Seven Skripal Secrets The Secret Intelligence Service Didn’t Want To Let Out

Yves here. I am not the sort who reads crime novels, so I am likely not the best to make sense of the bizarre behavior in the public inquiry into Dawn Sturgess’ death, downgraded from an inquest. However, the failure of anyone to speak on behalf of the Skripals or even admit they represent them sure looks like they are dead or otherwise rendered unable to communicate.

By John Helmer who has been the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to have directed his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

It’s unlikely that when they were alive, Sergei Skripal (lead image, left) and his daughter Yulia Skripal (right) read Enid Blyton.

The paratroop and military intelligence training which Sergei Skripal received prepared him for Afghanistan, Malta, and Spain.  By the time he reached England in 2010, he wasn’t undercover, and didn’t need to pretend to having read the Blyton books as a boy. By then too Blyton had been dead for more than forty years, and her books condemned in fashionable English circles as sexist, racist, paedophilic, and sadistic; although Blyton’s prejudice against foreigners has returned to fashion recently. Her taste for playing tennis in the nude did not suit the Skripals or the retired policemen neighbours in their Salisbury block.   

Blyton’s books weren’t translated and published in Russian until after Boris Yeltsin became president. The first of her Secret Seven series didn’t appear in Russian until 2015.  By then Sergei was 64 years of age; Yulia was 31.

In March of this year, the first of the seven Skripal secrets began to slip into the public prints when Adam Chapman (lead image, centre), a lawyer who was on sabbatical from his London office at the time, was appointed by the British government to represent the two Skripals as their legal representative. The official announcement of his appointment appeared on April 4.   For the first time since March 4, 2018, when the front door-handle of their cottage was attacked, and Skripal and his daughter collapsed in the middle of Salisbury town four hours later, it appeared they had recovered their voice and their freewill.

Except that Chapman refuses to speak for the Skripals; to acknowledge that he has been instructed by them to be their lawyer and that he has seen for himself that they are alive.

On July 15, in Chapman’s first public appearance in a London courtroom on behalf of the Skripals, he was asked a question by Lord Anthony Hughes, the judge chairing the public inquiry into the alleged Novichok attacks by Skripal’s former military service. Did he have anything to say to the court for Sergei and Yulia Skripal, Chapman was asked. “Nothing”, Chapman replied, shrugging his head. That was the second of the seven Skripal secrets to slip out.

Chapman’s reticence on behalf of his clients is uncharacteristic. He had been voluble when he was named The London Times Lawyer of the Week. “Acting for lawyers”, he began a newspaper interview in October 2014, “can bring its own particular challenges and I feared it would be like trying to herd cats. Thankfully, that was a slight exaggeration.”

On April 6 Chapman was asked to clarify his representation of the Skripals. Chapman wasn’t exactly the first legal representative of the Skripals in a London court. On March 20, 2018, Vikram Sachdeva QC appeared to be speaking for them in the Court of Protection of the High Court.   But at the time they were reported to be “under heavy sedation” in Salisbury District Hospital.

According to a hospital doctor testifying to the court,    “Mr Skripal is heavily sedated following injury by a nerve agent. b) Ms Skripal is heavily sedated following injury by a nerve agent. c) Mr Skripal is unable to communicate in any way. d) Ms Skripal is unable to communicate in any meaningful way. e) It is not possible to say when or to what extent Mr or Ms Skripal may regain capacity.” The witness, whose identity the judge kept secret, identifying him only as “ZZ Treating Consultant”, also told Justice David Williams: “The hospital know little about either patient or what they might have wished.”

The doctor and witnesses from the Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Porton Down chemical warfare centre were not cross-examined or their evidence checked by Sachdeva, purportedly acting for the Skripals. Much of the evidence that has subsequently come to light, including  statements by the Skripals,  have suggested the doctor’s and the hospital’s claims were misleading or untrue. Read the book for details.

In his ruling of March 22, 2018, Justice David Williams concluded: “The precise effect of their exposure on their long term health remains unclear albeit medical tests indicate that their mental capacity might be compromised to an unknown and so far unascertained degree.”

