The BBC Drama that has had over 7 million viewers, The Salisbury Poisonings, was an emotional look back at yet another unprecedented incident, the first use of the deadly nerve agent Novichok anywhere in the world, never mind on the streets of Salisbury, a sleepy hollow nicknamed ‘Smallsbury’ because of its village feel but made famous through its now-infamous 142 m spire.
A difficult story to tell in a drama because there were and are so many moving components. We have to remember the incident is still subject to an active murder investigation after the death of Dawn Sturgess, having sprayed herself with what she and her boyfriend Charlie Rowley thought was perfume. In reality, it was Novichok from a container discarded by the pair of would-be assassins, Colonel Dr. Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga of the GRU, the Russian Military Intelligence.
The drama focused on the human stories behind The Director of Wiltshire’s Public Health, Tracy Daszkiewicz, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, one of the early responders, and Dawn Sturgess, rather than the incident, the actual response, the investigation, and the unresolved issues. It was a powerful piece of television especially considering the potential impact on many of these involved who are still coming to terms with what was a life-changing event.
A clearly deliberate move gave the series a direction that people not familiar with the story could relate to and in a very emotionally charged way, it highlighted many of the stresses and strains of the time. It gave a personality to Dawn Sturgess, who in press reporting at the time had her as a person clouded by many of the daemons, she was battling but never gave her that personality. It also showed the stress on the Bailey family and the impact of having their lives turned upside down. It tried to highlight the complexity Tracy Daszkiewicz had to face when coordinating a large multi-agency response but missed elements of that to concentrate on her personal journey.
For the informed as with any drama, there will be frustrations, I am sure A&E consultants and staff cringe at Casualty when it is on, but still find it entertaining, so these observations are meant in that vein. I don’t think the initial paramedic and A&E response was portrayed as well as it could and the scenes in the hospital at times were a little wooden, as was the portrayal of Porton Down; but these were not central to the plot, the people were.
I was frustrated at the lack of trying to further interpret many of the unanswered questions, but that frustration is tempered by the fact is it still an ongoing and active murder investigation, so that speculation couldn’t have happened in any detail and wouldn’t have added to the people element of the story.
Some of the questions to my mind that remain unanswered include;
Why the public was not warned about a clear and present danger remaining, I had reported the probability to CT Police, written a detailed blog about it and had a story about it published in the Sunday Papers on 15th March as well as having commented on it on many radio and TV interviews?
What evidence is there of a second team that will have carried out a pattern of life study against Sergei Skripal in the days prior to the attack? How were he and his daughter Yulia monitored by Russian Intelligence and does Salisbury have a permanent interest from Russian Military Intelligence?
What were the full movements of Mishkin and Chepiga on the weekend of the attack? Where else did they go in Salisbury, who else did they meet? Why have we not seen more of the CCTV?
What happened to the gloves and other potential Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) Mishkin and Chepiga will have worn as they deployed the Novichok on Sergei Skripal’s front door? Why has that never been found and what is the real story surrounding the perfume bottle found by Charlie Rowley? Why has there not been a definitive statement about any potential remaining threat?
In all, a very good series and well put together. However, I have to ask if it was too soon after the incident? Only Tracy, Nick, and Dawn’s family can answer that. I feel it has reopened many of the questions I have highlighted above and think there should be a more documentary-style look back at the whole, unprecedented event soon. I would go further and ask more about the Russian influence in the UK, their intelligence operations, and if they have a particular continual interest in Salisbury and its surroundings?
The complete series is available on BBC iPlayer and is well worth watching and will be released in the Autumn via AMC Networks. If you crave more detail around what actually happened there are a number of informed blogs at https://greyharemedia.com/the-skripal-affair-a-history-in-blogs/