NEWS
07/03/2018 08:05 GMT | Updated 07/03/2018 16:45 GMT

Russian Spy 'Poisoning': Amber Rudd Says More Now Known About Substance Used In Poisoning

Terror police have taken over the investigation.

Amber Rudd has said more is now known about the substance which is suspected to have poisoned a Russian MI6 spy and his daughter, hinting that further details would be released later today. 

The Home Secretary made the announcement after an emergency Cobra meeting at Whitehall on Wednesday, and as Sergei Skripal, 66, remains critically ill in intensive care along with his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia.

Supplied
Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were found unconscious on Sunday after exposure to an unknown substance

Rudd said: “There will be more information published by the police this afternoon about the substance.”

The update came shortly before three fire engines and at least two ambulance incident response units arrived outside Zizzi’s restaurant, where Skripal and Yulia had been hours before they were found. 

PA Wire/PA Images
A woman, whose identity has been pixelated, is escorted from a building next to Zizzi restaurant on Wednesday

Several police officers and paramedics were seen inside Sarum House, next door to the pizzeria, according to reports shortly after 1pm. 

A woman with dark hair, escorted by officers, was put into an ambulance and driven away. She was said to be in her 40s.

The office building is the latest location in the city to be closed off. Police have already secured the park where the pair were found, Zizzi’s restaurant, the nearby Mill Pub, Skripal’s house, an ambulance station and part of the hospital where they are being cared for. 

The latest development came as new footage emerged showing Skripal shopping in the days before his collapse has emerged.

In the footage obtained by ITV News, Skripal, is seen chatting to the shop attendant, appearing at ease and cracking a smile as he hands over cash for milk, scratchcards and food.

A timestamp on the video says it was captured at around 12.45pm on February 27, five days before he and his daughter were found unconscious.

Rudd added that the investigation was going to be “lengthy” and said authorities needed to keep “a cool head and make sure that we collect all the evidence we can, and we need to make sure that we respond, not to rumour, but to all the evidence that they collect, and then we need to decide what action to take”.

Asked how concerned the public should be about their own safety, Rudd said: “There will be more information published by the police this afternoon about the substance.

“But we’ve taken all the action necessary to ensure that the public are safe and I’d like to reassure the public that we have the ability and the wherewithal and the knowledge to keep them completely safe.” 

Detectives investigating the incident on Wednesday urged witnesses and anyone with information to contact police “immediately” on 999 as they focus on establishing “what has caused these people to become critically ill”.

Skripal and Yulia were found unconscious outside a Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon, after exposure to an unknown substance, now being investigated by counter-terrorism police.

Toby Melville / Reuters
Police officers at the cordoned off scene where Skripal and his daughter were found; the tent conceals the park bench they were found on

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in nearby Porton Down, which has state-of-the-art equipment to look for trace amounts of substances, is examining what could have caused Skripal and his daughter to fall ill.

BBC Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban told Newsnight on Tuesday that authorities still have no idea what substance was used, saying, “they are very worried”.

“One [official] said to me - ‘we are treating symptoms, rather than causes, and that is not a good direction to be going in.’ Another person said to me that Col Skripal is ‘not at all in a good way’ this evening. There is a lot of concern I think that their condition could worsen.”

The Times said it was understood that scientists have ruled out radioactive substances and that there was speculation that a chemical such as an opiate could have been used. 

Toxicologists are said to be examining samples of blood, urine and tissue taken from the victims.

Tim Ireland - PA Images via Getty Images
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the head of Counter Terrorism Policing, said there are no 'risk to the wider public'

One former radiation biologist told MailOnline that the “considerable rapidity” of their decline suggested a chemical source. “Decontamination at the scene would also suggest that possibility,” he added.

“However, we shouldn’t totally ignore biological contamination of food or the environment. However, the latter would have caused a wider response from Public Health England and the authorities.”

A witness who saw Skripal and his daughter slumped on the park bench, told Sky News they did not appear they were in any pain. “They were just slumped. They were comfortable, they weren’t in any pain or anything. Lifeless, if you like.

“When you walked past, they didn’t even acknowledge that you’ve walked past. They just stayed slumped.”

Scotland Yard said detectives were “keeping an open mind as to what happened”, and that the incident had not been declared a terrorist incident - adding that there was no risk to the wider public, despite cordons being extended. 

Officers have carried out CCTV enquiries and spoken to a number of people as part of the inquiry, and they are now appealing to anybody who visited Salisbury town centre and surrounding areas on Sunday afternoon and has not yet spoken to police to get in touch and to call 999.

They are keen to speak to anyone who visited Zizzi restaurant on Castle Street and The Bishop’s Mill pub in The Maltings.

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.”

Meanwhile, Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd calling for an investigation into 14 deaths “that have not been treated as suspicious by the UK police, but have - reportedly - been identified by United States intelligence sources as potentially connected to the Russian state”.

Parliament
Yvette Cooper's letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said allegations of the country’s involvement in the incident were “designed to complicate UK-Russian relations”. 

The Cobra meeting will be chaired by Rudd and comes as as relations between the UK and the Kremlin soured after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson went on the offensive in the House of Commons on Tuesday. 

Speaking on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed reports the Government would look at whether ministers and dignitaries should attend the World Cup in Russia if Kremlin links are proven in the Salisbury attempt. 

Her comments came at Prime Minister’s Questions after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs it would be “very difficult to imagine that UK representation” at the World Cup could “go ahead in the normal way” this summer.

May, answering a question from Labour MP Toby Perkins on the matter, said: “The point the Foreign Secretary was making yesterday was that depending on what comes out in relation to the investigation, into the attack on the two individuals that took place in Salisbury, that it might be appropriate for the Government to look at whether ministers and other dignitaries should attend the World Cup in Russia.”

Addressing MPs about the “disturbing incident”, Johnson noted that this case had “echoes” of the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident who was fatally poisoned in London in 2006. 

PA
A map shows Skripal's movements before he and his daughter were discovered

He said: “While it would be wrong to prejudge the investigation, I can reassure the House that should evidence emerge that implies state responsibility, then Her Majesty’s Government will respond appropriately and robustly.”

In a fresh sign of the deterioration in relations between the countries, Johnson also claimed Russia is “in many respects a malign and disruptive force”.

The Russian Embassy said it was “completely untrue” to suggest the country’s special services were involved and criticised Johnson for speaking “in such a manner as if the investigation was already over”.

Skripal was convicted in 2006 of passing state secrets to MI6 before being given refuge in the UK as part of a spy swap.

The former colonel in Russian military intelligence, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison, was among four convicts who were given pardons and one of two sent to Britain in 2010 in a deal that was said at the time to be the largest exchange since the Cold War.

When Skripal and his daughter were found they did not have any visible injuries.

They were taken to Salisbury District Hospital, where they are being treated in intensive care for “suspected exposure to an unknown substance”.

Officers subsequently “secured” a number of scenes - including the Zizzi restaurant on Castle Street and the Bishop’s Mill pub in The Maltings.

At least two people left a contamination tent inside the cordon wearing protective suits and gas masks on Tuesday night.

People could also be seen inside Zizzi’s restaurant wearing protective gear and masks.