On 3 March 2018 a former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a park bench in Salisbury England, obviously suffering from the ill effects of an undetermined substance. They were transported to hospital and placed in intensive care. The initial hospital reports made no mention of their being the victims of any nerve agent attack. It seems that they were initially thought by the medical staff to be suffering from the effects of Fentanyl, an illegal but widely used drug in England. This diagnosis was based upon the symptoms exhibited by Sergei and Yulia.
Six months later that is still the sum total of the information that can be unequivocally accepted. As to what substance they ingested, where, how and by whom it was administered is no better known now then it was that March afternoon in a small provincial town. Salisbury was hitherto better known for its magnificent cathedral, where ironically is found one of the best surviving copies of Magna Carta, and its proximity both to the ancient prehistoric monument of Stonehenge and more ominously Britain’s chemical warfare establishment of Porton Down.
The lack of specific knowledge as to what, how, by whom and precisely where the Skripals became infected did not stop British prime minister Theresa May launching an extraordinary and factually inaccurate statement to the British House of Commons in which she held the Russian government responsible for what had allegedly happened to the Skripals.
Her statement was not only replete with factual inaccuracies; it shredded the last vestiges of what was once called British justice.
Those principles are drilled into every law student exposed to the common law system. They include the presumption of innocence; not charging anyone with a crime until there is at least sufficient evidence to create a prima facie case; the right to subject the allegations to rigorous testing as to veracity, admissibility and scientific credibility; and importantly in this case disclosing the evidence to the accused who then has the right to have the prosecution case argued before an impartial tribunal.
Of further fundamental importance is that the onus of proving the case lies upon the accuser. Mrs May’s demands that Russia “explain” what happened makes a travesty of this paramount principle.