Po­lice iden­tify poi­son­ing sus­pects

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Robert Men­dick Chief Reporter

PO­LICE and in­tel­li­gence agencies have iden­ti­fied key sus­pects in the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter Yu­lia, The Daily Tele­graph un­der­stands. Counter-ter­ror­ism po­lice are build­ing a case against “per­sons of in­ter­est”, who are be­lieved now to be in Rus­sia.

The Tele­graph has been told that the crim­i­nal in­quiry, ex­pected to take many more months, has made a break­through in iden­ti­fy­ing key peo­ple over the nerve agent at­tack. It is thought that a search of flight man­i­fests in and out of the UK has yielded spe­cific names in the hunt for the Skri­pals’ would-be as­sas­sins.

Po­lice have also drawn on CCTV footage in Sal­is­bury and have trawled car num­ber plate recog­ni­tion cameras.

How­ever, counter-ter­ror­ism po­lice will hit a diplo­matic brick wall in trying to in­ter­view – let alone pros­e­cute – the sus­pects. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have pri­vately ad­mit­ted the huge dif­fi­cul­ties in bring­ing charges, while any de­mands made by Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties for ac­cess to the “per­sons of in­ter­est” will fur­ther ratchet up ten­sions be­tween the UK and Rus­sia. Au­thor­i­ties be­lieve Col Skri­pal, 60, a Rus­sian dou­ble agent who spied for Bri­tain, was tar­geted at his home in the Wilt­shire city by a Krem­lin-backed hit squad which smeared the Novi­chok nerve agent, in liq­uid form, on his front door.

The emails of Yu­lia Skri­pal, 33, who lives in Moscow, were mon­i­tored prior to her flight to the UK to visit her fa­ther, giving the hit squad no­tice of when he would be at home.

Au­thor­i­ties were foiled in the pros­e­cu­tion of the prime sus­pects in the mur­der of Alexan­der Litvi­nenko, the former Rus­sian agent who was poi­soned with the ra­dioac­tive sub­stance polo­nium-210 at a Lon­don ho­tel in 2006.

Po­lice iden­ti­fied An­drey Lu­govoy and Dmitry Kov­tun – based on Litvi­nenko’s ac­count be­fore he died and foren­sic ev­i­dence of a ra­di­a­tion trail – but Rus­sia re­fused the UK’S ex­tra­di­tion re­quests. Both men deny wrong­do­ing and Lu­govoy was given fur­ther pro­tec­tion af­ter be­ing made a Rus­sian MP.

Au­thor­i­ties recog­nise that prov­ing the case against the Skri­pals’ would-be as­sas­sins is much more dif­fi­cult than in the Litvi­nenko poi­son­ing.

David Vide­cette, a former Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice detective who in­ves­ti­gated the 7/7 Lon­don sui­cide bomb­ings, said: “There may be cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence that shows cer­tain Rus­sians were on cer­tain flights and were also in Sal­is­bury at the time, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily prove ev­i­den­tially that they car­ried out the at­tack.”

Yes­ter­day, Alexan­der Yakovenko, Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the UK, claimed Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties had in­jected the Skri­pals with nerve agent de­vel­oped at the mil­i­tary re­search lab­o­ra­tory at Por­ton Down, 10 miles from Sal­is­bury.

Rus­sia has de­manded ac­cess to Col Skri­pal, who has been in hos­pi­tal since the March 4 at­tack, but is no longer in life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion, and to Yu­lia Skri­pal, who was dis­charged just over a week ago.

The de­con­tam­i­na­tion of Sal­is­bury be­gan in earnest yes­ter­day with po­lice cor­dons put in place in nine “hot spots” where it is feared traces of the nerve agent are lin­ger­ing. Of­fi­cials in­sisted the city is still safe for res­i­dents and vis­i­tors.

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