19:24 GMT +322 October 2018
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    A police officer near the Mill pub in Salisbury, where the traces of the nerve agent used to poison former Main Intelligence Directorate colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found

    Deja Vu in Salisbury: Another Pair Rushed to Hospital After Restaurant Meal

    © Sputnik / Alex McNaughton
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    Neil Clark
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    Two people (one of whom at least was thought to be Russian), become ill and are rushed to hospital after dining at a faux- Italian restaurant chain on a Sunday in the cathedral city of Salisbury in the UK, with their symptoms consistent with novichok poisoning.

    Sounds familiar? 

    No, I'm not talking about Sergei and Yulia Skripal, but what happened yesterday. The news this morning is that the police have ruled out a "novichok" attack following the dramatic events in Prezzo's.

    But it's important to remember that when the Skripals first became ill, after dining in Zizzi's on 4th March, the initial reports suggested that it was a case of fentanyl poisoning. An eye witness who saw the Skripals on the bench told the BBC, 'it looked like they had been taking something quite strong'.

    It was Prime Minister Theresa May in Parliament who first used the 'N word. It's worth remembering too that in a letter to the Times newspaper, published on 16th March, Dr. Stephen Davies, Consultant in emergency medicine at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, wrote: 'May I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning. ' He finished his letter by stating 'no member of the public has been contaminated by the agent involved'.

    Could it actually be that there was no novichok poisoning- as some have claimed all along? 

    But if that was the case how did Detective Sgt Nick Bailey become ill after going to the Skripal's house? Is the proximity of the UK government's own defence science and technical weapons laboratory at Porton Down, which identified the 'agent involved' as a novichok, a coincidence, or could the 'agent involved' have come from there? The Porton Down chief executive did not expressly deny that there were stocks of "novichok" held there in an interview in March, but said the laboratory had the 'highest levels' of control and security.

    At the very least, yesterday's events should give those journalists and media figures who have swallowed unthinkingly the UK government narrative, pause for thought. As Sherlock Holmes might say, before lighting his third pipe, something is not quite right here, Dr Watson. Even if you do believe that the two named suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are hiding something, you have to agree that there are some very important questions that still need to be answered.

    Firstly, if the two Russians were there to spray a door handle with "novichok" why didn't they travel to Salisbury at night? Suppose you were a secret agent given the task of spraying a nerve agent on someone's front door knob. When would you do it? Surely the safest time would be in the middle of the night. You'd come by car (using false number plates) wear a face mask and under cover of darkness start spraying. That's what 007 would do. But we're led to believe that the two alleged agents came in broad daylight- (and by unreliable public transport)- and sprayed "novichok" on someone's front door at probably the worst time of the week for not wanting to get noticed ie Sunday at around noon.

    It's clear that if the two men were in some way connected with the Skripals, then they came to Salisbury in the daytime for a another or additional purpose, possibly to meet with Sergei during the 'missing 42 minutes' between 1.08 and 1.50, when there is no CCTV footage of them (or at least none has been released). But this does not necessarily mean they were there to assassinate him. They could have been wanting to conduct business with him, which might have involved intelligence work, or some illegal business activity. It's perfectly possible the men came to Salisbury for a reason, one which they don't want to, or can't, publicly disclose. And that another party, or parties, saw it as a great opportunity to poison Skripal (with a non-fatal dose) and then seek to put the blame on the two Russians who they knew were in the vicinity. It's also possible that what occurred was a trade which went horribly wrong- and that the Skripals were poisoned by accident.

    Furthermore, if the two men were official GRU agents, why did they did the job so amateurishly? After all, Theresa May herself told us in Parliament that the GRU is a 'highly disciplined organisation'.

