Of­fi­cials face nerve agent back­lash

Res­i­dents out­raged as they are told up to 500 peo­ple may be at risk a week af­ter at­tack on spy

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Vic­to­ria Ward and Martin Evans

HUN­DREDS of peo­ple could have been con­tam­i­nated by the nerve agent that poi­soned a Rus­sian dou­ble agent in Sal­is­bury, of­fi­cials said, as lo­cals last night ques­tioned why they were not warned sooner.

A week af­ter Col Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter, Yu­lia, were left in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion fol­low­ing an at­tack in the city, res­i­dents were ad­vised to take ac­tion to pro­tect them­selves.

Any­one who vis­ited the same pub or restau­rant as the pair last Sun­day was told to wash their clothes im­me­di­ately and clean all jew­ellery, mo­bile phones, spec­ta­cles and other items with an­ti­sep­tic wipes.

Theresa May will to­day lead a meet­ing of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, at­tended by the heads of all three in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, af­ter which she is ex­pected to for­mally link Rus­sia to the Sal­is­bury poi­son­ings.

Sci­en­tists at Por­ton Down, the Gov­ern­ment’s chem­i­cal war­fare lab­o­ra­tory, are un­der­stood to have been car­ry­ing out fi­nal tests overnight that will prove be­yond rea­son­able doubt that the nerve agent used in the at­tacks was made in Rus­sia. Mrs May is then ex­pected to an­nounce fresh sanc­tions against Rus­sians close to Vladimir Putin, as well as the ex­pul­sion of some Rus­sian diplo­mats from the UK.

As the po­lice and mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion con­tin­ued in Sal­is­bury, staff at the Zizzi restau­rant, where the cou­ple dined shortly be­fore fall­ing ill, were told to de­stroy any clothes they had been wear­ing at the time and also visit their doc­tor for a health check. There were claims last night that the nerve agent had been found all over the pair’s ta­ble.

Drinkers at the pop­u­lar Mill pub in the city were also urged to take sim­i­lar steps if they were there be­tween Sun­day lunchtime and Mon­day night, when the venue was even­tu­ally sealed by po­lice. Traces of the nerve agent – which has been iden­ti­fied but that of­fi­cials have re­fused to name – have also been found at the pub, it is be­lieved.

Eng­land’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer, Dame Sally Davies, es­ti­mated that around 500 peo­ple could have been af­fected in the time win­dow. She in­sisted the risk to the pub­lic re­mained low, but con­ceded that the nerve agent could pose a risk with “pro­longed, long-term ex­po­sure” to the skin.

Last night there was grow­ing anger among Sal­is­bury res­i­dents over the de­lay in pass­ing on in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic. Mau­reen Jones, 73, who has lived in Sal­is­bury her en­tire life, said: “I can’t un­der­stand why it has taken a week for them to tell peo­ple.”

Dan Mun­day said: “Enough of this cloak and dag­ger stuff, let the pub­lic know what’s go­ing on. It is our city af­ter all.” An­other res­i­dent who was in the Mill pub at about the same time as Col Skri­pal and his daugh­ter, said he was out­raged that he was only now be­ing told to take pre­ven­tive mea­sures.

He said: “I am not re­as­sured be­cause I do not know all the facts. What are the long-term ef­fects?”

While health of­fi­cials in­sisted the risk to the pub­lic was min­i­mal, mem­bers of the mil­i­tary, wear­ing chem­i­cal pro­tec­tion suits, con­tin­ued to seal off parts of the city. Just min­utes af­ter hold­ing a press con­fer­ence in­tended to re­as­sure the pub­lic, scores of mil­i­tary per­son­nel, po­lice of­fi­cers and paramedics de­scended on Bourne Hill po­lice sta­tion and of­fices in the city.

Two mil­i­tary tents were set up and dozens of Army per­son­nel donned pro­tec­tive suits as they moved a se­ries of ve­hi­cles from the car park. It is thought the ve­hi­cles could have been used by po­lice of­fi­cers who at­tended the scene of the at­tack last Sun­day.

