Skripal suspects' interviewer hangs up on BBC after being accused of peddling Russian 'propaganda'

Telegraph Reporters

The journalist who interviewed the prime suspects in the Salisbury poisoning case hung up on the BBC when a Newsnight presenter accused her Kremlin-funded network of being a "propaganda tool for the Russian state". 

Margarita Simonyan, RT's editor-in-chief, sat down with Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin called on them to talk to the media. 

The pair have been charged with the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal who were poisoned by Novichok - the same nerve agent that killed Dawn Sturgess after she inadvertently sprayed the substance on her wrists thinking it was perfume. 

Simonyan appeared on Newsnight and was being interviewed by Kirsty Wark, who asked her Russian guest if she was concerned by the manner of the interview, suggesting it re-enforced the idea that RT - formerly Russia Today - was a propagandist station. 

The spiky response was: "You did watch the interview, didn't you? Did you see my face? Did you see the tone? You probably don't speak Russian.

"The questions were obviously quite hard for them and made them nervous and at some point they even said something like, 'We came here and we thought you would support us, you behave like we're in an interrogation in a court'.

"But I said I'm not here to protect you, I'm not your advocate, I'm a journalist. I don't know why you would say that.

"Your question is totally unobjective to me now. Your question seems like typical Western propaganda because of which people actually watch RT. It's nothing like you're saying it was. Thank you very much."

Wark was in the process of trying to ask one final question when her guest hung up. Earlier, Simonyan told her: "I've been a reporter for more than 20 years now and I only believe what I see with my own eyes. 

"I saw with my own eyes that they look completely like the people on the video released by the British police. 

"So for that matter, I do believe they are those people. But as far as the story goes, I don't have any reason to believe them.

"I do not know them, I've not spent life with them, they are not my friends, but I have no more reason to believe them than secret services who have been lying previously." 

Skripal suspects' mobiles out of service despite vow to send Salisbury photos

The Russian prime suspects in the Salisbury nerve agent attack promised to send pictures of "their trip to Salisbury Cathedral", but their phones have since gone out of service, the journalist who met the pair has said.

Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russian state-sponsored network RT, said the duo - who identified themselves as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the men suspected by British intelligence of carrying out the poisoning - want "this story to be over".

Ms Simonyan told BBC Newsnight the pair contacted her mobile phone to set up the interview, but only if she agreed to a strict tranche of conditions that would minimise the prospect of them being tracked down.

She disclosed that the two men had agreed to send her images of their visit to Salisbury Cathedral - a landmark Boshirov had mentioned was one of the main draws for their visit to the Wiltshire city - but had since failed to do so.

The phone the pair used to make contact with the journalist no longer appeared to be in service, she said.

Ms Simonyan said: "They told me that if they found those pictures, they would send them to me on WhatsApp. I'm still waiting. They didn't have them on them.

"I tried to call them on the phone on which they called me but it has been out of coverage. They said if they found the pictures they would send them to me but I am still waiting."

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov have been accused by Britain as being the Salisbury poisoners Credit: Metropolitan Police

The RT interviewer told the BBC: "We had a conversation before the interview and they said that they had several conditions on which they were ready to give an interview.

"And one of the conditions was that no questions would be allowed that would allow the media to track their acquaintances or their business partners or their relatives or their classmates or whomever.

"As they said - and this is their words not mine - that this is their first and last interview to the media ever.

"They want this story to be over, and they don't want to give any hints or extra information to the media."

RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan shows an image of two men during an interview with Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov Credit: TASS via Getty Images

Kremlin will consider British request to question suspects

The Kremlin has said it will consider any request by Britain to question the two suspects in the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

The UK has accused the two Russian men, who appeared on Russian television on Thursday, of the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any request from London to interview them would be considered in "strict accordance with the law" but so far the British had rejected any offer to co-operate in the investigation, the Tass news agency reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov Credit: Reuters

"Only this week, we heard an official statement from London, which said that they did not plan to employ the legal assistance mechanism and send any requests to Russia," he said. 

"It is London's official stance and we regret to say that it is impossible to make any assumptions, unfortunately," Mr Peskov said.

"In case we receive an official request from London, it will definitely be considered in strict accordance with the law, there is no doubt about that."

In their RT television interview, the two men, who gave their names as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, said they had visited Salisbury as tourists and had nothing to do with the attack on the Skripals.

Their claims were dismissed by Downing Street as "lies and blatant fabrications".

Claim that pair visited Salisbury Cathedral 'does not add up', says bishop

The claim by two suspects in the Skripal case that they visited Salisbury to see its cathedral "doesn't seem to add up", the Wiltshire city's bishop has said.

Bishop of Salisbury Nicholas Holtam said he was not aware of any evidence linking Petrov and Boshirov to the cathedral, and suggested that the Russian men might have benefited from a visit to the building and a viewing of its copy of Magna Carta.

Responding to the men's claims, the bishop told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It doesn't really add up, does it?"

Asked whether there was CCTV footage of them at the cathedral, he said: "There's nothing to link (them with) the cathedral that we have got, or I think anybody has got. There's no way of proving that."

The bishop said that his response to the men's TV interview was to think "What a pity that they didn't spend longer in that city, where they could have explored the cathedral and seen a building that is committed to the love of God, where there is regular worship to lift our hearts, the tallest spire and a copy of Magna Carta about the rule of law and of justice. They didn't seem to see any of that, did they?"

Russian prime suspects accused of being military intelligence officers

UK authorities believe the pair arrived on a flight from Moscow in March and smeared the highly toxic chemical Novichok on a door handle at the Wiltshire home of former spy Sergei Skripal, leaving Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia critically ill.

Officers formally linked the attack on the Skripals to events in nearby Amesbury where Dawn Sturgess, 44, and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, were exposed to the same nerve agent.

Ms Sturgess died in hospital in July, just over a week after the pair fell ill.

A police officer who visited the home of the Skripals shortly after the attack, Nick Bailey, was also left critically ill from exposure to the substance.

Prime minister Theresa May told MPs the men were officers in Russian military intelligence service the GRU. Russia has repeatedly denied involvement.