Update: 07 March 04:32 PM Sergei Skripal believed to have been poisoned with nerve agent Investigators believe a nerve agent was used to poison former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on Sunday. It is believed to have been a deliberate act and the two victims are described as being critically ill in hospital.
The medical and chemical evidence, plus the effects on the victims points to a nerve agent. Sources would not discuss which one but the best known are VX and sarin.
Scientists at Porton Down have assisted in the investigation which is being led by Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, SO15, with significant help from the intelligence agencies.
The investigation is comprised of multiple strands. Among them is whether there is any more of the nerve agent in the UK, and where it came from.
As someone who has worked in ‘news’ for over 20 years it is always difficult not to look at a breaking ‘story’ as being just that – a story.
This one is no different in many ways, but I watched rather passively as the general lack of interest in Salisbury gave way to non-stop-discussions in the square and in the pubs and is now giving way to the sudden and sad realization that the couple found slumped on the bench we may have passed by 50 times -and is now hidden from view like a forbidden fruit- are in fact real humans, not just a news story.
And father and daughter at that. That was the breaking point. ‘Oh. The girl is his daughter.’ You could see it in everyone’s eyes. Even mine .
So now the yearning for a ‘resolution’ has been replaced in many cases with a hope that they at least survive for as long as possible.
That desire is as much for them as us. Now we need time to process the human elements of this ‘story’ if only because they might not be given the opportunity to do so. We owe them at least that much.
“Sergei Skripal has lived a quiet and modest but not completely hidden life in the cathedral city of Salisbury.
Home is a modern redbrick house that he bought under his real name without a mortgage for £260,000 in 2011, a year after the spy swap. He lived there with his wife, Liudmila, until her death from cancer five years ago.
Skripal, who drives a BMW, shops for Polish sausage at the Bargain Stop convenience store where he also indulges his love of gambling, buying up to £40-worth of lottery scratchcards at a time.
He recently joined the Railway social club near the city centre and has developed a taste for local ale as well as vodka.
Skripal lets it be known to locals that he is a retired local government official and people also believe he dabbles in property deals abroad.
After the loss of Liudmila, Skripal came to rely more on his daughter, Yulia, 33, who is in intensive care with him. For a while she worked in a Holiday Inn in Eastleigh, Hampshire, but is believed to have been based in Moscow more recently.
A few weeks ago he asked his cleaner to prepare his daughter’s room for her as she was coming to visit. The cleaner, who asked not to be named, broke down in tears as she paid tribute to him.
“He is a lovely, friendly and kindhearted man and I was shocked when I found out it was him who was in hospital,” she said. “I had known his daughter was coming over to the UK from Russia because he had asked me to clean her room the week before.
“I knew he was in the Russian army as we chatted a bit but he never said he was a spy but at the end of the day he was working for us so I don’t care really. He’s a great guy. He had friends and he loved music and he would go and talk to the neighbours sometimes.”
Ebru Ozturk, 41, who works at the Bargain Stop store, said Skripol comes into the shop once a week. He likes a particular type of Polish sausage and spends between £30 and £40 on Lottery scratchcards in one go. She described him as “like a grandfather”.
She said: “He’s a very kind person. I really look forward to him coming in. Last time I saw him is a few days ago – he came in and bought a scratchcard. He often wins money. He’s very lucky. He was always well dressed and neat.
“He bought lottery tickets a lot. He was very polite. He sometimes came with his daughter. He mentioned that his wife had died a couple of years ago. Whenever I saw him he was happy.
“I think he was doing lots of business things. He knows lots of different languages, he’s very educated. I think he’s been to lots of different countries. We talked a lot. We chatted about different countries and different foods he cooked. I was about to ask if he wanted any Russian food or vodka – next time he comes in.”
Skripal also regularly visits the Polish delicatessen Taste of the World. The owner, Veronika Palaszewska, said: “I have known him since 2012. He shopped here once a week for sausage, ham, fish.
“If he was travelling, he told me about it. He’d been in Poland – I think it was last summer. He said it was nice, he was staying with friends two or three days in Gdansk. He said he used to live in Moscow.
“I saw him on Friday at around one or two o’clock just doing the shopping. It was very busy because of the snow. He bought some sausage and smoked mackerel.”
Skripal came to the UK with his wife. She died on 23 October 2012, aged 59, with her death certificate recording the cause of death as disseminated endometrial carcinoma. Yulia Skripal reported her mother’s death to Wiltshire council’s register office, telling staff that her father was a retired local government planning officer.
According to Yulia Skripal’s Facebook profile, she spent about six months working at the Holiday Inn in Eastleigh in 2014. Her profile says she had previously worked for Nike in Moscow for two years, before moving to London in 2010 – the year her father was released and transferred to the UK.
Her profile says she also spent time living in Malta when she was about a year old.
Quite why the Skripals arrived in Salisbury is not clear. It may be that he liked the idea of the quiet country life. But Salisbury and the surrounding areas are very much army territory and that may have helped him feel more secure.
Certainly, Skripal had begun to feel at home. He had taken to popping into the Railway social club where he applied to become a member in October and was recommended by a friend called Ross. He liked to drink beer and vodka and was there most weekends, though not on Sunday. One regular said: “It’s pretty hard to imagine someone who comes in the Railway is a Russian spy. We all hope he’s OK.”