Inquiry into Sunderland-born millionaire's death may reopen after Russian spy poisoning

Stephen Curtis.
Stephen Curtis.

Investigations into the death of a Sunderland-born millionaire may be reopened in the wake of the ongoing spy poisoning mystery.

Solicitor Stephen Curtis, 45, who had become a business confidant of Russian tycoons, died in 2004 alongside the pilot of his helicopter when it crashed near his luxury castle in Dorset.

An inquest was later told that Mr Curtis had warned his uncle only a fortnight before his death that anything unexpectedly happening to him would not be accidental.

Despite the testimony, a verdict of accidental death was returned by a jury with Coroner Sheriff Payne concluding that there was “thin evidence” to support sabotage claims.

Now, however, with Russia strongly suspected of involvement in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, there are calls for the authorities to reopen the cases of 14 deaths on these shores with supposed links to the super power.

The fatalities include married dad Mr Curtis, who was brought up in Red House and attended Bede Grammar School, as well as associate Boris Berezovsky, an exiled billionaire who had fallen out with his homeland and who was judged to have hanged himself at his Berkshire mansion in 2013.

Now Home Secretary Amber Rudd has confirmed that “allegations of Russian state involvement in a number of deaths in the UK” will be re-examined.

She was responding to former Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper’s call for a investigation into evidence supposedly passed from United States security services to the British Government.

This intelligence, according to Labour MP Ms Cooper, reportedly suggests that all 14 people - whose deaths were officially treated as “suicides, natural causes or accidents” - were “likely killed”.

Mrs Rudd replied: “The Government was aware of these allegations and takes seriously any suggestion that a foreign state has engaged in murder on UK soil.

“As you know, police investigations and coronial inquests at the time did not discover evidence of foul play.

"As I stated in the House of Commons on 8 March, my immediate priority – and that of the police and other operational partners - is responding to the attempted murders in Salisbury, including decontamination, local reassurance and the criminal investigation itself.

“I do not want to distract from that focus.

“However, in the weeks to come, I will want to satisfy myself that the allegations are nothing more than that. The police and MI5 agree and will assist in that endeavour.”

Mr Skripal, 66, and daughter Yulia, 33, are still in intensive care more than a week after the Government says they were poisoned by the Russian-produced Novichok nerve agent.

Also read: So how did Sunderland lad end up rubbing shoulders with Russian oligarchs?