Former Russian spy critically ill after exposure to unknown substance

Former Russian spy critically ill after exposure to unknown substance

Police cordoned off the area where the pair were found

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A former Russian double agent is critically ill following his suspected exposure to an unknown substance.

A pizza restaurant in Salisbury was closed by police late last night (March 5) as Sergei Skripal fought for his life in hospital a day after he was found unconscious in the Wiltshire city.

The BBC named the 66-year-old as the man who was found along with a woman in her 30s, believed to be known to him, on a bench near a shopping centre shortly after 4pm on Sunday (March 4).

Skripal was convicted in 2006 of passing state secrets to MI6 before being given refuge in the UK as part of a spy swap.

The former colonel in the Russian military intelligence, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison, was among four convicts who were given pardons and one of two sent to Britain in 2010 in a deal that was said at the time to be the largest exchange since the Cold War.

Wiltshire Police said officers were as yet "unable to ascertain" whether the pair, who are both in critical condition in intensive care, have been victims of a crime.

The Castle Street branch of the chain restaurant Zizzi was "secured as a precaution," the force said, adding Public Health England believed there was no risk to the public.

Officers in regular uniforms and plain clothes spoke to staff inside and worked in tents in the area the pair were found.

A member of Zizzi staff who answered the phone declined to comment.

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Craig Holden said: "The pair, who we believe are known to each other, did not have any visible injuries and were taken to Salisbury District Hospital.

"This has not been declared as a counter-terrorism incident and we would urge people not to speculate. However, I must emphasise that we retain an open mind and we will continue to review this position."

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in the UK, when asked for comment on the incident, said: "Neither relatives nor legal representatives of the said person, nor the British authorities have addressed the embassy in this regard."

Salisbury District Hospital declared a major incident but told patients to attend appointments as normal unless advised otherwise.

A spokesman for Public Health England (PHE) said anyone exposed to the unknown substance had been decontaminated "as is standard practice in situations like this."