    One theory put forward to explain the apparent contradiction is that the Kremlin wanted to let potential traitors know it was a Russian hit-job, hence the dropping of clues. But the timing makes absolutely no sense for this to be true. Russia was due to hold the football World Cup for the first time ever three months later. The arch Putin critic Bill Browder was due to address British Parliamentarians (with Times columnist Ed Lucas), the following Tuesday making the case for tougher sanctions against Russia. The Russian authorities will have known that the "novichok" poisoning of an ex-double agent in an English cathedral city would be blamed on them and that the outrage it would cause might lead to a boycott of the World Cup or RT losing its licence to broadcast in the UK- and at the very least to further sanctions. Why would the Russian government want that? If Skripal was targeted because he was a traitor then it could easily have been done when he was languishing in a Russian jail, or at least postponed until after the football was over. There's also the weather too to consider.

    Why would you send a hit-squad to England to "novichok" a front door knob during a weekend of snow, sleet and rain, and when transportation was disrupted? The presence of Yulia Skripal in Salisbury that weekend is also likely to be significant. Some have claimed that she —and not her father was the main target. But if that was the case, that surely weakens the argument for claiming official Russian state involvement, as Yulia could much more easily be 'taken care of' in Moscow. If this was indeed a GRU hit job then there must have been a very pressing reason why it was done on the weekend of 3-4th March, as the timing could not have been worse.

    Conversely, the timing was perfect for those seeking to ratchet up Cold War 2.0 tensions still further. The war in Syria had been going very badly for the 'regime changers', with the secular Assad government, backed by Russia, on the way to victory. Calls for a World Cup boycott hadn't gained traction. The neocon propaganda campaign against RT and Sputnik had run out of steam. Germany was going ahead with the Nord 2 stream pipeline project. This does not mean of course that an enemy or opponent of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government planned the act, only that there was a clear motive.
    The police statement that traces of novichok were found in Petrov and  Boshirov's hotel room in East London is also being claimed as conclusive proof that the two men were guilty. But the substance could have been planted in the room by someone booking in before 4th May, the date we're told the police made their discovery. Remarkably, when that happened, the hotel was not cordoned off, and its owner, Mr. Silman Mir, seems to have been kept in the dark, and not even told what room the two suspects had stayed in. 

    We were told in March that novichok was the most deadly nerve agent ever known to man, yet on 5th September Neil Basu, head of UK Counter Terrorism policing, said 'In terms of those who stayed in the room between 4 March and 4 May; to-date, we have had no reports of any persons falling ill.'

    Equally remarkably, Basu said he did not know under what type of visa the two suspects traveled to Britain on, in reply to a question from the BBC's Daniel Sandford. Surely the UK authorities would know this. Why won't they tell us?

    Another puzzling aspect of the case is that we're still, as I noted three weeks ago, yet to see, or hear a word from Sergei Skripal

    He probably has a very good idea of why he fell ill on 4th March, and if it was the two Russian suspects who were responsible, then the intelligence services would surely be rushing to get him in front of a camera to say so. But Skripal's become the Invisible Man of 2018. When we did see daughter Yulia in a brief pre-recorded video in May, she talked about returning to Russia at some point. 

    If she thought the Russian state was trying to kill her, would she have said this?

    Perhaps Petrov and Boshirov are guilty- and the British are not releasing all the details because there's a level of UK Intelligence involvement too in what went on. Or perhaps the two men are entirely innocent and are being set up. The fact that they were caught on CCTV walking down Wilton Road towards the direction of the Skripal's house, and away from the cathedral which they said they came to see, is suspicious, and does suggest that they came to see Skripal that day — though of course it could be that they just got lost. The excellent The Blogmire, whose detailed, forensic posts on the case are highly recommended, believes that there are reasons to believe Sergei and Yulia were at home at around noon on 4th March, making a spraying of their door knob then out of the question. But if Petrov and Boshirov did their 'novichoking' elsewhere, why aren't they or the Skripals picked up on CCTV?

    We've seen footage of Skripal's car at 9.15am and then at 1.33pm but nothing in between. The Russian suspects were pictured at the station in Salisbury at 1.50pm so if they are guilty, they must have carried out the poisoning before then. You don't have to be a 'conspiracy theorist' to acknowledge that over six months on there are important aspects of this case which still make no sense at all. 

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    The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Yulia Skripal, Sergei Skripal, Salisbury, United Kingdom
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