Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Let's assume somebody throws a rock through your window. You're annoyed. It's natural to find out who is the culprit. The geologists come along to examine the stone. They decide it's a Martian rock. Is it then safe to assume that the Martians threw the rock that broke your window? The answer is no. There are many plausible answers to who is the culprit.
It could be that someone human has stolen the rock to commit the act. Could the rock fall from space, then smashed through your window. I'm sure you could think of other possible causes.
And that’s the problem facing Theresa May. She’s accusing the Russian state of mounting a nerve gas attack in Salisbury. Now I agree, that the Russians have form and motive. We know they've committed similar offences in the past. But, this alone is not enough evidence to apportion blame. Unless, of course, there is material not shared with us.
Mrs May has made great play of the fact that the nerve agent used came from a sophisticated lab. This fact, she claims, suggests the involvement of a state player. This statement is untrue. We know its possible to manufacture nerve agents in a lab with simple equipment. The chemistry is not beyond an Organic Chemistry graduate. And, moreover, the agent comes in precursors that are safe to move around. Only when combined do they create the nerve agent.
Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult, was able to produce nerve agents in the 1990s. They spent $30 million developing a facility to mass produce sarin gas. The scale of their operation went unnoticed.
At the same time, there is an ongoing debate amongst experts about whether Novichok even exists. This discussion is somewhat irrelevant because something nasty hit the streets of Salisbury. Except that, if Novichok is not the agent, then the links to Russia weaken.
So, what are all the other plausible versions of this incident? We know that when the Soviet Union collapsed, security for nerve agents also collapsed. It would prove easy for a rogue member of staff to remove a nerve agent. Getting a small sample out wouldn’t present too many difficulties. Only if everyone and their vehicles get searched could you prevent a theft. With social order weakened at that time, it's not sure that any security existed.
This then raises the possibility that the nerve agent fell into the wrong hands. Be that criminal gangs or terrorists. It's interesting that many nations while expressing support for the UK, have asked for tangible evidence. This has yet to surface.
There are some lines of inquiry that need pursuing. These include what was the victim, Mr Sergei Skripal doing in recent times? A detailed account of his activities may throw some light on the incident. Likewise, Yulia, his Russian-citizen daughter. We're told she worked in sales in Russia. Also, I’m intrigued to know why Skripal’s son went back to Russia in March 2017. He died under strange circumstances in St Petersburg. This aspect of the story is bizarre.
Other questions I have. Why won't the UK give the Russians a sample of the agent? To get to the bottom of the case, such a move would be beneficial. Working in cooperation with Russian scientists, the British could trace the agent. That must have merit.
In many ways, Mrs May is benefiting from this saga. It takes the focus off her endless Brexit woes. These get pushed aside as she stands statesmanlike. It's her 'Falklands' moment. One admirer said as much in Parliament, comparing her to the ‘Iron Lady.’ Meanwhile, the people of Salisbury get relegated to bit players in this saga.
The mainstream media and most politicians are all happy to tow the line. MPs were falling over themselves to apportion blame to the Russian government. In the parliamentary debate, some were breathless with rage seeking to outdo each other. Calls for a resolute response echoed around the chamber. Still, I heard no evidence to substantiate the involvement of the Russian state. Circumstantial evidence yes, but nothing tangible.
One voice advised caution. Jeremy Corbyn received a hail of abuse from all sides, including his backbenchers, for suggesting we tread with care. While I’m no fan of Corbyn, he has a point. We all remember the lies that the government and intelligence community spread to garner support for a war in Iraq. Dodgy dossiers and faked evidence spun on an unsuspecting public. And what was the result? Thousands of innocents killed, a country in ruins. That mess rumbles along.
My guts tell me the Russians did it. Nonetheless, the onus is on Mrs May to produce robust substantiation, because gut-reactions don't pass muster.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.