A Perfume Bottle To Kill A City

A quick recap. Sergei Skripal was a Russian agent and then a double agent working for the British in the 1990s. Then On 4 March 2018, he and his daughter Yulia, a Russian citizen who was visiting him from Moscow, were poisoned at their home in Salisbury. As it transpired, the poison was spread on the handle of their front door. The allegation is that the poison was developed by the Russians and that the assassination attempt was ordered by President Putin.

Various scenarios were imagined at the time, and I had this idea that Mr Skripal wasn’t a retired spy at all, but an active agent. It came to me as a possibility in trying to make sense of what had happened in Salisbury.

I thought maybe his handlers had decided to end the relationship by killing him, perhaps by leaving a message for him and lacing it with poison. The reason I thought this was a credible scenario was that whatever the container that the poison was stored in, it had not been found. My line of reasoning was that Mr Skripal purposely hid the container after he looked at the message addressed to him.

Then Charlie Rowley, a local, resident, found the container and thinking it was perfume gave it to his partner Dawn Sturgess, and the two of them were poisoned.

Could it really be that the police would be unable to find the container? After all, Mr. Rowley found it. The police would surely have found it, wouldn’t they? They had dozens, perhaps hundreds, of officers out searching. Perhaps they didn’t find it because it was really well hidden? Except now Charlie Rowley says that what he and his girlfriend were exposed to was in a glass bottle with a plastic dispenser in a cardboard box with a plastic moulding.

And the police couldn’t find it?

Be that as it may, that container doesn’t seem like the perfect object within which to place a message. But then, maybe it is exactly the right kind of container.

I don’t think this detail is an invention put out by Mr. Rowley at the coaching of the Security Services. If that were the case, how could they control what he might say in the future?

But if it is true that the poison was in a bottle of what seemed like it was perfume, then are we to believe that the poisoners just dumped the bottle somewhere it could be found? Or hid it well enough that a search party of policemen couldn’t find it but Mr Rowley did? Are we to believe they dumped it under a bush, or somewhere that only an ex junkie would go looking? If he found it, then anyone could have. The police could have – they devoted enough time to looking for it. How inept would the poisoner with this sophisticated poison have to be to leave it were it could be found? 

Still, the question remains as to who wanted to kill Mr. Skripal and for what reason.


The possibilities I dreamed up about Mr. Skripal are a product of my imagination. They live in – a what if universe.

They are not intended to cast any aspersions on, raise doubts or questions about, or be in any way related to the real facts about any person living or dead. The people I am talking about are just corralled in my thoughts.

If I write any more of these imaginings, the same will apply. I might, for example, imagine that Michael Gove is working for the Russians and that Boris Johnson is an agent of the Turkish Government working for the eventual restoration of the Ottoman Empire.

Update 12 July 2020

Apparently the perfume bottle was thrown into a skip and that’s where Mr Rowley found it. He was a recovering addict and poor enough that he had to look in skips for cast off things that he might use. That still doesn’t establish who threw the bottle into the skip.

In the TV dramatisation of the Salisbury poisoning, there is a scene that follows after the scientists aiding the police and public health authorities have examined the perfume bottle. A scientist (I think it was Professor Tim Atkins) says to the main character, Wiltshire’s Director of Public Health, that the bottle contained enough poison to kill thousands.

That amount of poison would have made Salisbury uninhabitable for 50 years.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the assassins had broken the bottle accidentally and the poison was released. Or let’s imagine the very real probability that the bottle would have been broken at or en route to a landfill. The result would have been a catastrophe of such size that it could have started a Cold War with every Western country against Russia. Would the Russian Government have sent assassins with an amount of poison that risked such an outcome? It seems barely credible.

Another possibility, of course, is that the TV dramatisation was inaccurate as to the amount of poison in the bottle.

Update February 2022

Thinking about Ukraine, I searched for more information about the amount of perfume in the bottle. According to an article of 21 September 2021 in the Independent:

Dean Haydon, the senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, said investigators had not established how the bottle was brought into the UK.
“The amount of novichok in that bottle was quite significant, and could have killed hundreds if not thousands of people if it had come into wider circulation in the public,” he told a press conference.

But then Charlie Rowley is reported in a 2018 article in the Guardian as saying

The British man poisoned with the nerve agent novichok has claimed the substance that killed his girlfriend and left him critically ill came in a bottle disguised as a legitimate perfume in a sealed box…. Experts from the top secret research facility at Porton Down in Wiltshire are trying to establish if the novichok was from the same batch. But if Rowley is correct about the perfume bottle being boxed and sealed, it may undermine the line of inquiry that the novichok that he and Sturgess came into contact with had been discarded by the attackers of the Skripals.

If it wasn’t the same bottle, did assassins bring more than one container into Britain? The consensus in Britain is that Russian assassins smuggled a bottle capable of killing thousands into Salisbury in 2018 on Putin’s orders. If that assessment is true, then Putin is careless with the risk of things spinning out of control. That now includes Ukraine.