The third man: Police name new suspect in Salisbury Novichok attack on Sergei Skripal

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The man, Denis Sergeev, was caught on camera at Heathrow airport  (Met police)
The man, Denis Sergeev, was caught on camera at Heathrow airport (Met police)

A “highly trained” Russian military officer was today dramatically named as a third member of the assassination squad behind the Salisbury Novichok attack on the former spy Sergei Skripal.

Counter-terrorism police said that Denis Sergeev flew into Heathrow two days before the failed attempt to fatally poison the former spy Sergei Skripal and held several meetings in the capital with the two Russians already known to have carried out the attack.

He left on the day of the poisoning on a flight back to Moscow that left hours before his fellow conspirators, Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga, made their own escape via the same airport.

Detectives said they now had evidence to show that the three men were all from Russia’s GRU military intelligence spy agency and had acted as a team to try to murder Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia and that the trio were also suspected of mounting other lethal attacks in Europe, including in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

They added that their actions in Salisbury - where they used Novichok smuggled into Britain in a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle to poison Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia - could have killed “hundreds if not thousands of people” instead of claiming solely the life of 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess.

Information about the suspect has been passed to the CPS (Met police)
Information about the suspect has been passed to the CPS (Met police)

She died after her partner Charlie Rowley picked up the discarded perfume bottle in nearby Amesbury months after the attack and gave it to her unaware of its toxic contents.

Both the Skripals fell seriously ill and went into comas, but recovered, as did police officer Nick Bailey who was poisoned by the contaminated door handle of Mr Skripal’s home.

Announcing Sergeev’s identification as part of the assassination team at a Scotland Yard briefing, Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, the senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing, said that investigations were still continuing into other possible members.

But he said that prosecutors had already agreed to authorise charges against Sergeev that mirror those already levelled against his co-conspirators.

Police said Denis Sergeev flew into Heathrow two days before the failed attempt to fatally poison the former spy Sergei Skripal (Met police)
Police said Denis Sergeev flew into Heathrow two days before the failed attempt to fatally poison the former spy Sergei Skripal (Met police)

“This marks another significant development in our investigation,” he said. “Ever since these terrible incidents occurred, we were clear that we would be relentless in our investigation and our pursuit of justice for the victims of the attacks and their families.

“We remain as determined as ever,” Mr Haydon added, saying of the three suspects that “we now have evidence that links them to the GRU” and that “all three of them are dangerous individuals” who have “tried to murder people here in the UK” as well as mounting similar operations abroad.

The charges against Sergeev include conspiring to murder Mr Skripal, 66, a former Russian double agent given sanctuary in Britain because of his work for MI6, and the attempted murder of Mr Skripal, Ms Skripal and Mr Bailey

Mr Haydon said Sergeev, who he said is aged “approximately 50”, is also being charged with use and possession of Novichok, a highly toxic chemical agent developed in Russia, and inflicting grievous bodily harm on Ms Skripal and Mr Bailey.

Salisbury Novichok poisoning suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov are shown on CCTV at Salisbury train station (Metropolitan Police via Getty Im)
Salisbury Novichok poisoning suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov are shown on CCTV at Salisbury train station (Metropolitan Police via Getty Im)

Mr Haydon said that police believed that Sergeev was in Russia along with his two fellow conspirators Mishkin and Chepiga and there was no extradition treaty in place that would allow them to be brought to Britain to stand trial.

He indicated that police had also received no sign of cooperation from Moscow – which has denied involvement in the attack - in bringing the suspects to justice, but the Interpol notices and arrest warrants would be used to attempt to detain them if they ventured abroad.

Giving details of Sergeev’s movements in London, Mr Haydon said he had arrived under the alias Sergey Fedotov at Heathrow on 2 March 2018 four hours before Mishkin and Chepiga – using the cover identities Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov respectively – flew in to Gatwick.

Fedotov stayed at a central London hotel, while the other two stayed at the City Stay Hotel in east London, but the trio met several times in the capital over the weekend in both indoor and outdoor locations.

Mr Haydon said neither the hotel where Sergeev stayed nor the sites of their meetings was being disclosed but that checks had shown no presence of Novichok at the hotel or any risk to people staying there.

Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were poisoned with nerve agent Novichok at their home in Salisbury in 2018 (Handout)
Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were poisoned with nerve agent Novichok at their home in Salisbury in 2018 (Handout)

He said that Sergeev had not left the capital but had flown out of Heathrow on 4 March, the day of the attack on the Skripals, at 1.45 pm followed at 10.30pm the same day by Chepiga and Mishkin after their return from Salisbury.

Mr Haydon said that Bulgaria and the Czech Republic were among the overseas countries where Sergeev, Chepiga and Mishkin were believed to have operated together previously.

He gave no details but prosecutors in Bulgaria have previously named Sergeev as one of three Russians charged with the attempted murder by poisoning of three Bulgarians in 2015.

Mishkin and Chepiga have also been previously linked to a 2014 explosion at an arms depot in the Czech Republic which killed two people and which led to the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats in response to disclosures blaming the attack on Russia’s GRU.

Mr Haydon said that all three men had also previously visited Britain but that there was no evidence of them carrying out any further attacks here.

Police are still trying to establish how the counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle, which was fitted with a special nozzle to dispense the Novichok was brought into Britain and what happened to it after the attack before it was picked up by Mr Rowley and given to Ms Sturgess in Amesbury.

Mr Haydon added: “Whilst public attention gradually moved away from what happened in Salisbury and Amesbury, the investigation team has remained absolutely focused, meticulously poring over the evidence and building our case. This has been one of the most complex investigations ever undertaken in Counter Terrorism policing and the skill, professionalism and dedication shown by everyone involved has been remarkable.

“We continue to appeal to the public for any information that might assist with our investigation. The information we’re releasing now may well jog somebody’s memory, so I would urge you to get in touch with any information about the three men we have identified – whether you may have seen them in the UK between 2-4 March 2018, or if you know them.”

Previous reporting by the investigative website Bellingcat has linked Sergeev to the Salisbury Novichok attack, which the government has described as a state-sponsored assassination attempt, and cited evidence that he was born in 1973 and served in the Russian arm before transferring to Moscow between 2000 and 2002 to train as an elite intelligence officer for the GRU, before later receiving a personal loan of just over $1 million from a Russian bank and operating a number of allegedly sham companies.

A travel itinerary listed by the website includes “extensive travel across Western and Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, as well as central Asia and the Middle East.

All the trips were made under the same alias, Sergey Fedotov, used to enter Britain at the time of the Salisbury attack.

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