Saturday, May 18

Salisbury spy poisoning: Nerve agent inventor says hundreds could be at risk for years



One of the inventors of the nerve agent used to poison former double agent Sergei Skripal has warned that tiny traces of the chemical could put hundreds of people at risk for years to come.

Dr Vil Mirzayanov was part of the team that developed Novichok in a Russian chemical weapons institute.

He later became so concerned about the damage it could cause he became a whistleblower and fled to America.

‘It’s the same as nerve gas but 10 times, at least 10 times, more powerful,’ he told Sky News.

The chemist warned that symptoms could develop even years after exposure to the substance, and that there is no cure.

Today Russia hit back at the UK over the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, saying Moscow is ‘not to blame’ for the nerve agent attack.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Moscow will only co-operate with Britain on the investigation if it receives samples of the nerve agent that is believed to have been used to target Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Theresa May has given Russia until the end of the day to explain what happened (Getty Images)

Mr Lavrov said that requests to see samples of the nerve agent have been turned down, which he called a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws the production of chemical weapons.

In an astonishing outburst this morning, one Russian MP said that the PM herself was behind the attemted murder, comparing Mrs May to Hitler.

Theresa May has given Russia until the end of today to provide an explanation for the’military-grade’ nerve agent attack against former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last week.

In a startling statement on Monday aimed directly at the Kremlin, the Prime Minister said it was ‘highly likely’ Russia was responsible for the attempted murder of the former spy, calling it a ‘reckless’ act.

A failure by Russia to provide a “credible response” would lead her to view the attack in Salisbury as “an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom”, sparking undefined retaliatory measures.

Russia responded almost immediately, however, describing Britain’s reaction as a ‘circus show’.

‘There are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March,’ the PM said.

‘Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.’

In response, the Tass news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying: ‘It is a circus show in the British Parliament. The conclusion is obvious: It’s another political information campaign, based on a provocation.”

She accused Mrs May of ‘making up fairytales’.

President Vladimir Putin himself responded to a direct question over Russia’s involvement by saying: ‘You should first get things clear yourselves on the spot and after that we will discuss this with you.”

Investigators in gas masks at the South Western Ambulance Service station in Harnham, near Salisbury (PA Images) A barrier erected by police outside the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury near to where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was found critically ill by exposure to a nerve agent. (PA Images)

Boris Johnson has also told the Russian ambassador that Moscow must ‘immediately provide full and complete disclosure’ of its Novichok nerve gas programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, giving Russia until the end of Tuesday to respond, said Mrs May.

On Monday, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee said the attempt on Mr Skripal’s life was ‘looking awfully like it was state-sponsored attempted murder’.

Meanwhile, in its first public statement on the attack, the US government called it “reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible”.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against UK citizens on UK soil is an outrage.

“We offer the fullest condemnation and we extend our sympathy to the victims and their families and our support to the UK government.”

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said the attack “clearly came from Russia” and “certainly will trigger a response”.

He said: “We have full confidence in the UK’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week.

Those responsible both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences.

The Government is under increasing pressure to take a tough line on the Kremlin if it can prove it was involved in the attack.

The expulsion of Russian diplomats and spies, new financial sanctions against individuals linked to the Kremlin, and withdrawal of official representation from this summer’s World Cup are among the retaliatory measures which could be on the table if Britain takes action.

Earlier a Tory former defence minister said Britain could be entering a period of cool war with Russia.

Mark Francois urged Theresa May to look again at our ability to deter Russia as he made a fresh plea for greater defence spending.

Mr Francois, having commended the Prime Minister for her statement to the Commons, said: Would she also accept that while we may not be in a period of cold war with Russia, as we were in the 1980s, because of their actions, it could be said that we are at least now entering a period of cool war.

Up to 500 people in Salisbury were told to wash their cloths and personal items today, a week after the attack.

The advice was met with ire from residents, who were angry that health officials waited seven days before telling them to take precautions after Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter, 33, collapsed on a bench in the Wiltshire city.