Russian spy Skripal was deliberately poisoned with nerve agent

The police officer who first attended to Sergei Skripal and his daughter when they were found unconscious was also exposed to the agent and is critically ill at hosptial

Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are both in a critical condition in hospital
Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are both in a critical condition in hospital

The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were deliberately poisoned with a nerve agent in a case that is now being treated as attempted murder, the police counter-terrorism chief has said.

Counter-terrorism officers are now working to uncover the origin of the nerve agent used.

The pair were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury on Sunday and are critically ill in hospital.

Scotland Yard assistant chief commissioner Mark Rowley said the police officer who was first to the spot where Skripal was found in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon was “seriously ill” in hospital. His condition had deteriorated, Rowley said, adding: “Wiltshire police are providing full support to his family.”

Describing the poisoning as a major incident, Rowley said scientists had identified the substance used. He refused to reveal what the specific poison was.

A source told BBC News the chemical used on Sunday was likely to be rarer than Sarin or VX nerve agents.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd is expected to make a statement in the Commons.

Although further details are awaited, the suspicion in Downing Street will be that the Kremlin has attempted another brazen assassination operation on British soil.

An unidentified man and a woman spotted strolling in the alleyway close to the bench where Skripal was poisoned are likely to be of intense police interest. The woman has blond hair and was holding a large scarlet bag. CCTV captured them around the time Skripal collapsed.

The spy was stationed in Malta in 1985 after reaching the rank of Colonel in Soviet Intellegence and that he adopted the cover of the Cultural and Sports Attache within the Soviet Embassy in Malta.

What are Nerve agents? 

Nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that stop the nervous system working and shut down bodily functions.

They normally enter the body through the mouth or nose, but can also be absorbed through the eyes or skin.

Rowley said there was no evidence of a widespread health risk to the public.

Chemical weapons experts said it was almost impossible to make nerve agents without training and dismissed the theory that an amateur could have assembled the substance using materials obtained from the internet.

 “This needs expertise and a special place to make it or you will kill yourself. It’s only a small amount, but you don’t make this in your kitchen,” one said, speaking on condition of anonymity.