In 12 months of shifting sands, one thing remains as its original foundations: the British state narrative on Salisbury stands as a castle in the air.
One year from the dastardly fate of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, no one is a step forward on what happened to them, how, why, or of course where they are.
One year ago, a nerve agent was allegedly sprayed onto their front doorknob. One year later, their house needs a new roof as a result. And why the roof? And why only the roof?
I don’t know what happened to the stricken pair but then, neither do you, however much you’ve followed the story in Britain’s mass media. In fact, the more you’ve read, the more confused you’re likely now to be.
There are some things I do know, however.
The first is that the Russian state had as little to gain from attacking this pair in broad daylight on a Salisbury street with a signature Soviet-developed weapon, ‘novichok,’ as I said at the time.
It was exactly 100 days before the World Cup, just days before President Putin’s re-election. If – and it’s a big if – the Russian state wanted to kill the Skripals, many things would’ve been different.
Firstly, they would’ve been dead. Yulia would’ve been dead in Russia where she lived. And Sergei would’ve been dispatched at a less sensitive time by rather more reliable, less identifiable means, and by rather less comical killers.
The killers would not have flown directly from and back to Moscow. They would not have entrusted their egress to the Sunday service of Wiltshire public transport. They would not have smiled up at every CCTV camera they could find.
They would not have stayed at a downscale small hotel in East London, they would not have smoked drugs there, and they would not have noisily entertained a prostitute in their room. They would not have left traces of their nerve agent in their hotel room. They would not have spent a mere hour scoping Salisbury the day before the alleged poisoning of the Skripals. Nor would they have returned by public transport to London for their sex and drug party, only to retrace their steps by public transport the next day.
If they were going to kill a man and his daughter, they would not have trusted nerve agent on a doorknob when there was no conceivable way of knowing who’s hand would touch it. Yulia? Sergei? The milkman? Any Tom, Dick or Harry in the street (or any of their children)?
If they were going to smear nerve agent on a doorknob, they would’ve done it in the dark – not at noon the next day, when anyone or any camera could watch them doing so, yet no one did. Quite apart from the salient fact that by noon the victims had already left the house never to return to it.
If the Skripals were merely victims in this case, why were both of their phones switched off in the hours between leaving their home and their afternoon repast. How did they manage to happily feed ducks in the park with bread between drinks and lunch, and share that bread with a local child – but neither child nor ducks suffered any ill effects?
If they left home early that morning, why were no signs of illness observed until after the pub and the restaurant at least five hours later? If the roof of the Skripals’ house has to be replaced, why not the roof of the restaurant? If Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was affected, why wasn’t the first responder? How come the first responder turned out to be a most senior British Army nurse?
Why did the police wait months before publishing the likenesses of the two chief suspects?
If the Skripals were merely victims, why have they been hidden, why haven’t they told us what happened?
Why was there a second bottle of perfume? How did it get into the hands of Dawn Sturgess? Why would the assassins need two bottles of perfume? Why and where did they discard the second, unopened, bottle?
Believe me, I could adumbrate 500 questions more but you’d be dropped down at your door if I did – from fatigue!
Suffice to say, there are way more questions than answers in the Skripal story. But not for the British government.
Their answers were swift and have had serious consequences for Russia, for Britain, and for the world. That they have made no effort to persuade a highly skeptical British public, relying on crude methods of information warfare instead, is a further reason why I and many others simply don’t believe them.
Neither will history, if I’m any judge.
Journalism – history’s first draft – is easy to purloin when most journalists haven’t the time, inclination or resources to question the state – especially inclination. History books though, grind exceedingly fine.