Nine flaws in Russian Novichok assassins claim they were on tourism trip

Several gaping holes have already emerged over the ‘insulting’ claim that two Russian men – suspected of poisoning Sergei Skripal – were simply visiting Salisbury to see the city’s cathedral.

Ruslan Borishov and Alexander Petrov gave an interview to Russian state TV channel RT yesterday after Met Police said there was enough evidence to charge them with the attempted assassination of the ex-spy and his daughter.

The pair claimed they had flown in the UK from Moscow to visit Salisbury Cathedral, staying at a hotel in Bow, east London, but flew home due to poor weather.

But their claims – which Prime Minister Theresa May has branded ‘insulting’ – don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "The last time Russian military claimed to be on holiday was when they invaded Ukraine in 2014."

There are at least nine flaws with their story.

1. Traces of Novichok found in their hotel room

On Thursday the pair spoke exclusively to RT – Russia Today – which is a state-controlled TV channel.

They were not subject to a forensic level of questioning by hosts who seemed happy to take them at their word.

The most glaring omission was the discussion of Novichok traces discovered in the hotel room they stayed in in Bow, east London.

2. Why stay in east London on a visit to Salisbury?

With a straight face the pair insisted: "Our friends have been suggesting for quite a long time that we visit this wonderful city."

But then why not stay there? The city has more than 60 hotels and guesthouses.

Instead the pair chose a budget hotel in Bow, east London and travelled into Salisbury on the Saturday and Sunday of their visit.

3. Snowy weather complaints

Ruslan Boshirov claimed: "It was impossible to get anywhere because of the snow. We were drenched up to our knees."

You would expect two middle-aged Russian men to be more hardy regarding the weather but the pictures paint a different story of this heavy snow.

The pair can be seen happily walking the streets with a little slush on the sides of the road.

And temperature-wise the mercury was rising on Saturday March 3, the first day they visited. By Sunday it was a relatively balmy 9C.

4. Pair headed in entirely wrong direction after arriving in Salisbury

The spire of Salisbury Cathedral can be seen from the train station.

There is no excuse, then, for Borishov and Petrov to set off in entirely the wrong direction with CCTV capturing them walking past a Shell garage, close to the Skripal family home.

While there on Sunday Met Police say they smeared deadly Novichok on the door handle.

5. Lack of holiday snaps

A trip from Moscow to Salisbury – just to visit a cathedral – is quite the extravagance.

But the Russian pair have not presented any photographic evidence of their holiday, although they do claim to have photos.

But no CCTV places them at the 800-year-old cathedral, nor there other claims that they also "went to a park, we had some coffee. We went to a coffee shop and drank coffee."

The claim they visited Salisbury to see its cathedral "doesn’t seem to add up", the Wiltshire city’s bishop has said.

Bishop of Salisbury Nicholas Holtam said he was not aware of any evidence linking Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to the cathedral, and suggested that the Russian men might have benefited from a visit to the building and a viewing of its copy of Magna Carta.

6. Stonehenge buses NOT cancelled

Petrov said the pair also wanted to see nearby Stonehenge, "but it didn’t work out because of the slush".

A bus runs to Stonehenge, nine miles north of Salisbury, every day starting from Salisbury train station forecourt.

And buses were running on March 4. A spokesman for bus operator Salisbury Reds said: "The tour buses ran as normal on Sunday 4 March."

7. Bad timing

If one were to believe the extraordinary story of their transcontinental visit to see a cathedral it would be sheer coincidence that, on that day, the Skripal’s both fell critically ill.

CCTV shows the two walking in the direction of the Skripal’s home the day that Sergei and his daughter Yulia became critically ill.

A high amount of Novichok was found on their door handle and traces of the same substance – produced in Russia – was found in their hotel room.

After arriving in the city at 11.48am they were at their target’s house within ten minutes. They were there for less than two hours.

Boshirov admitted (regarding Skripal’s home): "Maybe we passed by it, maybe we didn’t pass by it, I don’t know, I hadn’t heard. I hadn’t heard this surname, I didn’t know anything about them before this situation, this nightmare with us, started."

8. Two return flights

Boshirov and Petrov did not explain why they booked two alternative return flights from London to Moscow – on Sunday or Monday.

On Sunday they went direct from Salisbury to Heathrow for their evening flight.

But on CCTV they did not even have any luggage with them.

9. Airport entry photos

The fact two CCTV photos of Boshirov and Petrov arriving at Gatwick Airport had exactly the same timestamp was seized upon by people who did not believe Russia would poison Sergei Skripal.

But Met police have already explained that there are two parallel channels.

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