whom the British Press won’t name, but whom the American media have indeed identified. Furthermore, this agent also lives in Salisbury and, according to numerous press reports, met up with Mr Skripal on a frequent basis in a restaurant in the City.
According to the Telegraph, this same agent worked for Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd. Interesting, no? What if I was to tell you that Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd just happens to be the organisation headed by Christopher Steele, author of the infamous “Trump Dossier”? In other words, Mr Skripal’s MI6 agent and handler, who lived in the same City and met with him on a regular basis, was working for the man who was responsible for the document that was the primary cause of the whole Trump/Russia collusion claims. That doesn’t prove any direct connection between Mr Steele and Mr Skripal, of course, and nor does it suggest that the poisoning of Mr Skripal was related to it, but it is surely an extremely interesting possible connection that a free and fair investigation would be looking into.
But unfortunately, the British Government have just made such a thing impossible, with potentially horrendous consequences.