The London  judge in that case ruled that if not for the fact he had been told they were unconscious in hospital, “the Skripals would be likely to want to support the work of the international body set up by international law knowing that its processes are unimpeachable, it is entirely independent, that the results of its enquiry would potentially be beneficial to the criminal investigation, confirming the nature of the attack and the substance used; assistance in bringing to justice those responsible; identifying those who carried out the attack. They would want to support the UK Government in taking steps on the international plane to hold those responsible to account.”

Williams claimed that when he began his court proceeding on March 20, 2018, he was told by lawyers for the government that the hearing “should be heard in private because of the potentially sensitive nature of the evidence and the need to protect Mr and Ms Skripal and other people involved in the proceedings.”

Sachdeva told the court he had not contacted the Skripals’ family or the Russian Embassy in London. But he knew the Embassy had already announced that it had delivered to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office  (FCO) “the request it had received from Viktoria Skripal to provide information on the condition of her relatives”. The FCO replied to the Embassy on March 11 that “Yulia Skripal remains in a critical, but stable condition in intensive care after being exposed to a nerve agent. As Sergei Skripal is a British citizen we are unable to provide information on his condition to the Embassy”.

Ten days later, according to the judge’s record, “Mr Sachdeva QC also noted that in this case at present it did not appear practicable or appropriate to seek the views of others who might be interested in the welfare of Mr Skripal (his mother perhaps) or Ms Skripal’s (perhaps a fiancé).” The judge added that he had been told by a government witness “neither Mr Skripal nor Ms Skripal appear to have relatives in the UK although they appear to have some relatives in Russia. The SSHD [Secretary of State for the Home Department] have not sought to make contact with them.”

Sachdeva was asked by telephone and email to clarify the difference between what he told the court, what the FCO told the Russian Embassy, and what was public knowledge of the Skripals’ family concerns. Sachdeva refused to answer.

Sachdeva didn’t see Sergei or Yulia Skripal. Sergei has not been seen in public since the day of the alleged Novichok attack.  He has not been heard on the telephone by his family members since June 26, 2019.  Yulia was last seen in a British and US-directed interview at a US bomber base in May 2018;  her last telephone call was heard on November 20, 2020.

On March 25, this year, a new London court was informed the Skripals were actively supporting   a British government inquiry into the nature of the attack they had reportedly suffered and those responsible. That inquiry is headed by Lord Hughes, a former Appeal Court judge, who is assisted by Andrew O’Connor QC and Martin Smith.

Left to right: Lord Anthony Hughes; Andrew O’Connor QC; Martin Smith. For details of the involvement of O’Connor and Smith in the prosecution of other British allegations of Russian poison attacks in the UK, click to read and this.   

“Sir”, O’Connor told Hughes, according to the March 25 transcript, “the solicitor to the inquiry [Smith] has received, as you [Hughes] know, a letter from legal representatives [Chapman] of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, representing their designation as core participants in the inquiry…since the terms of reference for this inquiry expressly require you [Hughes] to investigate the events surrounding their poisoning, we submit that their significant interest in the matters to which the inquiry relates is self evident and, accordingly, we support the application that they have made. Sir, we have set out at paragraph 14 of our written submissions a list of those who in our submission should be designated as core participants and it may assist if I simply read that out…” O’Connor ended his list of names: “and finally, as I have said, Sergei and Yulia Skripal.”

O’Connor was testifying to hearsay at third hand. He and Hughes had been told by Smith, who had been told by letter from Chapman, who claimed he had been instructed by the Skripals to represent them and to apply to Hughes for authorization to participate in the open and closed parts of the inquiry.  Hughes didn’t mention the Skripals by name during the March 25 hearing. He did announce: “I am currently minded to designate as core participants all those who are listed in paragraph 14 of Mr O’Connor’s written submissions.”

A few days later, Chapman was telephoned and then emailed at his London law firm, Kingsley Napley. He refused to answer. That was reported on April 6.

