THE NOVI­CHOK TIME BOMB

‘Nerve agent was de­signed with a four hour de­lay to al­low as­sas­sins to es­cape be­fore alarm raised’ ‘Clear gel smeared on spy’s door was less tox­i­cas­are­sult...and gave chem­i­cal ex­perts time to find an­ti­dote’

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Sal­is­bury Poi­son At­tack - By Mark Ni­col and Michael Pow­ell

‘It was a bou­tique nerve agent for as­sas­si­na­tions’

THE nerve agent used to poi­son for­mer Rus­sian agent Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter was spe­cially de­signed to take about four hours to kill them so their as­sas­sins could flee Bri­tain.

Se­cu­rity sources told The Mail on Sun­day that to help the agents avoid cap­ture, the Rus­sians de­vel­oped a less pow­er­ful ‘bou­tique’ Novi­chok that could be ab­sorbed through the skin. Novi­chok is nor­mally ad­min­is­tered as in gas form and kills its vic­tims within min­utes.

This ad­just­ment to the nerve agent, made after ex­haus­tive sci­en­tific tests con­ducted at a se­cret Rus­sian sci­en­tific es­tab­lish­ment, proved a cru­cial flaw in the dou­ble mur­der bid. While it al­lowed the would-be mur­der­ers to es­cape, it also gave doc­tors and sci­en­tists time to iden­tify the Novi­chok and treat the pa­tients with an­ti­dotes.

Last night Hamish de Bret­tonGor­don, the for­mer com­man­der of Bri­tain’s Chem­i­cal, Bi­o­log­i­cal, Ra­di­o­log­i­cal and Nu­clear Reg­i­ment, who has had access to se­cret in­tel­li­gence re­lat­ing to the poi­son­ing, praised the Sal­is­bury med­i­cal team for their re­mark­able work in sav­ing the lives of the Skri­pals.

He said: ‘This botched dou­ble mur­der at­tempt was de­feated by the bril­liance of Bri­tish sci­en­tists and the doc­tors in Sal­is­bury who, un­der im­mense pres­sure, came up with a be­spoke set of treat­ments to thwart a bou­tique chem­i­cal weapon specif­i­cally de­signed for as­sas­si­na­tions.’

Last night the 66-year-old Skri­pal and his daugh­ter Yu­lia, 33, were con­tin­u­ing to re­cover at Sal­is­bury Dis­trict Hos­pi­tal. Mr Skri­pal, who had pre­vi­ously been given just a one per cent chance of sur­vival by his fam­ily, is now in a sta­ble con­di­tion – while Yu­lia is re­cov­er­ing so fast she could soon be dis­charged.

De­tec­tive Sergeant Nick Bai­ley, who was left in a se­ri­ous con­di­tion after rush­ing to the aid of the Skri­pals after they col­lapsed and was also treated by the same med­i­cal team, was re­leased from hos­pi­tal last month.

The Skri­pals are also un­der­stood to be pro­vid­ing po­lice and the Se­cu­rity Ser­vices with vi­tal in­for­ma­tion that could lead to the cul­prits be­ing iden­ti­fied.

The ac­count pro­vided by se­cu­rity sources chal­lenges claims from Moscow that its nerve agent could not have been used in the Sal­is­bury at­tacks be­cause it is too toxic for any­one to sur­vive ex­po­sure to it. Based on the lat­est brief­ings by UK se­cu­rity sources, The Mail on Sun­day can also re­veal for the first time to­day how:

The Novi­chok was pro­duced in the form of a clear, odour­less gel which was smeared over the han­dle of Sergei Skri­pal’s front door in Sal­is­bury early on Sun­day March 4.

Rus­sian agents watched Sergei Skri­pal for a fort­night and chose to strike on a Sun­day morn­ing so no post­men or de­liv­ery men would be ex­posed ac­ci­den­tally to the nerve agent. Any third par­ties touch­ing the door han­dle be­fore the Skri­pals would have re­quired the agents to reap­ply the gel to the door han­dle, at the risk of be­ing seen do­ing so.

Com­pletely by chance, doc­tors with spe­cial­ist chem­i­cal weapons train­ing were on duty at the hos­pi­tal when the vic­tims were ad­mit­ted. They treated Sergei and Yu­lia Skri­pal with an at­ropine (an­ti­dote) and other medicines ap­proved by sci­en­tists from Por­ton Down, the govern­ment’s top se­cret sci­en­tific re­search lab­o­ra­tory.

