Viktoria Skripal is said to now believe that her cousin, Yulia, is being detained against her will. Following their telephone call on 5th April, she said:
“We are very confused by what Yulia said – she didn’t quite sound like her usual self. Naturally we understand she can’t be her usual self after the poisoning and the shock of what happened to her. And yet the feeling from hearing her voice was that she wasn’t speaking at her own initiative. I wonder if she is in fact in some kind of detention (in Britain).”
It was indeed a bizarre conversation, particularly Yulia’s somewhat over-the-top insistence on no less than 10 occasions in the short call that “everyone” and “everything” is fine, along with her very certain statement that the British authorities would not grant her cousin a visa.
I have no idea whether Viktoria Skripal’s claims have any truth in them, but what can be said is that it looks at the very least as if Yulia is being denied three basic legal rights. These are:
- Consular access — That is, the ability of a person to have access, either physical or via communication, with the consular officials of their own country while in a foreign country. This has been denied her by the British Government’s refusal to grant the Russian Embassy in London consular access to their citizen
- Access to her relatives — This has effectively been denied by the refusal of UK Visas and Immigration to grant her cousin Viktoria a visa to visit the country. It may also have been denied by the confiscation of her mobile telephone, thus preventing her making further calls
- Access to legal representation — In view of the apparent denial of the above rights, she is surely entitled to legal representation.
It is of course possible that Ms Skripal herself does not wish to receive consular access, visits from her relatives, or legal representation. However, this is unlikely since if it were the case, there would surely have been some sort of statement put out on her behalf confirming that she does not wish to receive consular access and does not wish to see her relatives. Such a statement would then negate the need for legal representation.
However, the one statement put out on her behalf by the Metropolitan Police (which it must be said had the distinct feel of having been written by a PR firm), although mentioning that she wished her privacy to be respected, did not give any indication that she had refused consular access or that she did not wish to have contact with her relatives.
But more crucially, if reports of her condition since March 4th have been correct, for a period of more than three weeks she was in a coma and therefore unable to give either consent or refusal for consular access, visits from her relatives, or legal representation. In this situation, the British Government had a legal obligation to grant consular access and when they refused, the Hospital Trust should presumably have appointed a legal representative to act on her behalf.
The impression one is left with — rightly or wrongly — is that Ms Skripal may well be being detained against her will. That this impression has been created is entirely the fault of the British authorities, who could immediately dispel such fears, firstly by granting the rights mentioned above, and secondly by allowing Yulia to be interviewed in a free, fair and impartial manner.
In the absence of assurances from the British authorities, I think it worth people writing to the Hospital Trust, which must surely have legal obligations to Ms Skripal, to ask for confirmation of what is being done to protect her rights. I have now done this, putting in a Freedom of Information request, and I would encourage as many others as possible to do likewise, (email@example.com). Below is a copy of my letter to them, and if I do get a reasonable reply, I shall be sure to share it on this blog.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I write to you regarding one of the patients currently residing in Salisbury District Hospital, Ms Yulia Skripal.
As you will be aware, Ms Skripal was poisoned on 4th March by what is said to have been a “military-grade nerve agent.” Thankfully, I understand that Ms Skripal is alive, reasonably well, and is talking. I also understand from the conversation she had with her cousin, Viktoria, which was broadcast in the media, that she expects to be discharged fairly soon.
However, there are two issues which I believe are of grave concern, which have not been sufficiently explained in statements made by the hospital, but which I hope you will be able to clarify.
The first is Ms Skripal’s access to her relatives. I understand from news reports that her cousin, Viktoria was denied a visa to enter the country. But I wondered if you could inform me:
a) What steps the hospital has taken to keep Ms Skripal’s next of kin aware of her condition and her progress throughout her illness, andb) What steps the hospital is taking to ensure that she is given further opportunity to communicate with her relatives.
a) What steps the hospital trust has taken to ensure Ms Skripal’s rights to legal representation are guaranteedb) The name of the law firm that is currently representing her.
I would be grateful if you could respond to this Freedom of Information request by return of email within seven days with answers to these questions.
My previous pieces on the Skripal Case: