Thu, Jul 05, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Two critical near poisoned spy city: police


British police declared a “major incident” yesterday after two people were exposed to an unknown substance in a town near where a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent.

In a statement, Wiltshire Police said a man and a woman — both in their 40s — are in critical condition after being found in Amesbury, 19km from Salisbury, where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned on March 4.

Police cordoned off places the two people visited before falling ill, but public health officials said there is not believed to be a wider risk.

They were hospitalized on Saturday and authorities at first believed they might have taken a contaminated batch of heroin or crack cocaine.

“Further testing is now ongoing to establish the substance which led to these patients becoming ill and we are keeping an open mind as to the circumstances surrounding this incident,” police said. “At this stage it is not yet clear if a crime has been committed.”

A major incident is a designation allowing British authorities to mobilize more than one emergency agency.

Residents of the area, a quiet neighborhood of newly built houses, said they had received little information from authorities.

“Amesbury’s a lovely place; it’s very quiet, uneventful,’’ said Rosemary Northing, who lives a couple of hundred meters from the cordoned-off building. “So for this to happen, and the media response and the uncertainty, it’s unsettling.’’

Britain accuses Russia of poisoning the Skripals with a Novichok nerve agent, a group of chemical weapons developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Moscow denies the allegation.

The poisoning sparked a Cold War-style diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, including the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from both sides.

Counterterrorism teams from London’s Metropolitan Police were called in to help local forces in Wiltshire at the time of the Skripal poisoning.

However, Scotland Yard yesterday referred media calls to Wiltshire Police.

The statement from Wiltshire Police came only a month after police from 40 departments in England and Wales returned home after months of working on the Skripals’ poisoning.

Wiltshire Police spent about £7.5 million (US$10 million) dealing with the aftermath of the Skripals’ poisoning and believe that his front door was contaminated with the nerve agent.

Sergei Skripal, 66, is a former Russian intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain before traveling to the UK as part of a 2010 prisoner swap. He had been living quietly in Salisbury when he was struck down along with his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia.

After being found unconscious in the street, the two spent weeks in critical condition in hospital.

Doctors who treated the Skripals said at the time they expected them to die.

They say they still do not know what their long-term prognosis is.

The Skripals have been taken to an undisclosed location for their protection.

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