What Would Sherlock Holmes Have Made of the Government’s Explanation of the Case of Sergei and Yulia Skripal?
by Rob Slane - The Blogmire
In an article on 3rd May, the Guardian journalist, Luke Harding, made the following rather amusing observation:
“Since the Skripals were found stricken on a park bench, Downing Street has stuck to one version of events. Theresa May says it is ‘highly likely’ Moscow carried out the attack using a Soviet-made nerve agent. Only the Kremlin had the motive to kill its former officer, she argues.”
The funny part, in case you didn’t spot it, was his claim that Downing Street has stuck to one version of events. He is of course correct, but what he doesn’t tell his readers is that this one version of events has had a plethora of sub-narratives attached to it, none of which have been able to remotely support the main thesis. Sticking to one version of events is reasonable only inasmuch as that version can be supported by facts. On the other hand, if the version of events being stuck to is not supported by the facts, or if the “facts” constantly change, or if the “facts” are contradictory, then sticking to it is a measure not of reasonableness, as Mr Harding implies, but rather of absurdity, folly and irrationality.
G. K. Chesterton once cautioned us against the propensity towards indefinite scepticism:
“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
This is very true. But there is another, equally insidious, ditch which must be avoided. Let’s put it like this:
“Closing your mind too quickly can be worse than nothing. The object of closing the mind, as of closing the mouth, is to make sure that when you do, you have something solid inside.”
So is the narrative that Downing Street closed on so quickly after the incident solid? Does it stand up to scrutiny? Let’s see.
The basic claim of the UK Government is as follows:
On 4th March 2018, Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent, which had been put on the handle of Mr Skripal’s front door in Christie Miller Road, Salisbury. The substance used was A-234 (a Novichok agent), which is said to be around 5-8 times more lethal than VX (just 10 milligrams of VX on the skin can be lethal). It had been placed there by a person or persons either working on behalf of the Government of the Russian Federation, or who had somehow managed to come into possession of the substance from stocks controlled by the Russian Government.
As Mr Harding implies, it’s all very straightforward. So let’s test it.
What would you have expected to happen?
The basic question one must ask is as follows: Given the scenario outlined in the Government claim, what would you have expected to happen? Here are four basic things one would reasonably have expected:
1. Sergei and Yulia Skripal found dead in or near Mr Skripal’s house, followed by a coroner’s verdict stating that they had died from heart failure or suffocation, as a result of fluid secretions filling their lungs.
2. Or – in the slim chance that they survived – a period of months in hospital with irreparable damage to their central nervous systems, and symptoms including cirrhosis, toxic hepatitis, nerve damage and epilepsy.
3. A massive manhunt, both in Salisbury and in the rest of the country, especially in respect of the couple who appeared on a CCTV camera in Market Walk, of whom it was originally claimed were the Skripals, but who were clearly not the Skripals.
4. Mr Skripal’s house entirely closed off, with surrounding streets immediately evacuated, and the parts of Salisbury City Centre where the pair were known to have visited also evacuated.
What actually happened?
So much for what we would have expected to see. Now, more than two months after the incident, we can ask the question: What actually happened?
1. After they allegedly came into contact with the very lethal A-234 nerve agent, far from dying on the spot, Sergei and Yulia Skripal spent the next four hours driving into the City Centre, having a drink, and then going for a meal. They then sat on a bench, and at some point thereafter exhibited what appeared to be hallucinations, suggestive of poisoning by an opioid or non-lethal chemical weapon, rather than a nerve agent.
2. Rather than being hospitalised for months and suffering irreparable damage to their central nervous systems, just over four weeks later, Yulia Skripal telephoned her cousin, Viktoria, and assured her several times that “Everything is okay”. Crucially, she stated that “Everyone’s health is fine, there are no irreparable things.”
3. There has been no manhunt, and the couple who appeared on the CCTV camera in Market Walk have not been identified publicly, nor have there been any appeals for information about them.
4. Far from the streets around the house being evacuated, many photographs show police officers without any protective clothing standing just a few feet away from the door handle, which allegedly still had A-234 of “high purity” on it. Neither was the City Centre evacuated, but people who thought they might have come into contact with the substance were advised by Public Health England (PHE) to wash their clothing in a washing machine, and wipe personal items such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby wipes.
What Would Holmes Have Made of it?
If you laid all that out in front of Sherlock Holmes – the claims, the expectations, and the reality – and asked him what he made of it, he would no doubt reply along the following lines:
“On the assumption that the substance known as A-234 is several times more toxic than VX, which all credible references to it claim that it is, then given that the Skripals did not die on the spot, and having survived do not appear to have any of the lasting and irreparable side-effects of being poisoned by this substance, it can be stated with reasonable certainty that they were not poisoned by it.
Furthermore, given the symptoms that they displayed on the bench, according to eye-witness testimony, in all probability, Mr Skripal and Yulia were poisoned by a substance which can cause hallucinations, such as the opioid, Fentanyl, or an incapacitating, but non-lethal, chemical such as 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate (BZ). This theory is given credence by the fact that Salisbury District Hospital originally believed the incident to be a case of Fentanyl poisoning.”
What Would Holmes do Next?
Having used the known facts to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the Skripals were not poisoned by A-234, what would Holmes do next?
The obvious thing would be to interview both Sergei and Yulia Skripal, since both are apparently alive and well. He would want to gather details about their movements on the morning of 4th March 2018, and whether they saw anyone acting suspiciously either near the house, or at the bench. He would want to know why Mr Skripal apparently became highly agitated in Zizzis. And he would of course want to find out from Mr Skripal about who he had dealings with in the weeks prior to the incident.
So what, you might ask, would he make of it if he found out that nobody, including him, was allowed to see Mr Skripal or Yulia? What, you might ask, would he make of the fact that nothing has been heard of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey since his release from hospital more than six weeks ago? What, you might ask, would he make of the fact that there has been not one single police or press report looking into any of these things?
Holmes being Holmes, he would of course want to retain an open mind for as long as possible. But in the absence of any credible explanation for these oddities, or for the huge disparity between the UK Government claims and what actually happened, no doubt his great mind would soon start closing in on the suspicion that not only were the Skripals not poisoned by A-234, but it would appear that a cover up of what really happened has taken place.
My previous pieces on the Skripal Case:
♦ Boris Johnson’s Statements Analysed by Experts and Found to Contain Traces of the Ministry-Grade Swerve Agent, “Govichock”