Boris Johnson calls on Russia to hand over Novichok poisoning suspects

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File photo dated 08/03/18 of personnel in hazmat suits working to secure a tent covering a bench in the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, were found critically ill by exposure to Novichok nerve agent. A third Russian spy faces charges of attempted murder over the Salisbury Novichok poisonings. (Andrew Matthews/PA) Issue date: Tuesday September 21, 2021. (PA Wire)
File photo dated 08/03/18 of personnel in hazmat suits working to secure a tent covering a bench in the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, were found critically ill by exposure to Novichok nerve agent. A third Russian spy faces charges of attempted murder over the Salisbury Novichok poisonings. (Andrew Matthews/PA) Issue date: Tuesday September 21, 2021. (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson has called on Russia to hand over the Salisbury Novichok poisoning suspects after charges were authorised against a third spy.

The Prime Minister said the Kremlin should recognise “our sense of justice must be done is not abated” after it was announced Denis Sergeev, who used the alias Sergey Fedotov while in the UK, faces a string of charges including trying to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal his daughter Yulia and ex-police officer Nick Bailey.

The news comes as the European Court of Human Rights ruled Russia was responsible for the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko who died after being poisoned with a rare radioactive substance in London in 2006.

The Skripals were left fighting for their lives in March 2018 when members of a Russian military intelligence squad are believed to have smeared the deadly chemical weapon on Mr Skripal’s door handle in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Mr Bailey was one of the officers investigating the case and also became seriously ill.

Months later, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess died and her partner Charlie Rowley became seriously ill after they also came into contact with the substance.

Sergeev is accused of seven charges, including three of attempted murder as well as conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal, causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey, and possession and use of a chemical weapon.

These are the same counts faced by two other suspects in the case already identified by police three years ago, Alexander Mishkin, who used the name Alexander Petrov while in the UK, and Anatoliy Chepiga, who used the alias Ruslan Boshirov.

No charges have yet been brought over Ms Sturgess’ death, but police said the case remains a live investigation.

A pre-inquest review hearing into her death is due to take place on Wednesday.

Alexander Petrov, left, and Ruslan Boshirov, who were named as suspects by police in 2018 (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)
Alexander Petrov, left, and Ruslan Boshirov, who were named as suspects by police in 2018 (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)

Mr Johnson told Sky News: “We do believe that all the suspects should be handed over for justice.”

He said Russia has already paid a “heavy price” over the poisoning, with the expulsion of diplomats, adding: “They should recognise that our sense of justice must be done is not abated.

“Dawn Sturgess, an innocent member of the British public, died in that event and we want to see those suspects handed over.”

Speaking in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Priti Patel condemned the “appalling” attack, and said should the suspects ever leave Russia the UK would “take every possible step to detain and extradite them to face justice”.

Mr Rowley told ITV News it was “about time somebody paid for what happened” but expressed his doubts over whether there would be justice because the suspects were in a “safe haven”, adding: “I don’t think we’re any further forward than we were three years ago.”

Investigators say they now have evidence linking the three to Russian military intelligence service the GRU, and that the trio have been involved in similar operations in other countries including Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

News website Bellingcat previously reported that Sergeev is suspected of involvement in the poisoning of an arms manufacturer, his son and a factory manager in Bulgaria in 2015, while Chepiga and Mishkin are accused of being part of a squad behind an explosion at an arms depot in the Czech Republic the previous year.

Dawn Sturgess, who died after being exposed to Novichok in Amesbury in June 2018 (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)
Dawn Sturgess, who died after being exposed to Novichok in Amesbury in June 2018 (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)

On Tuesday Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, who is the senior national co-ordinator for UK counter-terrorism policing, said: “The investigation team has been piecing together evidence that suggests that Petrov, Boshirov and Fedotov have all previously worked with each other and on behalf of the Russian state as part of operations carried out outside of Russia.”

They had all visited the UK before 2018, although there is no evidence that this was for reconnaissance purposes, police said.

“All three of them are dangerous individuals,” Mr Haydon said.

“They have tried to murder people here in the UK, and they have also brought an extremely dangerous chemical weapon into the UK by means unknown.

“The amount of Novichok in that perfume bottle was quite significant and if it had come into the wider circulation of the public, without a doubt it would have killed hundreds if not thousands of people.”

Sergeev entered the UK at 11am on March 2 2018, flying from Moscow to Heathrow and arriving about four hours before Mishkin and Chepiga landed at Gatwick.

The three met a number of times in the coming days, both out in the open and at indoor venues, but Sergeev did not leave the capital.

Fedotov (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Fedotov (Metropolitan Police/PA)

No traces of Novichok were found in the hotel room that he stayed in for two nights, before flying back to Moscow from Heathrow at lunchtime on March 4.

The poison was contained in a counterfeit perfume bottle, tragically found in June that year in a charity shop bin in Amesbury by Mr Rowley.

Police have appealed to the public for any information about how the bottle came to be found eight miles from Salisbury, and where it was stored between the departure of the would-be assassins from the UK in March and its discovery three months later.

They believe that the three suspects identified so far are in Russia, and with no extradition treaty with the country there is little chance of them being brought to the UK.

Nick Price, CPS head of special crime and counter terrorism division, said: “We will not be applying to Russia for the extradition of Sergey Fedotov as the Russian constitution does not permit extradition of its own nationals.

“Russia has made this clear following requests for extradition in other cases.

“Should this position change then an extradition request would be made.”

Police will apply for an Interpol notice to be issued for Sergeev aka Fedotov.

Russia’s deputy ambassador was invited to the Foreign Office to discuss the case with a senior official.

Home Secretary Priti Patel condemned the ‘appalling’ attack (House of Commons/PA) (PA Wire)
Home Secretary Priti Patel condemned the ‘appalling’ attack (House of Commons/PA) (PA Wire)

A Number 10 spokesman said: “We have said throughout this was not a rogue operation and only the Russian state had the technical means and experience and the motive to carry out this attack.”

A number of other individuals remain under investigation over possible involvement in the Salisbury case.

Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Wilkinson said: “My hope now is the perpetrators will have their appalling crimes levelled against them and all of the victims will see justice served in their names.”

Anyone who saw Fedotov while he was in the UK or has information relating to the perfume bottle can call the anti-terrorism hotline on 0800 789321 or email Salisbury2018@met.police.uk.

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