10:16, May 13 407 0 theguardian.com

2020-05-13 10:16:04
Novichok: family of Dawn Sturgess wins first stage of legal challenge

The family of Dawn Sturgess, who died in the Wiltshire novichok poisonings, has won the first stage of a legal challenge against a coroner’s decision to limit the scope of her inquest.

David Ridley, senior coroner for Wiltshire, decided earlier this year that he would not consider issues such as whether the UK failed to protect the public following the initial poisonings of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury.

The family of Sturgess, a mother-of-three, has many questions about her death, which came four months after the attack on the Skripals, and is keen that the inquest is as wide-ranging as possible.

Their lawyers challenged the coroner’s ruling and the family has been granted permission to apply for a judicial review. A two-day hearing is expected to take place before a senior high court judge in London in the summer.

The Skripals were poisoned on 4 March 2018. The Crown Prosecution Service has charged two men who are believed to be Russian agents over the attack, which also led to a police officer, DS Nick Bailey, being poisoned.

At the end of June 2018, Sturgess and her partner, Charlie Rowley, were also poisoned after he found a fake perfume bottle containing novichok. Rowley survived but Sturgess, 44, died on 8 July.

Her family’s barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, has argued in submissions to the coroner that the hearing examining her death ought to be an “article-two inquest”, in which the role of states can be examined closely.

He said it was “arguable that the UK authorities failed to take reasonable steps to protect members of the public, including Ms Sturgess, from novichok after it was discovered in early 2018.” Mansfield claimed the risk of death to the public could be categorised as “real and immediate” in the wake of the attack on Skripal.

In a ruling issued in January Ridley said: “Had Ms Sturgess been poisoned in the few weeks after the March 2018 attack then I could see the argument that such a risk was present.”

The coroner continued: “I do not realistically see what more the authorities could have done apart from evacuate the whole area which would have been wholly disproportionate to what was known at the relevant time.

Ridley said he had made Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, identified as suspects over the attack on the Skripals as “interested persons”, meaning they could play an active part in the inquest. But he added that he had not heard that they wished to participate.

The full inquest may not take place until next year.