It is symptomatic of the level of desperation being felt by the British government that the illness of two known drug addicts (Rowley & Sturgess) in the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire, only a few kilometres from Porton Down and the site of the Skripal incident in March of this year, is immediately attributed to Russia by the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid and the Minister of State for Security Ben Wallace.
Speaking in the House of Commons on 5 July Javid referred to the “decision taken by the Russian government to deploy [chemical weapons] in Salisbury on March 4 was reckless and callous……. It is now the time for the Russian state to come forward and explain exactly what has gone on.” Wallace for his part suggested that Russia “fill in the gaps” of what happened to allow the United Kingdom authorities to pursue their investigation and keep people safe.
What we most need to be kept safe from are the bizarre and groundless allegations made about the Skripal incident on 4th of March 2018 and the even more bizarre attempts to link that event with what may have happened to Rowley and Sturgess on 30 June 2018.
Making unfounded allegations, blatantly false statements, giving rapidly changing ‘explanations’ as to how the Skripals became affected, and disregarding all the basic rules is to evidence, logic, scientific principles and the fundamental precepts of what used to be called ‘British justice’ were certainly characteristics of the Skripal case.
Equally disregarding these same basic principles has been true of the failing government of Britain’s Theresa May, as well as some of its apologists such as the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter article of 6 July that was so riddled with false assumptions, fake ‘facts’ and unsupported conclusions it may well have been drafted for its author by MI6.
The English poet William Taylor Coleridge described poetry as “the willing suspension of disbelief” and it is clear that the UK government and certain sections of the media in both the UK and Australia see the willing suspension of disbelief is the modus operandi in promoting yet another anti-Russian storyline.
There was a four-day gap between what happened to Rowley and Sturgess and the first reports of this appearing in the UK media. Given the unusual activity where the pair were found, in a local park, and at the respective homes by people in chemical hazard suits, and the absence of reporting strongly suggests that the UK government had issued yet another ‘D’ Notice to prevent reporting of the events.
The police initially lied to neighbours and other witnesses about what was going on. This fact alone makes the ‘Novichok’ story highly implausible. If the highly dangerous ‘Novichok’ class of nerve agents were in fact at random locations in the greater Salisbury area, then public warnings would and should have been given at the earliest opportunity.
The attempts to link what has allegedly happened to Rowley and Sturgess in June 2018 with what allegedly happened to the Skripals and Detective Sergeant Bailey in March 2018 is a sure sign of the desperation attached to the British government.
I say “allegedly” because if what the scientific literature tells us about substance A234 (allegedly used in the Skripal case) is correct, and there has been no scientific rebuttal of that well established evidence, then none of the victims would be alive today.
That is quite separate from the reported findings of the Spietz Laboratory in Switzerland that carried out analyses of samples collected more than three weeks after the Skripal incident that were entirely inconsistent with A234 being the actual cause of their illness (or that of Bailey).
The police on this occasion have been more cautious than some of the journalists or politicians. Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police stressed the importance of the investigation “being led by the evidence available and the facts alone,” a wholly welcome degree of caution on a topic more marked by political hysteria and manifestly false information than a cool appraisal of the classic means, motive and opportunity approach to crime solving, with a heavy emphasis on actual evidence as opposed to politically inspired rhetoric.
Even with that welcome degree of caution by the police, there are still some very curious elements to this latest case. If the Novichok class of nerve agents are as dangerous as the scientific literature incontestably describes them, why was there a four day delay between Rowley and Sturgess being found and hospitalized and the announcement of the cause of the illness? That delay would surely have exposed others to random phials of nerve agents carelessly left in public spaces.
The second curious element is that the nerve agents in question, the inappropriately labeled ‘Novichok’, have, again according to the scientific literature, a very limited life if exposed to the vagaries of the elements. Yet the Evening Standard in the UK quotes an unnamed and unaffiliated ‘security source’ as saying that “the poison could be kept deadly for decades” if kept dry. That complete contradiction of the known facts is simply ignored by the rest of the media.
The third puzzle is why, if the current explanation for the poisoning of the Skripals was an infected doorknob of Sergei’s home (as highly dubious as that claim is) why would the same nerve agent in an as yet undisclosed container be found in a public park well away from the Skripal House and any likely escape route for would-be assassins, four months later in a public park in a still dangerous state, and not noticed by any member of the public or the park’s maintenance workers?
Some long overdue skepticism about the whole Skripal saga and its alleged links to the latest incident in the mainstream media is to be found in an article by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian on 6 July 2018. Jenkins correctly points out many of the absurdities of the Skripal story and its many still unanswered questions. He points out that where knowledge is non-existent (as in both of these cases) ignorance is bliss. He says that does not apply to government ministers, for whom ignorance is not a sufficient condition for silence.
Apart from the aforesaid Mr Javid, most politicians have been relatively restrained in their public reactions to the latest incident. One might hope they learned something after the frankly hysterical and ill-informed over-reaction to the Skripal incident.
That may be unduly optimistic. The willingness to blame Russia in the absence of even remotely compelling evidence is a political instinct deep within the western political psyche. On the other hand, the Skripal experience and the British refusal to acknowledge the implausibility of the Skripal’s alleged poisoning and its even more implausible aftermath may have led to an awakening realization that it is one’s supposed allies and friends that pose the greatest dangers.
James O’Neill is a Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at [email protected]
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