Man exposed to unknown substance was ‘Russian spy’

A man critically ill after being exposed to an unknown substance in Salisbury is a former Russian spy, Sky sources believe.

Sergei Skripal, 66, was convicted in Russia of passing state secrets to Britain. He was later given refuge in the UK as part of a spy swap.

He and a woman in her 30s, who is believed to be known to him and is also critically ill, were found “unconscious on a bench” at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon, police said.

They did not have any “visible injuries”, Wiltshire Police’s Temporary Assistant Chief Constable, Craig Holden, added.

While a major incident has been declared, detectives are as yet “unable to ascertain whether or not a crime has taken place”, TACC Holden said.

Maltings shopping centre, Salisbury

Image: The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury

Skripal, a former colonel within Russian military intelligence, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006.

He was one of four convicts given a pardon, and one of two sent to Britain after a spy swap in 2010 – described as the largest since the Cold War.

Sky News’ Defence Correspondent, Alistair Bunkall, said toxicology tests were not expected back on Monday night.

It is fair to assume the security services are “involved”, he added. It is also likely that Skripal has received security guidance.

Firefighters were reportedly called to both the shopping centre and the hospital to decontaminate some areas.

Salisbury district hospital (file pic)

Image: Salisbury District Hospital, where the man and woman were taken (file pic)

“At this stage it is not yet clear if a crime has been committed and a multi-agency response has been coordinated,” Wiltshire Police said.

“Police are carrying out a full investigation and working with partner agencies, to clarify the exact circumstances.

“At this stage, Wiltshire Police does not believe there is any risk to the wider public.”

Anyone exposed to the unknown substance has been decontaminated, “as is standard practice in situations like this”, a spokesman for Public Health England (PHE) said.

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“Scientists from PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards will continue to assist the response and review information as it becomes available,” he added.

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