Det Sgt Nick Bai­ley, who was one of the first re­spon­ders, re­mains in a se­ri­ous con­di­tion in hos­pi­tal, al­though he is able to sit up and talk.

Mys­tery still sur­rounds the ex­act cir­cum­stances of last week’s poi­son­ing, with un­cer­tainty re­main­ing over when and where Col Skri­pal and his daugh­ter were tar­geted. Philip In­gram, a for­mer in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity of­fi­cer who has stud­ied chem­i­cal war­fare, said all the in­di­ca­tions pointed to­wards a liq­uid nerve agent sim­i­lar to the one used in the at­tack on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother last year.

Mr In­gram said: “The fact that traces have been found at multiple lo­ca­tions sug­gests this is al­most cer­tainly a thick­ened liq­uid that would have a very per­sis­tent ef­fect. It could have been ad­min­is­tered in a va­ri­ety of ways, ei­ther by brush­ing into the tar­get or per­haps by smear­ing it on cloth­ing that would come into con­tact with his skin. But there are still many unan­swered ques­tions, not least how the po­lice of­fi­cer

‘Enough of this cloak and dag­ger stuff, let the pub­lic know what’s go­ing on. It is our city af­ter all’

has come to be so ill.” John Glen, the MP for Sal­is­bury, said he was less than sat­is­fied with the re­sponse: “It is an evolv­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion ... but I am some­what frus­trated that Pub­lic Health Eng­land did not in­form me what was go­ing on.”

He added: “I also find it slightly odd that the chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer is mak­ing a state­ment to cam­era in Lon­don about this sit­u­a­tion when the peo­ple want some re­as­sur­ance here in Sal­is­bury.”

Dr Jenny Har­ries, the joint di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Health Eng­land (PHE), de­fended the de­ci­sion to is­sue new guid­ance a week af­ter the ini­tial poi­son­ing.

She said: “This is about a very, very small risk of repet­i­tive con­tact with traces of con­tam­i­na­tion that peo­ple may have taken out. The ad­vice we’re giv­ing to­day about wash­ing clothes – very sim­ple things ... that will re­move that risk.”

THERESA MAY is ex­pected for­mally to blame Rus­sia for the Sal­is­bury poi­son­ings to­day af­ter meet­ing the heads of Bri­tain’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vices and will im­me­di­ately come un­der pres­sure to pre­vent Rus­sians with links to Vladimir Putin en­ter­ing the UK.

The Prime Min­is­ter will lead a meet­ing of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which will be at­tended by the heads of MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the Armed Forces, where she is ex­pected to be handed ev­i­dence that puts Rus­sian in­volve­ment in the at­tacks be­yond rea­son­able doubt.

It will be only the sec­ond time the NSC has met since the at­tempted mur­ders of Sergei Skri­pal, a for­mer spy, and his daugh­ter, Yu­lia, and sources de­scribed it as a “sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment” in the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sci­en­tists at Por­ton Down are un­der­stood to be work­ing on the fi­nal tests nec­es­sary to iso­late the coun­try of ori­gin of the nerve agent used in the at­tack.

Mrs May is pre­par­ing to an­nounce changes to the law that would make it eas­ier to ex­pel Rus­sians sus­pected of hu­man rights abuses. It would sim­plify the process of ex­pelling for­eign cit­i­zens who do not have a crim­i­nal record

‘The leg­is­la­tion that was brought in fol­low­ing the Alexan­der Litvi­nenko case is not be­ing used to deny visas or freeze as­sets’

who are con­sid­ered a risk to na­tional se­cu­rity.

But she will come un­der in­tense pres­sure to go fur­ther by cre­at­ing an independent ombudsman who could or­der the Gov­ern­ment to re­move peo­ple from the coun­try who have so far been al­lowed to stay.

