A quiet Sun­day lunch with his daugh­ter, then Skri­pal’s se­crets caught up with him

Sources say re­tired Rus­sian colonel had been in fear of his life af­ter he avoided his usual haunts

The Daily Telegraph - - Spy Poison Mystery - By Robert Men­dick, Vic­to­ria Ward, Hay­ley Dixon and He­lena Hor­ton

The lo­cals at Sergei Skri­pal’s so­cial club hadn’t seen the Rus­sian émi­gré for a cou­ple of weeks. The sil­ver-haired, slightly portly pen­sioner was a Sun­day lunchtime reg­u­lar at the Rail­way So­cial Club in Salisbury where he would or­der the roast and wash it down with beer and vodka.

But last Sun­day, like the one be­fore it, the Rus­sian had not shown up. His fel­low so­cial club mem­bers didn’t think much of it, but then few knew that in a for­mer life in Moscow the quiet drinker had been a high-fly­ing colonel in the Rus­sian mil­i­tary. Nor did they know that Col Skri­pal had been a dou­ble agent paid $100,000 to spy for Bri­tain; and who had been caught by the Rus­sians, found guilty of trea­son and sen­tenced to 13 years in a pe­nal colony in 2006. Four years later, he pitched up in Salisbury af­ter be­ing re­leased as part of a spy ex­change.

He lived openly in the city and bought a house for £260,000 cash and lived com­fort­ably on an MI6 pen­sion.

But in re­cent weeks the 66-year-old had be­come fear­ful for his life, say sources. It’s un­clear how the threat may have been made but he had grown cau­tious. Neigh­bours said he kept the lights off at home.

Col Skri­pal’s daugh­ter Yu­lia, 33, was sum­moned from Moscow where she

‘To be hon­est, I thought they might be home­less but they were per­haps bet­ter dressed. I just thought this is weird’

worked for Pepsi. He was happy to see her but was con­cerned for their safety. Yu­lia was the only close fam­ily he had left. His wife Lud­mila died of cancer in 2012 aged 59, (when Yu­lia recorded the death she noted her fa­ther’s oc­cu­pa­tion as a “re­tired lo­cal gov­ern­ment plan­ning of­fi­cer”) while his son died of liver fail­ure aged 44 last year. Re­ports sug­gested his son, also called Sergei, died while on hol­i­day in St Petersburg. Given what was about to be­fall Col Skri­pal and his daugh­ter, the death of Sergei ju­nior now looks sus­pi­cious too.

Yu­lia worked in Southamp­ton at the Hol­i­day Inn hotel and made many friends. She re­turned to Moscow in 2014, a sign that the fam­ily did not feel threat­ened by the past. Yu­lia was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor in Salisbury, post­ing a pho­to­graph of the cathe­dral in 2012 shrouded in fog, re­mind­ing her of a pretty neigh­bour­hood in Moscow.

On Sun­day, Yu­lia was back in Salisbury with her fa­ther. In­stead of tak­ing her to his favourite so­cial club for lunch, the colonel headed first for the Mill pub and then to Zizzi, an Ital­ian restau­rant chain, for a late lunch. Re­ports sug­gest it might have been a boozy one.

Shortly af­ter 3.45pm, fa­ther and daugh­ter turned right, out of the restau­rant, walked along Cas­tle Street and into Mar­ket Walk, a cov­ered walk­way lined with shops. As they passed Snap Fit­ness, a gym at the end of the precinct, at 3.47pm, they were cap­tured briefly on CCTV. Both glanced to­ward the cam­era, Col Skri­pal wear­ing a green jacket and his daugh­ter in blue jeans and car­ry­ing a large red bag.

As they emerged into the driz­zle the pair crossed a small bridge into The Malt­ings shopping precinct be­fore sit­ting down on a nearby bench.

Ten min­utes later, at 4.03pm, Freya Church, 27, who works at Snap Fit­ness, was filmed on CCTV leav­ing the gym. She fol­lowed in their foot­steps over the bridge and then saw the cou­ple slumped on the bench. Col Skri­pal was gaz­ing up at the sky, eyes glazed, mak­ing strange hand ges­tures. Yu­lia was slumped against him, ap­par­ently un­con­scious.

A crowd gath­ered, shield­ing them from the rain with um­brel­las, and put the woman in the re­cov­ery po­si­tion while some­one called 999. Yu­lia was air­lifted to hos­pi­tal while her fa­ther was taken by am­bu­lance. By 4.15pm, the area had been cor­doned off. So too would be Zizzi and The Mill pub.

Po­lice in full pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and us­ing spe­cial breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus combed the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity. Cain Prince, the man­ager of Snap Fit­ness, said po­lice ex­am­ined the CCTV footage on Mon­day, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to the cou­ple with the red bag. “These peo­ple were the only ones po­lice were in­ter­ested in,” he told The Daily Tele­graph. “They said he was wear­ing a green coat and took a pic­ture of them and they asked for de­tails of all staff who were in be­tween 3pm and 4pm on Sun­day.” Shown the CCTV footage of a cou­ple walk­ing past the gym to­wards the bench just 15 min­utes ear­lier, Ms Church said it was “def­i­nitely them, 100 per cent.” She was par­tic­u­larly wor­ried about the woman. “She was slumped over on the man’s shoul­der,” she said.

“To be hon­est, I thought they might be home­less but they were per­haps bet­ter dressed. I just thought this is weird, es­pe­cially as she was clearly quite a bit younger than him. She had a red bag at her feet. He was ges­tur­ing at the sky, doing some kind of move­ments with his hands. He was look­ing up and his eyes were glazed. There was no one else there near them at this point. No one was help­ing them.”

Destiny Reynolds, 20, who works at Gane­sha hand­i­crafts in the Malt­ings, wit­nessed the com­mo­tion.

“I saw them both on the bench,” she said. “There was a big crowd around them. It was rain­ing and peo­ple were cov­er­ing them with um­brel­las. Then they put the woman on the floor in the re­cov­ery po­si­tion.”

What hap­pened on the park bench is now sub­ject to the most pres­sured, high pro­file in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by the Metropoli­tan Po­lice’s counter ter­ror­ism unit.

Col Skri­pal and Yu­lia re­main in in­ten­sive care, un­con­scious.

CCTV footage from other cam­eras is likely to yield a great deal of informatio­n. There are two flights from Heathrow to Moscow on a Sun­day night, both eas­ily catch­able. If this was an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt – and if it was or­gan­ised by the Krem­lin or close as­so­ci­ates of it – then it is likely the per­pe­tra­tors will have long made their es­cape.

Yu­lia Skri­pal was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Salisbury from her home in Moscow

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