Sergei Skripal: Police know more about 'poison' used on ex-spy

7 March 2018, 11:56

Police have more information about the substance which has placed a former spy and his daughter in intensive care, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in a critical condition in hospital in Salisbury after they were found slumped on a bench at The Maltings shopping centre.

Ms Rudd chaired a Cobra meeting on Wednesday, which discussed the suspected poisoning, and a further statement from the Metropolitan Police is expected later.

Afterwards, she said: "We need to make sure we respond to evidence, not rumour.

"We do know more about this substance. We must let the police carry on this work, and they will share more information this afternoon.

"There is a lot of information about him (Mr Skripal) but I am not going to comment further about that."

Ms Rudd also said "all the action necessary" had been taken to ensure the public was completely safe.

Police, fire and ambulance crews arrived outside Zizzi's restaurant in Castle Street, Salisbury, on Wednesday afternoon, near to where Mr Skripal and his daughter were found.

A woman with dark hair was seen being taken out of Sarum House, next door to the pizzeria, and driven away in an ambulance.

A spokeswoman for South Western Ambulance Service said she was aware of what was happening, but added: "I'm sorry, we can't give anything out about that one."

CCTV has emerged of Mr Skripal buying scratchcards, milk and bacon at a shop in Salisbury days before he and his daughter were found collapsed.

:: Who is Russian double agent Sergei Skripal?

The investigation is being led by the Counter Terrorism Unit, but is not being treated as terrorism.

On Wednesday, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the head of Counter Terrorism Policing, said: "The focus at this time is to establish what has caused these people to become critically ill.

"We would like to reassure members of the public that this incident is being taken extremely seriously and we currently do not believe there is any risk to the wider public.

"The two people taken ill were in Salisbury centre from around 1.30pm. Did you see anything out of the ordinary?

"It may be that at the time, nothing appeared out of place or untoward but with what you now know, you remember something that might be of significance.

"Your memory of that afternoon and your movements alone could help us with missing pieces of the investigation. The weather was poor that day so there were not as many people out and about. Every statement we can take is important."

Officers want to speak to anyone who was in Zizzi, or the Bishop's Mill pub.

:: Burgers and tea: How poison is hitman's weapon of choice

Mr Skripal was convicted in Russia of spying for MI6 in 2006, and later given refuge in the UK as part of a spy swap.

Yulia currently works for Pepsico in Moscow, according to her Facebook account, after moving to Britain for a few years in 2010.

The incident is putting more strain on the already tense UK-Russia relationship, but Russia has denied any involvement.

In a press conference in Russia, Maria Zakharova of the foreign ministry said the link was being made to whip up anti-Russia sentiment.

She would not confirm if Mr Skripal was still a Russian citizen.

The head of the Russia institute at King's College London said the Kremlin would be able to maintain plausible deniability and always shift suspicions to "innate Russophobia".

:: Boris Johnson called pathetic over 2018 Russia World Cup threat

Dr Samuel Greene said: "The reality is we don't know the cause of the illness, so there's nothing to trace, we don't know where it's going to be traced to...

"Even if in fact this has been somehow sanctioned or ordered out of the Kremlin, the reality is that... the investigation is never going to find hard and fast evidence that would lead all the way up the chain of command.

"The Kremlin will in any case have tried to maintain some distance from this, and some plausible deniability."

Natasha Kuhrt, an expert on Russian foreign policy, said it was possible to surmise that Mr Skripal had made many enemies in his time as a double agent.

She said it was unlikely that billionaire Russians who had strong ties with Britain, living and sending their children to school here, would stop doing so, but that sanctions preventing them could have an impact.