LONDON -- The U.K. government said Thursday that it has authorized a public inquiry to better examine any possible Russian involvement in the death of a British woman poisoned by a Soviet-developed nerve agent in 2018.
Dawn Sturgess, 44, and her partner collapsed in the southwest England town of Amesbury after coming into contact with a discarded perfume bottle containing Novichok, a military grade nerve agent. Sturgess died in July 2018, while her partner survived.
The pair were exposed three months after Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were sickened in a Novichok attack in the nearby city of Salisbury.
Heather Hallett, the coroner who held an inquest into Sturgess’ death, said in September that a public inquiry was needed to conduct a full and fair investigation into how the woman died. Unlike inquests, which are routinely held in cases when the cause of death is unknown or if someone died violently, public inquiries are allowed to consider sensitive intelligence material.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the inquiry Hallet requested would be established “as soon as is reasonably possible in 2022.”
“I hope this inquiry will bring comfort to (Ms. Sturgess’s family and others affected) through a greater understanding of the circumstances of Ms. Sturgess’ death and recognize the bravery and resilience of those who responded,” Patel said in a letter to the coroner.
British police have named and charged three Russian men said to be working for Russia’s military intelligence service, GRU, alleging they traveled to England for a mission targeting the Skripals before flying back to Moscow. The men were believed to have smeared Novichok on the door handle of Sergei Skripal’s home.
Russia denies the allegations, and President Vladimir Putin has claimed the suspects were civilians. Two of the suspects appeared on Russian television claiming they were simply tourists visiting Salisbury Cathedral when they were in England.
Britain has no extradition agreement with Russia, and the three cannot be brought to Britain to face trial as long as they remain in Russia.
No charges have yet been issued in the poisoning of Sturgess and her partner, Charlie Rowley. Police have not been able to account for where the perfume bottle containing Novichok was between the attack on the Skripals and when Rowley said he found it -- in a trash bin some eight miles away from Salisbury -- three months later.