5 July 2018Hot off the Press
British counter-terrorism police have confirmed two British nationals critically ill in hospital were poisoned by the same toxin used on Sergey and Yulia Skripal in March.
The couple, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, were found in a residential building in the Wiltshire town of Amesbury, 13 kilometres from Salisbury, the location of the Skripal incident.
Speaking to the media, Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Operations, Niel Basu, said test results from a military research centre identified a Novichok nerve agent.
“I have received test results from Porton Down [military research centre] which show that the two people have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok,” he said.
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) July 4, 2018
Mr Basu said there is no evidence that the couple visited the same sites that were decontaminated after the Skripal case or that they were targeted.
It is currently unknown how the pair came in contact with the nerve agent, but investigators are attempting to establish if there is a link to the Skripal case.
Health authorities say the risk to the public is low, however some traces of the substance may still remain in the area.
“As the country’s chief medical officer, I want to reassure the public that the risk to the general public remains low,” Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies, told reporters.
According to a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May, the emergency response committee has met to discuss the incident, and another meeting will occur on Thursday (local time) chaired by Home Secretary, Sajid Javid.
“The working theory is currently that this exposure was accidental, rather than a second attack along the lines of that on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury earlier this year,” Mr Javid said, as cited by the ABC.
Sam Hobson, a man claiming to be a friend of the couple, said he was with them on Saturday when Ms Sturgess fell ill.
“She was on the floor having a fit and foaming at the mouth,” Mr Hobson said.
He said Mr Rowley collapsed later that same day.
“He was rocking against the wall making funny noises and his eyes were wide open, glazed, red and pinpricked and he was just sweating, dribbling, making weird noises,” Mr Hobson said. “I was speaking to him and was getting no response.”
Assistant Commissioner Basu said it is unclear whether the nerve agent exposed to the pair is from the same batch as that allegedly used on the Skripals.
“We are not in a position to say whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skripals were exposed to,” Mr Basu said. “The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of enquiry for us.”
The British Government has blamed Russia for the poisoning of Sergey Skirpal — a former Russian spy who was turned by MI6, arrested, pardoned in 2010 and exchanged in a spy swap — and his daughter Yulia, however the Kremlin has strenuously denied the allegations and no evidence directly linking Russia to the attack on them has been produced.
The scandal led to the largest expulsion of Russian diplomats from Western countries since the Cold War, a move that was mirrored by Russia.
This is certainly a twist in what was a perfect Cold War-style thriller plot. A former Russian spy and his daughter are attacked with a nerve agent in his country of refuge. Russia stands accused and the diplomatic fallout sees Britain and its allies expel over 160 Russian diplomats even without clear evidence linking the Russian Government. The dust settles, and then a British couple are poisoned with the very same nerve agent four months later. Coincidence? Possibly, but one thing is for certain — even the police are scratching their heads.
Boasting no real knowledge in chemical weapons, but an in-depth knowledge of Russian politics and foreign policy, something here simply does not add up. But firstly, let’s start with the attack on the Skripals and Novichok, the military grade nerve agent that has made headlines around the world.
Novichok is a classification of highly toxic nerve agent developed by the Soviet military in the 70s and 80s. People from all over the former Soviet Union worked on the development of these chemicals which means that ‘secret’ nerve agent probably isn’t all that secret. Also, this is a substance that was in development well over 40 years ago — it is simply naive to think that similar or identical nerve agents have not been developed since then.
When Sergey and Yulia Skripal were taken ill it was shocking, and for good reason. It was the first chemical attack in Europe since World War II. While it is possible that Russia was behind the attack, it does not make much strategic sense, and it is hard to find a motive.
Sergey Skripal was arrested in Russia in 2004, after it was found he had been turned by MI6. He was sentenced in 2006 to 13 years in prison. Skripal was then granted refuge in Britain in a spy swap in 2010 under former Russian President Dimitry Medvedev. If the Russian Government had wanted him dead, it would have been organised during the six years he was detained.
Bearing that in mind, the timing and location of the attack are incredibly inconvenient. Voting for the 2018 Russian Presidential Election was set to start the following week, and the last thing the Russian Government needed was another geopolitical scandal; not to mention the logistics of such an operation on foreign soil — especially a country as vigilant with its national security as Britain — would be very complicated.
We need to ask simple questions. Why would the Russian Government exchange a prisoner it wanted to kill? What would be the point of killing Skripal when he had no more state secrets to give and had not had access to state secrets for at least 14 years?
But, perhaps most importantly, we should ask why the Russian Government would be so careless as to use a toxic substance that supposedly only it has access to; cannot be contained to the target; and then leave a concentration of it lying around in a nearby town for a British couple to be poisoned four months after the attack?
Frankly, this theory is just as believable as Porton Down — a military research centre in the same county as both Salisbury and Amesbury, and the facility where the substance tests were conducted — experiencing a security breach.
At the moment, no one really knows who is responsible for the attack on the Skripals. Maybe it was Russia? Maybe terrorists? Maybe it was an accident? Maybe it was pure coincidence that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were exposed to it? There are endless ‘maybes’ but, if anything, the terrible poisoning of Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, suggests that there is still much left to this puzzle.
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