’They’re full of rubbish, aren’t they?’
Phil Dargan, a tour manager, was guiding a group of Americans around Salisbury’s Cathedral Close, doing his best not to alert them to the fact that they might – just might – be treading in the footsteps of the Skripal attack suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.
“I try not do discuss it,” said Dargan. “If anything, I make a little joke of it. I suggest they don’t pick anything up. But I think it’s better not to say too much.
“Not that I believe a word of what that pair say. They’re full of rubbish, aren’t they? They weren’t here to look at the cathedral or Stonehenge. Nobody is swallowing that.”
A British visitor, Jeff Jones, from County Durham, said he had been following the saga with the sort of interest he usually saves for the spy thrillers he enjoys. “The Russians’ explanations just don’t stack up. They would be comical if it was not for the fact that someone has died. The bare-faced cheek of the pair, and of Putin, is really quite shocking.”
The story spun by Petrov and Boshirov was greeted with disbelief but also some anger in Salisbury yesterday. The men claimed on Russian state-funded TV they were so keen to visit Salisbury Cathedral that they travelled to the city on two days in March. They said they got to Salisbury train station on 3 March but were driven back by the slushy conditions, though less than a mile from the cathedral. On 4 March they said they did visit the cathedral but also “may” have been close to the home of Sergei Skripal, two miles the other way.
Nicholas Holtam, bishop of Salisbury, was among those who helped undermine their story. Asked if there was CCTV of their visit to the cathedral, he said there was nothing to link them to the building.
The facts Petrov and Boshirov reeled off may also harm their credibility. Petrov called it the “cathedral of the blessed Virgin Mary” and knew its spire was 123 metres high. Though he is a tour manager, Dargan did not know how tall the spire was. And he had never heard anyone call the church by its historical name. “It’s just Salisbury Cathedral.” Wikipedia is believed to have been the source of Petrov’s fact file. But few locals were enjoying the farcical elements of the Russians’ account. Matthew Dean, leader of the city council, said: “People are incredulous. They feel they’re being taken for fools. There’s also anger. It’s not funny – a person has died and four others have been hurt.”
▲ Suspects Ruslan Boshirov (left) and Alexander Petrov on Russia Today