An­drew Mitchell and Richard Benyon, the Con­ser­va­tive MPS who have been work­ing with the Gov­ern­ment for months on changes to ex­ist­ing laws around sanc­tions, have in­sisted that an independent as­ses­sor must be ap­pointed so the pub­lic can ap­peal if they do not think min­is­ters have taken tough enough ac­tion against Rus­sia.

Mr Mitchell said: “There is a very im­por­tant prin­ci­ple at stake here, be­cause the leg­is­la­tion that was brought in fol­low­ing the Alexan­der Litvi­nenko case is not be­ing used to deny visas or freeze as­sets.

“It’s be­cause there is no independent as­ses­sor to hold min­is­ters to ac­count.”

Mr Mitchell and Mr Benyon will ta­ble an amend­ment to the forth­com­ing Sanc­tions and Anti-money Laun­der­ing Bill af­ter Easter to force the changes through if nec­es­sary.

Philip Ham­mond, the Chan­cel­lor, said: “The Home Sec­re­tary al­ready has a power to ex­clude in­di­vid­u­als from the UK if she be­lieves that their pres­ence here is not con­ducive to our na­tional se­cu­rity or the pub­lic good.

“So it’s not strictly nec­es­sary, but we’re seek­ing to reach an ac­com­mo­da­tion with those who’ve put this amend­ment for­ward. Let’s see if we can come to a pro­posal which works for ev­ery­one.”

Mrs May is also ex­pected to send some Rus­sian diplo­mats home straight away.

In the longer term, she will ask Nato to back an in­creased mil­i­tary pres­ence on Rus­sia’s west­ern bor­ders.

Mr Litvi­nenko’s widow, Ma­rina, told the An­drew Marr Show on BBC that Mrs May had re­neged on a promise she made while Home Sec­re­tary to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to pre­vent a re­peat of the at­tack on her hus­band.

She said she had re­ceived a let­ter from Mrs May that said: “I and this gov­ern­ment are clear that we must con­tinue to pur­sue jus­tice for your hus­band’s killing and that we will take ev­ery step to pro­tect the UK and its peo­ple from such a crime ever be­ing re­peated.”

Mrs Litvi­nenko added: “But un­for­tu­nately it’s hap­pened again. It means some­thing was not done.

“And the les­son that we re­ceived af­ter the mur­der of my hus­band was not learned.

“We know no­body was pun­ished. And peo­ple who have been a killer of my hus­band, they’re not even sus­pects be­cause the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion probut

vided no ev­i­dence. They [may] still be in Rus­sia, and [prime sus­pect] An­drei Lu­govoy, he is a mem­ber of par­lia­ment, and Bri­tish par­lia­ment still com­mu­ni­cat­ing with this par­lia­ment.”

Mrs May could make a Com­mons state­ment link­ing Rus­sia to the poi­son­ings as early as this af­ter­noon, fol­low­ing the NSC meet­ing, which will also be at­tended by Am­ber Rudd, the Home Sec­re­tary, Boris John­son, the For­eign Sec­re­tary, and Gavin Wil­liamson, the De­fence Sec­re­tary.

A gov­ern­ment source said: “When we are in a po­si­tion to at­tribute blame, we will do so.”

Army per­son­nel in pro­tec­tive suits on the streets of Sal­is­bury yes­ter­day, where they re­moved a se­ries of cars from a car park

Spe­cial­ists from the RAF and Marines re­move a po­lice car and am­bu­lance from Sal­is­bury for test­ing, left and bot­tom

Chief Con­sta­ble Kier Pritchard, of Wilt­shire Po­lice, thanked the pub­lic for their pa­tience

Sol­diers drafted in as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Sal­is­bury put on pro­tec­tive cloth­ing as they be­gin to re­move con­tam­i­nated ma­te­ri­als to be sent for anal­y­sis at the nearby Por­ton Down de­fence lab­o­ra­tory

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