HMN-Around 180 troops were deployed to help decontaminate the city of Salisbury in the wake of the recent high profile poisonings. Multiple military branches are involved in the operation. (Evening Standard)
Around 180 troops were being deployed in Salisbury today as a decontamination operation was dramatically stepped up after the attempted assassination of a former Russian double agent and his daughter.
The military personnel from specialist chemical, biological and radiological units were brought in to help remove vehicles and other objects potentially contaminated by a deadly nerve agent.
The expert troops were drafted into the city from the Army, Navy and RAF and were believed to include Royal Marines.
Police insisted that the risk to the public was low as speculation grew that Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were poisoned at their home rather than in a park or restaurant in Salisbury.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “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. The public should not be alarmed and the public health advice remains the same.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our armed forces have stepped up to support the police in their investigation in Salisbury.”
Stating that scientists from the Porton Down military laboratory were already part of the investigation, he added: “We have the right people with the right skills to assist with this crucial inquiry. This is a dreadful incident and my thoughts remain with the victims and their families.”
The development came as Home Secretary Amber Rudd today met police chiefs investigating the poisoning amid growing calls for a review of the deaths of Russian exiles in Britain.
Ms Rudd said investigators needed “space” to trace the origins of the rare nerve agent used in the attempted assassination. She branded the murder attempt “outrageous” and said Mr Skripal and his daughter were still in a “very serious” condition.
Amid claims that Russia may have been involved, strongly denied by the country’s diplomats, Ms Rudd said: “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 give the police the space they need to really go through the area carefully, to do their investigation.
“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.” Former Scotland Yard chief Lord Blair today called for an examination of the 14 deaths in the UK with suspected links to Russia to discover if there had been foul play
The peer, who was Metropolitan Police Commissioner from 2005 to 2008, said: “This extraordinary attack in Salisbury is a good call to say ‘let’s have a good look at this again’ and see whether there is some pattern here of people who go out jogging and fall dead, and who are found dead in their house in Surrey, and so on. There has got to be something here that at least is worth looking at.”
He accepted that some of the fatalities did not appear suspicious but believes others should be re-examined.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov hit back at the suggestions, saying: “Whether it’s poisoning of some British subjects, whether it’s rumours about interference in the US election campaign, if assistance really is needed, then we are ready to consider its possibility. But in order to conduct such cases, it is necessary not to immediately run out on TV screens with unfounded allegations.”
Yvette Cooper, Labour chairwoman of the Commons home affairs committee, has written to Ms Rudd also calling for the 14 cases to be re-examined.
They include exiled Russian banker Alexander Perepilichnyy, who was found dying on a road in Weybridge, Surrey, in November 2012.
He is believed to have collapsed during a run near his home, the day he returned from a short trip to Paris.
Initial toxicology tests did not reveal anything suspicious but a botanist from Kew Gardens is said to have later suggested the presence of a rare and deadly plant toxin in his stomach, though police said further tests drew a blank. His inquest was told that he was on a “hit list” in Moscow and that he had confided in colleagues in Britain that he had received threats
The following year, 2013, Boris Berezovsky, a former friend turned critic of Vladimir Putin, was found hanged in his bathroom at his Ascot home. Berkshire coroner Peter Bedford returned an open verdict, concluding that he could not prove beyond all reasonable doubt whether the former oligarch committed suicide or was unlawfully killed.
Lord Blair, who headed Scotland Yard when it investigated the murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 with polonium-210, said a radioactive trail had allowed the police to trace the suspected killers from a restaurant to a hotel and aircraft and then back to Moscow. The current investigation would be slower, he believes, as detectives seek to identify how the nerve agent poison was delivered, who carried out the operation, and who ordered it.
But he branded the response to the Litvinenko murder “disappointing”, with the “extraordinary delay” in having an inquest and then the judge-led inquiry, which took almost 10 years because the “Government resisted it”. He added: “The idea that we wait for that length of time to learn lessons is… appalling.”
Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The expert advice is that there is no evidence to suggest a wider public health risk. We are very proud of our staff and we would like thank them for the professionalism and the way they have responded to this incident.”
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