By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) -Britain said on Thursday it would hold a public inquiry into the death of a woman who was killed by the Novichok nerve agent following the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal three years ago.
Dawn Sturgess died from exposure to Novichok in July 2018 after her partner found a counterfeit perfume bottle which police believe had been used by Russian intelligence operatives to smuggle the poison into the country.
Skripal, who sold Russian secrets to Britain, and his daughter Yulia were found slumped unconscious on a public bench in the southern English city of Salisbury four months earlier.
They and a police officer who went to Skripal's house were left critically ill in hospital from exposure to the military-grade nerve agent.
While British prosecutors have charged three Russians, who they say are GRU military intelligence officers, in absentia over the attack on Skripal and his daughter, no formal case has been brought against them over the death of Sturgess, 44.
"This is an important step in ensuring that the family of Dawn Sturgess get the answers they need," Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel said in a statement announcing the public inquiry, to be led by Heather Hallett, a retired senior judge.
"The government is establishing an inquiry after careful consideration of advice from Baroness Hallett that this is necessary to permit all relevant evidence to be heard," Patel said.
Britain says the attempt on Skripal's life was ordered by figures high up in the Russian state, and the incident caused the biggest East-West diplomatic expulsions since the Cold War.
Russia has denied any involvement, casting the accusations as anti-Russian propaganda.
In September, British police charged the third suspect Sergey Fedotov with conspiracy to murder Skripal, a former GRU officer himself, and attempting to kill him, his daughter Yulia and the police officer.
Two other Russians, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were charged with the same offences three years ago.
In 2016, another British public inquiry concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin had probably approved a Russian intelligence operation to murder ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium-210.
Two Russians, acting on orders probably directed by Russia’s Federal Security Service, poisoned Litvinenko, an outspoken critic of Putin who fled Russia for Britain, with green tea laced with the radioactive isotope at a plush London hotel, that inquiry concluded.
(Reporting by Michael Holden, Editing by Estelle Shirbon, Alistair Smout and Catherine Evans)