Military help police probing nerve agent spy attack amid attention on cemetery
Counter-terrorism police asked the military for assistance to remove vehicles and objects.
Troops have been deployed to help police probing the nerve agent poisoning of spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter as attention turned to the cemetery where his wife and son were laid to rest.
A convoy of military vehicles rolled into the car park at Salisbury District Hospital to recover a police car – while a short distance away at the cemetery, officers in hazmat suits were seen placing a blue forensic tent over his son’s memorial stone before appearing to place items in several yellow barrels.
The grave of Mr Skripal’s wife Liudmila, who was buried in 2012, and the memorial stone of his son Alexander – who was cremated last year, were cordoned off at the London Road cemetery.
Mr Skripal, 66, and Yulia, 33, are still in a “very serious” condition five days after they were discovered slumped on a bench in the Wiltshire city centre.
Around 180 troops, including Royal Marines, RAF Regiment troops and chemical warfare specialists, are understood to have been deployed after Scotland Yard requested specialist help to remove vehicles and objects from scenes scattered across the city amid contamination fears.
A Met spokesman said: “The public should not be alarmed and the public health advice remains the same.
“Military assistance will continue as necessary during this investigation.”
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We have the right people with the right skills to assist with this crucial inquiry.”
And defence minister Tobias Ellwood told the Press Association: “The complexity, the geographic challenge as well of mapping out the entirety of the crime scene, has meant it makes obvious sense to allow the armed forces to do a lot of the guarding, giving space to the police to do the detective work.”
He said it was also a reflection of the “seriousness” of the situation.
Asked what options he thinks Britain should be looking at if there is evidence of state involvement, Mr Ellwood said: “We mustn’t get ahead of ourselves but we must have a robust response and it’s something that we’ll be discussing with our Nato partners and with the forthcoming summit in Brussels in July.”
He added: “Some big questions arise as to how do you stand up to a clandestine and sinister attack deliberately done to play havoc in our society.”
Home Secretary Amber Rudd earlier visited the city centre and the hospital where Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who was part of the initial response by authorities, is in a serious condition.
Police launched an attempted murder inquiry after Mr Skripal and his daughter were exposed to a nerve agent.
Ms Rudd declined to reveal any further details about the substance, how it was deployed, or who is suspected of carrying out the poisoning.
Incident in #Salisbury - military resources to assist emergency services to remove a number of vehicles and objects from town centre; public health advice remains the same. https://t.co/lAyxEQZaNF pic.twitter.com/6OQZlR2lJQ— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) March 9, 2018
Lord Blair, a former Met Commissioner, suggested on the BBC’s Today programme the detective attended Mr Skripal’s home.
He said: “There obviously are some indications the officer, and I’m very sorry that he has been injured, has actually been to the house, whereas there was a doctor who looked after the patients in the open who hasn’t been affected at all.
“So there may be some clues floating around in here.”
The circumstances of the attack, and its echoes of the fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, have prompted questions over the Government’s response if the evidence points to a state-sponsored assassination plot.
Police said 21 people had been seen for medical treatment since the incident.
The figure includes members of the public and emergency staff, some of whom have had blood tests as well as receiving support and advice.
Russia has denied responsibility for the attack, which comes seven years after Mr Skripal was released from the country as part of a spy swap with the US.
He was convicted in his home country in 2006 for passing state secrets to MI6.