Chapman’s silence, his refusal to say he had communicated directly with the Skripals to verify they are alive, capable of giving him instructions, and not in prison or otherwise under duress, is the third of the Skripal secrets the government has allowed to slip out. By naming Chapman the British government and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), which was responsible for Sergei Skripal since he had arrived in England, had made Chapman the first and only source of public evidence of their fate.

The British press have not investigated this for more than four years. The Wiltshire county coroner David Ridley and the Cabinet Office coroner Dame Heather Hallett, who have been under the statutory duty to investigate the Novichok allegations since Dawn Sturgess died on July 8, 2018, did not report any contact with the Skripals. Since the Hughes Inquiry began,  Smith claims he has relied on what Chapman told him by letter.

On April 8, Hughes and Smith were asked: “how do you know the [representation] appointment was made directly by the Skripals and how has Lord Hughes verified the personal wish of Sergei Skripal and the personal wish of Yulia Skripal?” Smith answered: “The Skripals’ application was received by the Inquiry from Kingsley Napley, whose conduct is regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA). Solicitors such as Kingsley Napley have obligations to verify the identity of their clients (para 8.1 SRA Code of Conduct) and not to mislead the court or others (para 1.4 of the SRA Code of Conduct).  Where a core participant or other person has appointed a qualified lawyer to act for them, the Chair is required by rule 6 of the Inquiry Rules 2006 to designate that lawyer as their recognised legal representative. The Inquiry has relied on an application submitted by regulated legal professionals in doing so. There is nothing unusual about this approach.”    Hughes and Smith had evaded the questions asked; they were also evasive on the requirements of the Inquiry Rules No. 7 and the solicitors’ Code of Conduct Para 6.2; for the details, click.   This was the fourth of the Skripal secrets the government has revealed.

Hughes had scheduled a second open hearing, to be followed by a closed one, on July 15. As the date approached, Chapman was asked “if you will confirm your participation in the Hughes Inquiry hearing scheduled for this coming Friday?” He refused.

His superior at the law firm, Sophie Kemp, who also heads the firm’s human rights group,   was asked by email to answer the Skripal questions Chapman was stonewalling,  and to clarify whether the law firm was being paid by the Hughes Inquiry to keep their representation of the Skripals secret and the Skripals silent. Kemp did not acknowledge the email or reply.

Taking money for such a gag in a public inquiry is the fifth of the Skripal secrets.

The sixth secret tumbled into the open when the video equipment broadcasting the hearing of July 15 failed to work. According to Nigel Coulson, a court technician, “the Cloud Video Platform equipment was tested beforehand and all was thought to be well. However there have been ongoing issues with equipment today.” The Cloud Video Platform (CVP) is the system the British courts use for remote proceedings; the court administration describes CVP as “an internet-based video meeting service and works like Zoom.”    A national survey of judges and magistrates in January 2021 reported that CVP was more reliable than Skype but more popular than Zoom.  Months later, the courts administration announced it was improving the remote-hearing technology with “a new Video Hearings Service (VHS), upgrading the Cloud Video Platform (CVP)”.

The CVP technology is not, however, the system the British courts depend on for the official, legal record of their hearings. This in-court system has been in operation for more than a decade now; it is known as Digital Audio Recording Transcription and Storage (DARTS).     With DARTS in operation, “there is no longer a requirement for HMCTS [Her Majesty’s Court & Tribunal Service] to continue to use loggers and stenographers.”

The replacement of stenographers by DARTS was first reported here in April 2011.  By 2020, the system was reported to be running on obsolete and unsupported Microsoft software vulnerable to cyber attack.  The operating details of the DARTS system are a British government secret, as a Freedom of Information Act request for the DARTS manual revealed in September 2021.

“Apologies for the poor sound quality yesterday,” Hughes’ spokesman, Bernadette Caffarey, claimed by email. “I’m afraid the stenographer was listening remotely and this has resulted in a delay with the transcript.” The circumstances were reported in detail here.   Like the court clerk, the spokesman omitted to mention DARTS.

