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Espionage

500 people warned to wash clothes after nerve toxin used in attack on Russian ex-spy found at UK pub and restaurant

Prolonged exposure to small amounts could damage people’s health, but officials insisted it was highly unlikely

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2018, 9:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 7:13am

Traces of a nerve agent used in the suspected attempted murder of a Russian ex-spy have been found in a pub and a restaurant he visited, England’s chief medical officer said on Sunday.

Sally Davies said up to 500 people who visited The Mill pub and Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury, southwest England, needed to wash their clothes and belongings as a precaution.

The March 4 attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is being treated by detectives as attempted murder.

The pair were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury. They are in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

“There has been some trace contamination by the nerve agent in both The Mill pub and Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury,” Davies said.

“I am confident this has not harmed the health of anyone who was in The Mill pub or Zizzi’s.

“However, some people are concerned long-term exposure to these substances may, over weeks and particularly months, give rise to health problems.

“I am therefore advising … the people who were in either the restaurant or the pub at 1:30pm last Sunday until evening closing on Monday should clean the clothes they wore and the possessions they handled while there.”

Pub and restaurant-goers were told to wash their clothing in the washing machine, while dry clean-only clothes should be put inside two tied plastic bags and safely stored while awaiting further advice.

Mobile phones, handbags and electronic items should be wiped with sanitary wipes. Items like jewellery and spectacles should be hand-washed.

The risk to public health was low and the advice precautionary, Public Health England said.

“It is possible, but unlikely, that any of the substance which has come into contact with clothing or belongings could still be present in minute amounts and therefore contaminate your skin,” it said in a statement. “Over time, repeated skin contact with contaminated items may pose a small risk to health.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said on Saturday that police were examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, had identified more than 240 witnesses, and were watching security camera footage.

Around 180 troops, including chemical warfare experts, have been deployed in Salisbury.

Skripal, 66, went to Britain in 2010 as part of a spy swap. He was a former colonel in Russia’s military intelligence who was jailed in his country for betraying agents to Britain’s MI6 secret service.