The inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, who died after coming into contact with a perfume bottle containing the nerve agent Novichok, will be “fair, fearless and thorough”, the coroner overseeing the hearing has said.
Baroness Hallett told a pre-inquest review at the Royal Courts of Justice that Ms Sturgess’ death in Wiltshire three years ago would “undoubtedly raise issues of public interest”, due in part to the unusual circumstances in which she died.
Ms Sturgess, 44, collapsed at her partner Charlie Rowley’s home in Amesbury, eight miles from Salisbury, on June 30 2018 when she came into contact with a perfume bottle containing Novichok.
She died in hospital on July 8, while Mr Rowley was left seriously ill but recovered.
Her death followed the attempted poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, who were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury four months earlier.
They were both released from hospital before Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley fell ill.
In her opening remarks at Tuesday’s hearing, Baroness Hallett said: “The circumstances were very unusual, so they (Ms Sturgess’ family and friends) have lost not only a loved one but in circumstances that attracted national and international attention.
Watch: What is Novichok and how has it been used?
“They and all those in the county of Wiltshire have my assurance I will conduct a fair, fearless and thorough investigation.”
The coroner, a former appeal court judge, added: “This inquest will undoubtedly raise issues of public interest.
“I will address public fears and suspicion relating to the circumstances of her death.”
The independent investigator the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed the toxic chemical which killed Ms Sturgess was the same nerve agent as that which poisoned the Skripals.
Police said there was enough evidence to charge two Russians, known as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with offences including conspiracy to murder over the attack.
But the men said they were not involved, and gave a much-derided interview for state television in which they said they were only in Salisbury for a sightseeing tour of the cathedral.
Russia repeatedly denied any involvement, with President Vladimir Putin claiming the two suspects were merely civilians, not military officers.
The poisonings further increased tension between Westminster and the Kremlin.
Andrew O’Connor QC, counsel to the inquest, said efforts had been made to engage with Petrov and Boshirov in recent years, but they had gone completely unanswered.
He said, therefore, that they should not be considered “interested parties” in the inquest, meaning they will not be able to ask questions during the hearing.
The coroner said their interested-party status, which had previously been granted, would be removed due to their previous lack of co-operation with the investigation.
The pre-inquest review continues.
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