To contrast Chapman’s and Kemp’s refusal to acknowledge the Skripals’ part in the Hughes Inquiry and their attempt to conceal Chapman’s presence in the courtroom on July 15, an enlarged partial screenshot of Chapman in the courtroom was published. This triggered an appeal to Hughes. According to Caffarey, the Dances with Bears publication “has been brought to the Inquiry’s attention as it contains a screenshot which was taken from the cloud video platform.   As you correctly state in your blog ‘Court rules do not allow press camera or audio recording during the proceeding’. The Chair of the Inquiry [Hughes] did not give his permission for anyone to take recordings, videos or still shots of the proceedings…We would therefore be grateful if you would remove the two images of Mr Chapman from your blog with immediate effect.”

Did the judge confirm Chapman was present at the hearing? he was asked.  Caffarey replied: “Mr Chapman did attend the public preliminary hearing last Friday and this will be reflected in the transcript.” The website images were then removed; the transcript has not followed.  The Inquiry had interpreted the rules to apply to publication of Chapman’s presence at the hearing while the Inquiry continued in breach of the requirements to publish the transcript and the lawyers’ submissions.

The seventh secret was revealed on Friday, July 22, a full week after Hughes closed his hearing. This is the most sensitive secret of them all.

Despite repeated promises by the judge’s spokesman to publish the papers prepared by the lawyers before the hearing began and cleared for release by the security services, they have not been posted.   Also, the transcript of what was said is still missing. This is despite the judge’s promise to have published it “as soon as possible”; and notwithstanding the availability of the back-up recording by DARTS. Revealed, this seventh secret is that the public hearing into the Novichok allegations is a now secret proceeding after the Sturgess family announced it suspects the government of lying.

Following publication, Martin Smith responded for the Inquiry: “The Inquiry is not part of the court service, and arranged for its own transcript to be taken at the hearing. That transcriber was attending remotely, and because of the technological problems was unable to take a full transcript.  Because of those difficulties, the Inquiry is obtaining a transcript from the automated court recording system run by the court service to which [the publication] refers. This is not a real time service and it is taking a few days to prepare the transcript. It will be published in full as soon as possible.  There is nothing secret about the hearing, which took place in public at the Royal Courts of Justice. The transcript is being prepared and will be published together with legal submissions shortly.”

Thirty-six minutes after this was received by email, the Inquiry published the transcript of the July 15 hearing. Click to read here.  It records that Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the Sturgess family, said in an exchange with Lord Hughes: “May I just put as a footnote, in 2018, although not disclosed, they [government] must have been prepared for disclosure. And why? Because two men were charged. Now, I appreciate the difficulties of bringing a case but, of course, by now there were three people charged. So those prosecuting must have considered, unless there it is an empty barrel, they must be considering the possibility they might have to go public with---- LORD HUGHES: With at least some of it. MR MANSFIELD: Yes, with at least some of it.”

Also recorded:   Georgina Wolfe, counsel for the Home Department “and in a representative capacity for other government departments and agencies”: “In para.12 of our response note, which is at tab 10 of the bundle, we have also given examples of Russian espionage and interference against similar proceedings, available in open source, such as the Danish governing’s MH17 investigation and the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Russian doping investigation.  In our submission, this shows that there is a very real risk of harm to the relevant staff and others and a risk of damage to national security if the relevant names are disclosed. That risk is substantial and immediate.”

The following exchange took place between Lord Hughes and Adam Chapman, identified as having “appeared on behalf of Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal”: “MR BERRY: Sir, I have nothing to add. LORD HUGHES: You have nothing. Right, thank you very much. MR BERRY: Unless I can assist you? LORD HUGHES: Thank you. Ms Clement, do you want to say anything? MS CLEMENT: Sir, the same for me.LORD HUGHES: And, Mr Chapman, do you want to say anything? MR CHAPMAN: The same for me. LORD HUGHES: Right.”

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  1. Samuel Conner

    I’m a bit puzzled that this is not a bigger deal in UK. The Skripals were the subject of pronouncements from the highest levels of UK government in the period after whatever it was that happened to them.

    Is UK press completely incurious about the question of “how are they doing now?”, “what are they up to?”.

