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Understanding the lab analysis of the Salisbury poisoning: where the technical meets the political

This seminar will examine the methods used to analyse samples from the incident and how results can be used to provide misleading suggestions of what occurred.

  • 11 May 2018, 1.15pm to 11 May 2018, 2.05pm BST (GMT +01:00)
  • 1 West North, 2.4, University of Bath
  • This event is free
Police line tape with a police car in the background
The recent Salisbury poisoning sets the scene for an interesting case study of the tensions between needs for confidentiality and needs for transparency in international investigations

Following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in early March, the UK Government asked the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to confirm its identification of the agent, commonly known as a "Novichok". The OPCW is the body established by the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty with the aim of achieving a chemical-weapon-free world.

OPCW inspectors visited the UK and took a number of samples from relevant locations and from individuals affected by the poison. These were then dispatched by the OPCW laboratory to a number of accredited laboratories around the world. Broader political debates about the OPCW would quickly bleed into the discussion and presentation of Laboratory findings. For example, one senior Russian diplomat would even erroneously claim that another toxin had been found in the OPCW samples, and that this had not been reported. This came in the context of a number of debates about the source of the agent which were framed in technical terms.

In this seminar, Richard Guthrie will provide an overview of the technical issues involved in the methods used by the OPCW for sampling and analysis in investigations of alleged use of chemical weapons. Brett Edwards will then discuss the 'narrative-wars' which have surrounded these technical processes.

Speaker profiles

Dr Richard Guthrie has worked in and with the non-governmental, governmental and inter-governmental sectors, mostly looking at technology control and innovation issues that relate to materials and technologies that can have hostile as well as peaceful uses. He is Coordinating Editor of CBW Events, a project to create a record of events to enable and encourage understanding of how policies on the issues relating to chemical and biological warfare (CBW) and its prevention are developed.

Dr Brett Edwards is a Lecturer in the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies at the University of Bath. He works on a number of projects which examine the governance of biological and chemical weapons.


1 West North has level access with a lift available for access to other floors. Access from the Parade through 1 West via automatic, double width doors. Additional entrances on the eastern side of the building and from North Fire Road at the rear.


1 West North, 2.4 University of Bath Claverton Down Bath BA2 7AY United Kingdom


If you have any questions, please contact us.