I want in this piece to start joining some dots together on this case, using some of the facts, clues and suppositions that I have set out in the previous parts. I said at the end of Part 4 that there would be one more piece. That has turned out to be wishful thinking on my part, and there will in fact be a further article after this one. In this piece, I want to propose a theory — or maybe educated guess is a better term — for what I think may have happened on 4th March. Then I will need one final piece to show why I think this theory helps to explain a number of other events and incidents connected with the story. Think of that final part as tying up some loose ends.
So what of the theory?
Back in Part 2, I made the claim that two of the most important clues in the whole Skripal case are:
The people who were seen on CCTV walking through the Market Walk towards The Maltings at 15:47 who were very clearly not Sergei and Yulia Skripal
The red bag that one of them was carrying
These clues are very important, because one of the first witnesses on the scene, Freya Church, testified that she saw a red bag at Yulia Skripal’s feet. In addition, we know that a red bag was placed in an evidence bag and taken away from the scene.
Of course, it could be that the red bag seen near the bench was not the same red bag carried by the person walking through The Maltings. Then again, large red bags like that are not exactly very common (walk around a town and see how many you spot). If the people and the bag have been ruled out, I haven’t heard anything to that effect in the media. Rather, they have been quietly forgotten about in the midst of a lot of nonsense about door handles and deadly nerve agents that don’t kill. This itself raises suspicions, and it is therefore entirely reasonable to suppose that these two people are important, and that the red bag seen on CCTV is the same one seen next to the bench.
There is also something else quite odd about those people, which at first glance you may not have spotted. Although the footage is not very clear, and I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic about this, I believe that a careful look at the two people shows that they are both wearing gloves. This would not be especially remarkable, given that it was fairly cold that day, but what is odd is that the gloves they are wearing are white. Certainly, their hands appear to be far whiter than their faces. Why is this strange? As I said in Part 2, although I’m not 100% sure of the sex of the person nearest the camera (looks like a woman to me, but others disagree), I am very, very sure that the person furthest from the camera is male. And as you are probably aware, men don’t tend to wear white gloves. Of course, there may not be any importance in this, but it does seem to add to the already large mountain of intrigue in the case.
Anyway, 10-15 minutes or so before these two people walked through the Market Walk, Sergei and Yulia Skripal left Zizzis restaurant. They did so after Mr Skripal became extremely agitated, demanding the bill at the same time as the main course, which he ate (the food that is, not the bill). However, this was not down to his being physically unwell, or showing signs of suffering any effects of poisoning, as the fact that he ate the lunch shows quite clearly. As I argued in Part 3, the most likely reason for his agitation and obvious desire to leave as quickly as possible was that he had an appointment to keep – one that he was perhaps nervous about, but one that he could not afford to miss.
Let’s now construct a timeline of the events that followed:
15:35 – Sergei Skripal and Yulia leave Zizzis. They make their way to The Maltings, presumably along Market Walk (although strangely there is no CCTV footage of this), a walk of about two minutes or so.
15:37 – When they got to The Maltings, they appear not to have gone straight to the bench, but to the Avon Playground (approximately 50 yards from the bench), where they spent some time feeding ducks. They presumably then went over to the bench, a few minutes after this.
15:47 – The mysterious pair, one of whom is carrying a red bag, are seen on CCTV walking through Market Walk in the direction of The Maltings.
16:03 – One of the first witnesses to the scene, Freya Church, who was working in the nearby Snap Fitness, leaves work at 16:00 or thereabouts, and sees the Skripals on the bench at approximately 16:03. According to her account, they were already “out of it”, which suggests that they had been poisoned some minutes previously. She noted that there was a red bag on the floor next to Yulia’s feet.
16:15 – Emergency services are called and the pair are taken to Salisbury District Hospital, Yulia by helicopter and Sergei by ambulance. Upon admittance, the hospital believed that the pair had overdosed on Fentanyl, and treated this as an opioid poisoning for at least 24 hours after the incident.