    The recent suggestion by an attorney for interested parties that ‘the Government might be lying about this matter’ ought to be a matter of keen public interest.

    In US, there would be media appearances and the personal stories of the victims of whatever it was that happened would have been flogged to the public for viewer interest and advertisement market share.

    Is there public interest in this in the UK that the media is deliberately not satisfying?

    1. Bart Hansen

      They no doubt slapped a classified letter on the subject of the Skripals. A ‘D’ letter?

      Reporters cannot mention or report on them, under some extreme penalty. UK residents can define this better for us.

  2. DJG, Reality Czar

    Curioser and curioser. Like Yves Smith, I am not a fan of mysteries, although I enjoy the occasional Maigret police procedural by Simenon.

    Yet both Yves Smith and John Helmer up top imply that the Skripals are dead.

    My question: Why is there so much fancy footwork going on by the lawyers and the government if the two of them area dead? I don’t understand why Chapman can’t just say, “My clients are sleeping the sleep of the just, permanently.” Or does that mean that a viable murder investigation would have to follow? It being Chapman’s responsibility then to pursue the case as it makes its way into Her Majesty’s Pliant Criminal Law Courts?

    As we see from the Assange case, the facts don’t have to get in the way in Her Majesty’s Pliant Legal System.

    Why not admit that the Skripals are dead and simply deep-six the case through neglect?

    Or is it possible that the deaths can’t be blamed on that Evil Vlad Putin?

    1. Kouros

      Because maybe Her Majesty’s Government ends up being accused of the crime, especially for Yulia, since there is evidence that she was alive in 2020?

    2. .Tom

      Presumably to avoid the obvious consequences of such an announcement, e.g. questions like: How did they die? Where and when? Where and when were the funerals and who attended?

      If the fancy footwork serves to keep the story in this tangled, impenetrable state, it is presumably worth the effort.

  3. The Rev Kev

    ‘the public inquiry into Dawn Sturgess’ death, downgraded from an inquest.’

    I cannot be sure but I believe that if this whole thing was done as an inquest, there are strict laws to be followed and it may be that an inquest might demand proof that the Skripals are actually being represented in Court. With a public inquiry, I think that the laws are looser, though here they appear to be making them up as they go along.

    As for the Skripals themselves, they are probably in a village and are now know as Number Eight and Number Nine in Patrick McGoohan’s old digs and are currently trying to dodge Rover the bouncing ball.

  4. Paul Whittaker

    if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it it most likely a duck. more lies and bullshit from the government and more payola for the lawyers. We may never know.

  5. T_Reg

    When dealing with government actors, I suggest we reverse the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”. That seems to hew closer to the truth.

  6. ambrit

    Yulia Skripal is, or was, a Russian national. Yet the Russian authorities have been stonewalled by Her Majestiy’s Governmant in their attempts to contact her. Is it any wonder that Russia places no trust in Her Majestiy’s Governmant’s word?
    Diplomacy is, from this remove, supposedly based on trust. At the very least, trust in a mutual adherence to an agreed upon “diplomatic vocabulary.” Today, any relationship between “objective reality” and Diplomatic speech has been jettisoned. Even the shadows on the rear wall of the cave are now falsified.
    The Office of Minister for Cloud Cuckoo Land should officially be made a Cabinet Post.

  7. Tom Stone

    Craig Murray covered the Skripal matter in some detail at his blog for those that want to dig a bit deeper.

  8. Susan the other

    This is incomprehensible. The UK thinks this will just go away like the Kennedy assassination? It will – which means it won’t. My memory is that Julia recovered and spoke briefly in front of the camera thanking the hospital for saving her and her father, who also survived whatever it really was. (Rumor at the time was that it was fentanyl.) If it was the same poison, we do know it was deadly because it killed Dawn Sturgess by skin contact. The worst thing for the UK would be to have the Skripals survive and eventually let slip what really happened (if they knew). Since they didn’t have any significant relatives pushing for confirmation of their well-being, it would have been easy to off them. The UK really screwed this up. Now, if the Skripals do not make an appearance it will be assumed they are dead. So that must the best default – let everyone assume they are dead because if they are alive they have information that is way too damaging. My best guess is that Russia knows everything and can back it with evidence. So the only way to keep it locked up is to keep it unavailable within the justice system, top secret.

