The political repercussions of Theresa May’s devastatingly detailed summary of the evidence against two Russian military intelligence agents over the Salisbury nerve agent attack will be felt around the world in the coming days and weeks.
While the consequences of the Prime Minister’s sober words that the operation to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal would “almost certainly” have been approved at a “senior level of the Russian state” are yet to become clear, it is worth praising the painstaking work of police and security services to identify the suspects against a backdrop of immense international scrutiny, a concerted disinformation campaign and a mass of conspiracy theories.
Since the attack on March 4, around 250 detectives have trawled through 11,000 hours of CCTV footage and taken more than 1,400 statements.
The investigation was further complicated by two members of the public, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, falling ill in June after coming into contact with Novichok – leading to Ms Sturgess’s tragic death in July. Scotland Yard has now revealed the detailed timeline of events – and associated CCTV footage – which detectives have assiduously compiled.
It shows how the suspects arrived in the UK on March 2, spent two nights in a London hotel leaving behind minute traces of Novichok, travelled to Salisbury on March 3 and returned there on March 4, being spotted a short distance from Mr Skripal’s address moments before the attack. They returned by rail to London that afternoon and left for Moscow that night.
Given Russia’s refusal to allow its nationals to stand trial overseas, it is sadly unlikely the two suspects will ever face court. But investigators have performed a vital public service – for the entire international community – in establishing the facts so clearly.