Sajid Javid: UK to consult allies over novichok response
Britain will consult its allies about a possible response to Russia over the latest nerve agent poisonings in Wiltshire, the home secretary has told parliament, saying Moscow must explain “exactly what has gone on”.
Updating MPs after he chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra security meeting on Thursday morning, Sajid Javid confirmed that the two people being treated in hospital appeared to have been exposed to novichok at a separate location to the Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia four months ago.
“Our strong working assumption is that they came into contact with the nerve agent in a different location to the sites that were part of the initial clean-up operation,” Javid said.
He urged Russia to explain how Dawn Sturgess, 44, from Salisbury, and Charlie Rowley, 45, of Amesbury, who both remain critically ill, came into contact with novichok before they collapsed on Saturday.
Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley. Photograph: Facebook
The police have not yet elaborated on “the means of transmission” but the working assumption is that it was in a sealed container from the time of the Skripal attack in March. They have also hinted they may have identified those who attempted to murder the Skripals.
Javid noted that the poisoning of the Skripals, which the UK has said was carried out by the Russian state, prompted a robust international response, including the expulsion of Russian diplomats.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the latest attack, and the Russian embassy in London renewed its offer to take part in a joint investigation with the UK.
Javid told the Commons: “As we did before, we will be consulting with our international partners and allies following these latest developments. The eyes of the world are currently on Russia, not least because of the World Cup. It is now time that the Russian state comes forward and explains exactly what has gone on.
“Let me be clear: we do not have a quarrel with the Russian people. Rather, it is the actions of the Russian government.”
Javid added: “We will stand up to the actions that threaten our security and the security of our partners. It is unacceptable for our people to be either deliberate or accidental targets, or for our streets, our parks, our towns to be dumping grounds for poison.”
Javid said he was aware people in Wiltshire were “feeling very anxious” about the new poisoning, but there was no reason to worry. He said six sites visited by Sturgess and Rowley before they fell ill had been sealed off, and there was “no significant risk to the wider public”.
Public Health England was advising people who might have visited any suspect sites to wash their clothes and wipe down other items, and to not pick up items from the ground, such as needles.
He said a link between the two poisonings was “clearly the main line of inquiry … However, we must not jump to conclusions and we must give the police the space and time to complete their work.”
On Thursday the homeless hostel in Salisbury, where Sturgess had a room, was evacuated and a bin outside the hostel was put under police guard. All 20 residents of John Baker House were told to pack a bag and leave the building at around 10.25am.
Collette Boys, one of the residents, who knows Sturgess and Rowley, said no one knew what was happening. “No one is telling us anything. The minute they went in hospital we should have been told.”
Another five areas in Salisbury and Amesbury known to have been visited by the pair have been cordoned off. They include a wider area around Rowley’s Muggleton Road home in Amesbury where the pair fell ill, a chemist, and a Baptist church which hosted a community fare attended by Rowley.
Items recovered from these areas were expected to be sent to scientists at Porton Down, the defence research laboratory that identified the presence of novichok at both incidents.
Javid told MPs that while Porton Down scientists had established that the nerve agent was exactly the same type as that used on the Skripals, it might not be possible to tell if it was from the same batch.
The incident in Amesbury is being viewed by the authorities as an after-effect of the March attack rather than a major new development. This would suggest the police do not regard the agent as being from a fresh batch.
Investigators had ruled out that Sturgess and Rowley had any links to Russia or were targeted for assassination. However, they may now know the identity of the individuals who smeared the door knob at the Skripals’ home in Salisbury. A recent report suggested the police and intelligence agencies had failed to identify those responsible, hampered in part by a lack of CCTV footage in Salisbury.
But the police have now changed tack, neither confirming nor denying whether they know the perpetrator’s identity.