    1. HotFlash

      Hmm. What is the evidence that whatever killed Dawn Sturgess was the same thing that attacked the Skripals via doorknob?

      1. jrkrideau


        The blog The blogmire based, I believe in Salisbury, did some interesting reporting back when this was a hot topic. Note the blog seems to have gotten “a bit” weird since but the Scripal reporting seems solid and generally supported by other sources.

        As Tom Stone July 23, 2022 at 10:54 am suggests, Craig Murray covered the Skripal matter in some detail at his blog. The Official Skripal Story is a Dead Duck

        Say what you will about the old British educational system, it produced superb writers. Some UK legal decisions are a pleasure to read.

    2. square coats

      Just a small side note (not trying to start an OT discussion), if you or anyone else is interested, true anon just recently did a podcast episode (here’s a link to it on youtube) discussing, among other things, the improbability of fentanyl being able to affect someone through their skin.

        1. John

          For the purpose of this thread and the True Anon episode (accidental or intentional poisoning through brief contact), it is not contrary to fact. Fentanyl patches have to be carefully applied on bare skin (body hair reduces effectiveness, obviously), have a blend designed to traverse the skin barrier, and still take 13-24 hours to have a moderate effect.

          It is highly improbable to be affected through the skin by picking up a baggie with ungloved hands, or by touching a contaminated dollar bill. It’s highly unlikely Russian agents went through the trouble of trying to make fentanyl contact poison work when they already have experience using Novichuk.

        2. Jack Parsons

          Fentanyl, like most chemicals, is fended off by the lipid barrier layers of the skin. A few chemicals like Laetrile penetrate the barrier, and will carry anything else in with them.

          During the 1960s riots one hippie trick was to mix LSD with Laetrile, load it in water pistols, and try to squirt the police officers up close- apochryphal of course.

  9. Alex Cox

    Thank you for republishing this piece. The graphic style of John Helmer’s site is a little challenging, especially compared to the clean lines of NC. And it’s remarkable how one journalist is still paying attention to this story. JH’s book about the Skripal case is definitely worth reading.

    As time goes by, and nothing is seen of Julia since her strange to-camera video on the US airbase, it does seem possible that they have been murdered in custody. Now that NATO is at war with Russia, the British state has nothing to gain from keeping its propaganda assets hidden.

    For what it’s worth, my suspicion is that the alleged poisoners weren’t spies or hit-men at all.

    The US and the British were looking to rouse public hostility to Russia in advance of the war. In the US this was accomplished by Russia!Russia!Russia! and TDS. In England it was done in the media by The Guardian and other assets, and by the Skripal narrative. To advance the latter, a British agent (let us call him Bond) meets two not-very-bright bodybuilders at a gym in Russia (let us call them Sasha and Ruslan). Bond slips the boys a bit o’coke and some decent steroids, and indicates that he has a line on a lot more. Even better, he can front the stuff. All Sasha and Ruslan have to do is come pick it up.

    Where is it? Why, in his gym locker, in Salisbury, UK.

    Sasha and Ruslan are so dim they travel on a nonstop flight from Moscow to Gatwick, check into a London hotel, buy drugs, hire a prostitute, and make a lot of noise. They are photographed and their presence is noted.

    Next day, they take the train to Salisbury, but terrible weather screws things up. Bond (who hasn’t been able to organize the Skripals) says he’ll have the stuff tomorrow.

    The trusting twins return to London and come back next day. Bond gives them some stuff. Their presence in Salisbury is photographed. Simultaneously the Skripals are poisoned (probably over their lunch) and disappear into the intelligence/chemical weapons aparat.

    Sasha and Ruslan fly back to Moscow, with whatever samples they haven’t already consumed. They look forward to recieving the full consignment, which Bond has promised to send them.