Later that evening – Police remove the red bag, and it has never been heard of or mentioned in connection with the story since.
Assuming that the red bag seen next to Yulia Skripal is the same as the one carried by the person nearest the camera in the Market Walk – who was not Yulia Skripal – we can begin to make some educated guesses as to what happened in those crucial minutes, from 15:47 to 16:03.
In Part 4 of this series, I made the case that there is a strong possibility that Sergei Skripal, not Christopher Steele, was the author of the Trump Dossier. Certainly, the connections between Steele and Skripal make that plausible, as does some of the material contained therein, as does the fact that Russia experts, such as Paul Gregory and Craig Murray, are convinced that the Dossier was written by a Russian “trained in the KGB tradition.”
My (hopefully educated) guess is therefore that Mr Skripal, who knew much about the origins, the contents and the falsehoods of the Dossier, was hoping to be paid off to keep quiet about it. Furthermore, my guess is that he was due to meet someone for this purpose at the park bench in The Maltings at about 3:45pm on 4th March (NB. even if the theory about the money is wide of the mark, I would still say that the rest of the clues tend to suggest that he was due to meet someone at the park bench).
Why meet on the park bench and why drag Yulia along with him? In both instances, as an insurance policy. Meeting out in public, albeit at a time on a Sunday afternoon when few people would be about, would perhaps be “safer” than meeting at home. Taking Yulia along with him would also add another layer of “safety”. Even so, if my supposition is anywhere close to the truth, Mr Skripal would have been apprehensive about the rendezvous, hence his agitation in the restaurant.
According to this scenario, the people seen walking along Market Walk at 15:47 approached the bench. This would have been about 15:48. Perhaps a few words were exchanged, or perhaps the bag was simply put down on the floor, and the pair who had delivered it walked away.
My guess is that over the next few minutes, both Sergei Skripal and Yulia looked into the bag where, amongst other things, there was some kind of toxic substance (which may explain the reason for the white gloves).
What was the substance?
First let’s say what it was not. It was not a lethal nerve agent, 5-8 times more deadly than VX. If it had been a lethal nerve agent, 5-8 times more deadly than VX, then they would either have died over the next few minutes, or they would have been hospitalised and suffered irreparable damage to their nervous system. Since neither of these things happened, it is safe to say that whatever the substance was, it was not A-234. Indeed, it defies logic, reason and all common sense to maintain that it was.
What was it? It is impossible to say for sure, but given the fact that they were fairly quickly incapacitated, yet suffered no long lasting and irreparable damage, what we are probably looking at is some kind of non-lethal incapacitating nerve agent. For the point was not to kill Mr Skripal – that would have inevitably led to a whole can of worms being opened about who he was and what he was doing – but to incapacitate him and hospitalise him for a time, with a substance that looked like it could be some kind of opioid poisoning, in order to send him a message.
Can we say more? I think so. The hospital treated the case as that of a Fentanyl poisoning for at least 24 hours. The reason for this can only have been because the symptoms exhibited were roughly consistent with the effects of poisoning by Fentanyl. What were those symptoms? Let’s turn to the testimony of various witnesses to the scene, all of which largely agree with one another (I have highlighted those bits that I see as most crucial in pointing to possible substances):
“He was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky. I felt anxious, I felt like I should step in, but to be honest they looked so out of it that I thought even if I did step in, I wasn’t sure how I could help. So I just left them. But it looked like they’d been taking something quite strong” – Freya Church.
“It was like her body was dead. Her legs were really stiff… you know when animals die, they have rigor mortis. Both her legs came together when people pulled (her), and when she was on the floor her eyes were just completely white. They were wide open but just white and frothing at the mouth. Then the man went stiff: his arms stopped moving, but he’s still looking dead straight” – Jamie Paine.
“He was quite smartly dressed. He had his palms up to the sky as if he was shrugging and was staring at the building in front of him. He had a woman sat next to him on the bench who was slumped on his shoulder. He was staring dead straight. He was conscious but it was like he was frozen and slightly rocking back and forward’ – Georgia Pridham.
