Russian intelligence officers charged over Novichok poisoning in Britain

London: Two Russian intelligence officers have been named and charged over the Novichok poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Prime Minister Theresa May told the Commons that the two men named by police are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU.

"The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command," she said.

"So this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state."

The Skripals were found unconscious on a park bench in March in the British town of Salisbury in Wiltshire near Stonehenge. Police said Novichok was applied to the front door of the Sergei Skripal's home.

Police officer Nick Bailey, who searched the home, was also poisoned. All three survived the attack. But 44-year-old British woman Dawn Sturgess, who later came into contact with the same military grade agent, died. Her partner Charlie Rowley was also poisoned but survived.

Images of the 'perfume' bottle and the bottle with adapted nozzle allegedly related to the Skripals poisoning in Salisbury.

Photo: Counter Terrorism Policing

The crown prosecution service named Russian intelligence officers Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov as the suspects, although they said those may be false names. Police said they were aged in their 40s and had travelled on Russian passports, arriving at Britain's Gatwick airport at 3pmon Friday March 2 on Aeroflot flight SU2588 from Moscow. 

The charges include conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use and possession of Novichok contrary to the Chemical Weapons Act. Russia has previously denied all responsibility for the poisonings.

The CPS said it believed there was a likely prospect of convictions should the pair ever be tried, however, that was unlikely.

CCTV still shows Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Salisbury train station on March 3, 2018.

Photo: Metropolitan Police

Britain will not seek the extradition of the pair because Russia has refused similar requests in the past. Instead, it has taken out a European arrest warrant, which means that if either man travels to a country where a European arrest warrant is valid, they will be arrested and face extradition on these charges.

The warrant does not expire.

The perfume box

Dawn Sturgess, who died after being exposed to nerve agent novichok.

Photo: AP

Police released images of a counterfeit Nina Ricci Premier Jour pink perfume box and a bottle with a modified nozzle that was used to secrete the military-grade nerve agent into Britain. Tests showed the bottle contained a "significant amount of Novichok", police said.

Charlie Rowley believes he found a box that he thought contained perfume in a charity bin on June 27.

He tried to put the bottle, and applicator inside, back together at his home on Muggleton Road three days later. Dawn had applied some of the substance to her wrists. She died on Saturday, July 8.

Police said they had spoken with Nina Ricci and confirmed the bottle and box were fake and say members of the public who have bought the perfume have no need to worry.

Yulia Skripal.

Photo: AP

The hotel room

The Russians travelled from Gatwick to London Victoria railway station and from there used the London transport network to cross the Thames to Waterloo station on the Southbank. They stayed there for about an hour between 6pm and 7pm.

From there they travelled to the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, East London, where they stayed for two nights. In May, police collected samples from the hotel room. Two swabs returned a positive reading for Novichok contamination, but at such low levels that the next time police swabbed the room, no traces were detected.

"We believe the first process of taking swabs removed the contamination, so low were the traces of Novichok in the room," Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said.

Police say they have not received reports of anyone who has stayed in the same room since falling ill, adding anyone who had been exposed would have experienced symptoms within 12 hours.

A photo dated August 9, 2006, shows Sergei Skripal talking from a defendants' cage to his lawyer during a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court.

Photo: Kommersant

The reconnaissance trip

The Russians' trip to Salisbury on Sunday March 4 was not their first.

They had travelled from Waterloo station to Salisbury by train the day before for what police believe was a reconnaissance trip. They took the underground to Waterloo and from there caught the train to Salisbury, arriving about 2.25pm.

They left Salisbury less than two hours later and arrived back in London at 8pm.

Twelve hours later they were back at Waterloo to travel to Salisbury again, this time to allegedly administer the deadly weapon. As police locked down the sleepy town of Salisbury, the Russians arrived back in Waterloo and took the underground to Heathrow Airport.

From there they returned home to Moscow, leaving on Aeroflot flight SU2585 at 10.30pm.

"We have no evidence that they re-entered the UK after that date," Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said.

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