Investigation into attempted murders in Salisbury widens as police seal off graves of Sergei Skripal’s wife and son
About 180 military personnel have been called upon by the police investigating the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, to remove evidence in Salisbury potentially contaminated by a deadly nerve agent.
Skripal, a Russian former spy, and his 33-year-old daughter are comatose in hospital after being found on Sunday unconscious on a bench in the Maltings shopping centre.
The investigation widened on Thursday as police sealed off the graves of Skripal’s wife, Liudmila, and son, Alexander, and said 21 people had been treated as a result of the incident.
Among the injured were a detective sergeant, Nick Bailey, who remained in a serious but stable condition. Bailey was described by Wiltshire’s temporary chief constable, Kier Pritchard, as “a massively dedicated officer”. Pritchard said Bailey was “very anxious, very concerned” but sitting up in bed and talking.
It is understood that personnel from the Royal Marines, the RAF and chemical teams are helping to remove the vehicles from the scene.
“The Counter Terrorism Policing Network has requested assistance from the military to remove a number of vehicles and objects from the scene in Salisbury town centre as they have the necessary capability and expertise,” Scotland Yard said.
“The public should not be alarmed and the public health advice remains the same. The military has the expertise and capability to respond to a range of contingencies. The Ministry of Defence regularly assists the emergency services and local authorities in the UK. Military assistance will continue as necessary during this investigation.”
Visiting Salisbury on Friday morning, Rudd said: “It is still very serious for the two people subject to this outrageous attack. For the police officer, it is still serious but we understand he is conversing and engaging.”
The NHS confirmed that Skripal and his daughter were in a critical but stable condition, while Bailey was conscious in a serious but stable condition.
Rudd continued: “I understand people’s curiosity about all those questions, wanting to have answers, and there will be a time to have those answers. But the best way to get to them is to make sure we give the police the space they need to really go through the area carefully, to do their investigation and to make sure that they have all the support that they need in order to get that.”
Rudd added: “At the moment our priority is going to be the incident, which is why I’m here in Salisbury today, making sure that everybody’s protected around the incident, making sure the emergency services have had the support that they need and will continue to get it.
“In terms of further options, that will have to wait until we’re absolutely clear what the consequences could be and what the actual source of this nerve agent has been.”
Rudd did not reveal any further details about the substance, how it was deployed or who used it.
Ian Blair, who was Metropolitan police commissioner when the former spy Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London by radiation poisoning, has suggested one line of inquiry is that Skripal may have been exposed to the nerve agent in his own home.
“Clearly what they’re trying to find out at the moment is how was this delivered personally. There obviously are some indications. The officer – I’m very sorry he’s been injured – has actually been to the house, whereas there’s a doctor who looked after the patients in the open who hasn’t been affected at all. There may be some clues floating around in here,” Lord Blair said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Blair said that if the nerve agent was rare, as Rudd has said, then it should be possible to identify where it came from. “If this is rarer than sarin and VX it’s basically possible to identify the laboratory in which it was made. They would be able to establish where it came from – the level of authority is another matter,” he said.
The use of a nerve toxin is seen as a key indicator of possible Kremlin involvement, with such substances usually held only in state military stockpiles. On Thursday, the Russian embassy in London sent a sarcastic tweet, saying of Skripal: “He was actually a British spy, working for MI6.”
Moscow has repeatedly denied it had anything to do with the attack, the same line used when Litvinenko was poisoned in 2006 with a radioactive cup of tea. A public inquiry a decade later concluded that the Kremlin had ordered the hit.