The public inquiry into how a British woman was fatally poisoned after being exposed to Novichok has been delayed, in a decision which has been condemned by the coroner and the victim’s family.
Dawn Sturgess died in July 2018 after she unwittingly came into contact with the nerve agent on a discarded perfume bottle in Amesbury, Wiltshire.
The UK government and Scotland Yard believe the Kremlin was responsible for the act, prompting Priti Patel three months ago to order the inquest into Sturgess’s death be converted into a public inquiry to better establish the extent of Russian involvement.
At what was intended to be the inquiry’s first hearing on Friday at the Royal Courts of Justice, coroner Baroness Heather Hallett, who has now been appointed to lead the Covid-19 inquiry, was told her successor had still not been appointed, resulting in further delays.
Michael Mansfield, representing the victim’s family and Sturgess’s partner Charlie Rowley, said the Russian invasion of Ukraine this week underlined the need to progress with the inquiry without delay.
He told the 30-minute hearing:
As of today, or yesterday, there is a poignancy about what is happening in Ukraine and eastern Europe at the moment, for the necessity of this inquiry not losing a single day.
Hallett said she had been putting “extreme pressure on, behind the scenes” to ensure her successor was appointed.
It is, I have to say, a disappointment to me to be sitting here today with no inquiry set up and no judge appointed to lead it.
I have seen a letter from Birnberg Peirce, the solicitors who represent the Sturgess family and also Mr Rowley, expressing a degree of frustration at the delay – that is a frustration that I share.
Ben Watson, counsel for the government, said a chairman was expected to be appointed in the next two weeks.
He said it was “regrettable” the appointment had not been made, and added that…