    The shipment never arrives, but a few weeks later Sasha and Ruslan are reluctant celebrities, being interviewed by a reporter on Russian TV, and coming over utterly suspicious, like. A couple of months after that, SmellingRat informs us that the boys also blew up an ammunition dump in the Czech Republic.

    If Sasha and Ruslan really are professional GRU poisoners and explosives experts, then Russia is in serious trouble and the triumph of the Rules Based Order is assured!

    1. Harry

      Actually I thought Michael Antony had quite a persuasive take. He argued that Skripal had some information valuable enough to be worth bringing him home. Possibly connected to the Steele dossier.

      Those two GRU agents were actually accompanied by a third. Their job was to drop a ticket and passport. Julia was there to pass a message.

      Sadly for Skripal he was busted.

      Might not be correct but it seems more plausible to me than many stories.

  10. elkern

    Helmer used an odd turn of phrase in his post (above):
    “Nothing” Chapman replied, shrugging his head”.

    In US English, a person shrugs their *shoulders*, and/or *shakes* their head when replying in the negative. Helmer’s Bio (see 1st link in header of OP) says he was born & educated in Australia; is that phrasing normal in Ozglish?

    This doesn’t really have any bearing on the real point of this piece, but when dealing with Spook Stiff, it’s always important to understand the sources.

  11. Advait

    Here’s my silly, fun conspiracy theory: Russian secret agents were able to kill the Skirpals sometime after the Skirpals came under the care of the UK health care system. And the UK Govt desperately doesn’t want the world to know that Russian assassins can operate with such impunity and effectiveness on UK soil. Cuz if the UK populace learned about all this, they would (potentially and possibly) get quite pissed off at the Russians. So pissed off that they would start electing politicians who would change laws making it harder for Russians to squirrel their massive wealth in the UK (and perhaps cause their UK wealth to be confiscated). And very wealthy, politically connected UK real estate moguls also desperately don’t want this revealed cuz it could reduce their massive profits from Russian oligarch money (which could reduce their political campaign contributions).

    Now I would be delighted for someone to punch holes in this theory so I can learn. Thanks.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Russia had no reason to kill the Skripals. Did you miss Sergei had been in a Russian prison for 13 years? If they had wanted him dead, he could easily have had an accident while in the gaol. And Russia had no beef with the daughter.

      1. Advait C.

        I’m confused. If that’s true, why then would the Russians try to kill them with novichok in the UK? What am I missing?

    2. Polar Socialist

      In principle, it would be great to establish that the alleged perpetrators had the means, motive and opportunity even if there’s no direct evidence of guilt.

      Means – we can safely assume that GRU has the means available, even if it is a military intelligence organization dedicated to keep the Russian military and political leadership aware of the dispositions and capabilities of potential enemies (and friends), so the less they are noticed, the better. Then again, it’s not likely GRU would choose to use a chemical agent that is obscure, was developed for artillery use and was only tested in lab as far as we know. Since “novichok” would kill the target within 2 minutes, the first symptoms being immediate, so it’s a poor choice if you don’t want everyone to notice what’s going on.

      Motivation – none that we know of. For all we know Sergey Skripal was already suffering the most severe punishment for betraying one’s nation – serious home sickness without any remedy.

      Opportunity – none that we know of. Not for the alleged two hitmen nor for the possible second (or third) assassination team.

    3. jrkrideau

      +1 :)

      I do think you forgot that it really was a Putin plot as he wishes to replace HM the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth.

  12. sulfurcrested

    I realise this is basic, but I find it simply unfathomable that 2 publicly identified individuals, under actual government control can simply disappear. Think about that for a moment…. Aren’t such “disappearances ” the actual “stuff” of totalitarian regimes? Nazis & USSR to use common, cliched examples.
    The media? Nowhere. Leaks – nothing of substance.
    And now people, who should know better, are suggesting they are dead. Maybe.
    But death is a nice “full stop” only for the UK government. The dead tell no tales.

    1. bernie

      Incomprehensible, that no ‘journalist’, wants to investigate this story. Further evidence, (that we really need it?), that the media has been co-opted by the gov’t.

      This story is 30 miles west of Kafka-esque

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