“The paramedics seemed to be struggling to keep the two people conscious. The man was sitting staring into space in a catatonic state” – Graham Mulcock.
“I saw quite a lot of commotion – there were two people sat on the bench and there was a security guard there. They put her on the ground in the recovery position, and she was shaking like she was having a seizure. It was a bit manic. There were a lot of people crowded round them. It was raining, people had umbrellas and were putting them over them” – Destiny Reynolds.
Okay, so what do we have?
Firstly, we can say that it is a substance that possibly causes hallucinations (“out of it” “staring at the building” “palms up to the sky”
Secondly, it also causes mydriasis (dilation of the pupils) (“her eyes were completely white”)
Thirdly, it seems to cause something like stupor (“he was staring dead straight”, “like he was frozen” “catatonic state”)
Fourthly, it can cause tremors (“rocking back and forth” – see here for details on tremors, the effects of which include an unintentional, rhythmic muscle movement involving to-and-fro movements
Fifthly, it can cause shaking and seizures (she was shaking like she was having a seizure)
Sixthly, it can cause frothing at the mouth (which can be caused by seizures or pulmonary edema — fluid accumulation in the tissue and air spaces of the lungs)
There are a number of substances that fit these descriptions reasonably well. For instance, there is Carfentanil, which is an analogue of Fentanyl, only much stronger. Here is a description of some of its symptoms:
“Carfentanil has rapid onset [following IM administration] in animal patients, and is metabolized by the liver and excreted in the bile or by the kidneys … Signs and symptoms of exposure are consistent with opioid toxicity and include pinpoint pupils, respiratory depression, and depressed mental status. Other signs and symptoms include dizziness, lethargy, sedation, nausea, vomiting, shallow or absent breathing, cold clammy skin, weak pulse, loss of consciousness, and cardiovascular collapse secondary to hypoxia and death” – Lust et al. (2011).
Another possibility is 3-Quinuclidinyl-Benzilate (or BZ):
“Depending on the dose and time postexposure, a number of CNS [Central Nervous System] effects may manifest. Restlessness, apprehension, abnormal speech, confusion, agitation, tremor, picking movements, ataxia, stupor, and coma are described. Hallucinations are prominent, and they may be benign, entertaining, or terrifying to the patient experiencing them. Exposed patients may have conversations with hallucinated figures, and/or they may misidentify persons they typically know well. Simple tasks typically performed well by the exposed person may become difficult. Motor coordination, perception, cognition, and new memory formation are altered as CNS muscarinic receptors are inhibited” – Holstege CP and Baylor M; CBRNE – Incapacitating Agents, 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate. (May 24, 2006)
Let me clarify that I am not saying that it was either of these substances that was used to poison the Skripals. However, it is abundantly clear that the behaviour they exhibited, as described by various witnesses, far more closely matches the descriptions of the effects of substances like Carfentanil and BZ than it does A-234.
And so the sum and substance of this theory is as follows:
That Sergei Skripal had arranged to meet someone at around 3:45pm at the park bench in The Maltings.
That this was something to do with his involvement in and possible authorship of the so-called Trump Dossier.
That the people he met were the same people who were spotted on a CCTV camera in Market Walk at 3:47.
That the red bag that one of them was carrying is the same red bag that was seen by witnesses at the bench.
That it was in this bag that some sort of incapacitating substance had been placed.
That both Sergei and Yulia Skripal became incapacitated after looking inside the bag.
That the bag was later taken away, and probably subsequently destroyed.
Of course, if this theory has any credibility, it does raise one huge question. How did we go from Mr Skripal being targeted with an incapacitating substance, to wild and wholly absurd claims of him being targeted with the most deadly nerve agent known to man?
The answer to that, I believe, is that it all went a bit wrong, there was a panic, and in that panic a cover up of frankly bizarre proportions.
In the final piece, I will be explaining how I think it went wrong, and then tying up some loose ends to show how I think the theory I have advanced is backed up by some of the subsequent occurrences connected to this very strange case.