Three Russian agents suspected of being responsible for the 2018 Salisbury poisonings will have the evidence against them “tested” at a public inquiry into what happened.

A lawyer has been asked to “put on the hat” of suspects Denis Sergeev, Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga, who used the aliases Sergey Fedotov, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov respectively while in the UK.

Petrov and Boshirov gave a much-maligned interview with Russian state media in which they said they were only in the UK, briefly, to visit Salisbury Cathedral.

Lord Hughes, who is chairing the public inquiry, said on Friday that Emilie Pottle from the inquiry’s legal team would serve the interests “of those who have been publicly accused”.

Salisbury incident
Russian Nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov on Fisherton Road, Salisbury in March 2018 (Metropolitan Police/PA)

She will not represent the men, who have so far refused to cooperate with the investigation.

At a two-hour public hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, Lord Hughes said: “The accusations that have been made against these three people have been made very publicly – both at a high political level and a legal level.

“It will be necessary, as I see it, to consider whether the facts alleged are proved or are not.

“Whether or not a named suspect choses to take part in the process … attention must be paid to his interests as the evidence is investigated.

“One of its (the legal team’s) members is designated to make it her responsibility to put on the hat serving the interests of those who have been publicly accused.

“It will mean putting on the hat of the interests of those three people and ensuring that any point any of them could properly take is considered.”

The substantive hearings are not expected to begin until 2023, and will likely be at least partly held in Salisbury.

Amesbury incident
The former home of Novichok victim Charlie Rowley, in Amesbury, Wiltshire. Mr Rowley’s partner, Dawn Sturgess, died after being exposed to nerve agent Novichok at the property (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The inquiry will look to examine Russian involvement in the death of mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess.

She died in July 2018 after she unwittingly came into contact with the nerve agent on a discarded perfume bottle in Amesbury, Wiltshire.

It followed the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and ex-police officer Nick Bailey, who were poisoned in nearby Salisbury in March that year when members of a Russian military intelligence squad are believed to have smeared the deadly nerve agent on Mr Skripal’s door handle in Salisbury.

All three survived, as did Ms Sturgess’s boyfriend Charlie Rowley.