This week, a ‘Technical Secretariat’ (TS) team of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been in the UK to obtain and collect samples of the substance that poisoned Sergei Skripal, his daughter and a police officer – the latter happily now released from hospital.
When asked, neither the government nor the OPCW were willing to disclose any details of the TS’ remit – not even whether the TS team would be collecting their own samples or simply accepting those handed to them by the government.
However, a judgment released by the High Court has given some indication of what the OPCW TS has been doing this week – and reveals that the OPCW will not take the government’s samples on trust and will even compare DNA from government samples with that of the samples it will take itself, to ensure the government samples are in fact from the Skripals.
The legal case was needed because the Skripals, while stable, are unable to communicate well enough to give permission for further blood samples to be taken for this purpose and, correctly, the hospital insisted that a court order would be needed to allow them to do so without their patients’ permission.
In the summary supporting the judge’s decision to grant the order, he provided summary information of certain aspects of the reasons it was appropriate. Point 17 of this document summarises statements provided by an officials of the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO):
The OPCW will approach its investigation with scepticism. not accepting samples from the government as necessarily authentic – and will observe the extraction of new samples to verify that they do, in fact, come from the Skripals.
In addition, the document discloses that the FCO recognises the possibility that the governments own analysis could be wrong and may be contradicted by the findings of the OPCW TS team.
The High Court document also raises further questions about the government’s public statements about the poisoning, which have been sent to the FCO for response or clarification. Details on those will be published shortly.
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