MI6 chief ‘still angry’ over Novichok poisonings in Salisbury

Tom Pilgrim, PA
·3-min read

The chief of MI6 has revealed he still gets “angry” over the Novichok attack in Salisbury which, he said, came close to causing “very significant casualties”.

Speaking to Times Radio, Richard Moore revealed his agency’s concerns about the “recklessness” of the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two Russian nationals are suspected of carrying out the Novichok poisonings in Wiltshire in March 2018.

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy turned double agent for MI6, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, survived the incident, but it later claimed the life of Dawn Sturgess after she came into contact with a perfume bottle believed to have been used in the attack before being discarded.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement, with Mr Putin claiming the two suspects were civilians.

Salisbury incident
Russians Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov are suspected of carrying out the Novichok attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Mr Moore, known to colleagues in Whitehall as C, said: “I still get angry about Salisbury because I know how near we came to very significant casualties.

“If you imagine what would have happened if a kid had come across that material and spread it around…

“The family of Dawn Sturgess, of course, have had an awful tragedy visited upon them when she was killed by it.

“So there is this sort of element of recklessness there in the way they go about things.”

Mr Moore addressed concerns over the recent build-up of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine, saying it is “deeply worrying”.

He also commented on developments in the Czech Republic, where leaders say they have evidence provided by the intelligence and security services that points to the participation of two agents from Russia’s elite GRU Unit 29155 in a 2014 depot blast that killed two people – something Russia denies.

The same two Russians were charged by British authorities in absentia over the Salisbury poisonings.

“It is extraordinary if you think about it, it is the same group, Russian military intelligence GRU, same two individuals who came to Salisbury, involved in an attack on a factory which left two Czechs dead.

“So, when you get that pattern of reckless behaviour, of course you then look at what’s happening around Ukraine, and of course it worries us, and it’s why we’ve co-ordinated so closely with our allies to make sure we’re getting firm messages back to President Putin,” Mr Moore said.

“The Russians are in absolutely no doubt of where the UK stands on this issue and they are in absolutely no doubt of where the Biden administration stands on this issue, because the channels are open.”

Salisbury incident
Dawn Sturgess died after being exposed to the nerve agent Novichok (Metropolitan Police/PA)

In his wide-ranging interview with Times Radio, Mr Moore highlighted that his service works in what is “undoubtedly a highly contested and in many ways rather dangerous world”.

He said MI6 needs to “use and harness technology” and develop partnerships with companies working in that field.

He revealed that his service would shortly be advertising to find a “new Q” to lead its technical team – a role whose title is inspired by the gadget specialist portrayed in the James Bond films.

“In this one life imitates art,” he said, adding: “We were reshaping it a few years ago and we couldn’t think of the right name for it and in the end we thought ‘Well, come on, let’s go for it, and so we decided to call it Q.

“So we have done ever since and this will be the leader of that team.”

Mr Moore said he is hoping to recruit someone from an industry background, adding: “We are in an increasingly contested, difficult world where technology is making what we do for a living more of a challenge. We have to therefore use and harness technology.

“The only way we can do that, I think, is with good leadership and somebody who can help us partner with the private sector effectively.”