The Mail on Sun­day can also re­veal cru­cial new de­tails about the Skri­pals’ move­ments on March 4. Un­til now it had been thought that they left the house on Christie Miller Road, Sal­is­bury, at 9.15am and did not re­turn there be­fore they were taken ill that af­ter­noon. This pre­vi­ous time­line strongly sug­gested that their at­tack­ers must have struck overnight. Now it seems the Rus­sian agents smeared the door han­dle with nerve agent in broad day­light after the Skri­pals had left the house.

Last night se­cu­rity sources sug­gested the Skri­pals re­turned to the £400,000 house at about 11.30am. Sergei is un­der­stood to have been con­tam­i­nated when he un­locked the front door while Yu­lia is thought to have touched the han­dle after her fa­ther.

By then he had smeared most of the gel off the door han­dle on to his hands. As a re­sult, her symp­toms of ex­po­sure to the nerve agent were more mild than his.

A source said last night: ‘The Krem­lin wanted to get its agents out of Bri­tain be­fore the Novi­chok

could be iden­ti­fied. So they re­duced its tox­i­c­ity and used it in a gel form rather than as a gas – had the Skri­pals in­haled the nerve agent they would have died very quickly.

‘The Rus­sians still banked on Sergei and Yu­lia dy­ing as a re­sult of their ex­po­sure, even though they had ef­fec­tively wa­tered it down. Their re­cov­ery has been re­ceived with great dis­ap­point­ment in Moscow. Their sur­vival is an em­bar­rass­ment to Pres­i­dent Putin who likes to think his se­cu­rity ser­vices can kill any­one, any­where, and get away with it. They usu­ally do.’

Two doc­tors with ex­per­tise in chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks were on duty at Sal­is­bury Dis­trict Hos­pi­tal that af­ter­noon.

The pair had re­cently com­pleted a train­ing course at Por­ton Down, which en­abled them to quickly recog­nise the symp­toms of ex­po­sure to a nerve agent.

Their ex­per­tise and de­ci­sion mak­ing proved in­valu­able. The Mail on Sun­day has been told how th­ese doc­tors treated the Skri­pals, and lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cer De­tec­tive Sergeant Nick Bai­ley, who was also ex­posed. The doc­tors ran en­zyme level tests on the three vic­tims which con­firmed the use of a nerve agent. They then sum­moned sci­en­tists from nearby Por­ton Down.

The sci­en­tists then ran fur­ther tests which specif­i­cally iden­ti­fied the nerve agent to be Novi­chok. They were then able to ad­min­is­ter the at­ropine.

Last night, Col Hamish de Bret­tonGor­don added: ‘I hope that in time the in­di­vid­u­als from the hos­pi­tal and Por­ton Down who de­feated the Rus­sians re­ceive the credit they de­serve.

‘By con­trast, the Rus­sians de­served their mis­for­tune on the day for in­sti­gat­ing such a cow­ardly at­tack.’

The Mail on Sun­day has also learned how Sergei Skri­pal’s house is ex­pected to be de­mol­ished as a re­sult of the con­tam­i­na­tion. This is thought to be more cost-ef­fec­tive than in­sti­gat­ing an inch by inch search of the prop­erty for fur­ther traces of Novi­chok.

The Zizzi Ital­ian res­tau­rant and The Mill pub­lic house which were both vis­ited by the Skri­pals in the hours be­fore they fell ill may also be knocked down.

This week the Govern­ment is ex­pected to erect 9ft fences at key sites in Sal­is­bury linked the poi­son­ing while sci­en­tists con­tinue their painstak­ing work to find clues.

A se­cu­rity source said: ‘The semi-per­ma­nent struc­tures may re­main in place un­til au­tumn this year. Civil­ian se­cu­rity guards will take over pa­trolling from po­lice guard­ing the sites soon.

‘This means cor­dons around the Skri­pals’ home may be there for at least an­other six months.’

This botched dou­ble mur­der at­tempt was de­feated by bril­liance of Bri­tish sci­en­tists COLONEL HAMISH DE BRET­TON-GOR­DON

KILLER GEL: The Novi­chok used in Sal­is­bury was de­vel­oped in se­cret Rus­sian sci­ence labs

DEADLY PLOT: Se­cu­rity sources now say the Skri­pals were poi­soned when they un­locked their front door after re­turn­ing home on March 4

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