UK has identified Russian suspects in Novichok nerve poison attack on ex-spy Skripal and daughter: report

However, Britain’s security minister Ben Wallace dismissed the report as ‘wild speculation’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 1:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 10:59pm

British police believe that they have identified the suspects who carried out the Novichok nerve agent attack on a former Moscow double agent and his daughter and that they are Russian, the Press Association reported on Thursday.

“Investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack through CCTV and have cross-checked this with records of people who entered the country around that time,” a source with knowledge of the investigation told PA, the British domestic news agency.

“They [investigators] are sure they [suspects] are Russian,” the source added.

Scotland Yard police headquarters refused to comment on the report.

However, Britain’s security minister dismissed the report as “wild speculation”.

“I think this story belongs in the ‘ill informed and wild speculation folder’” Ben Wallace said on Twitter, in response to the Press Association report.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed in the southwestern English city of Salisbury on March 4 after being exposed to the nerve agent Novichok. Both have since recovered.

Britain blamed Russia for the poisoning of Skripal, a former military intelligence colonel who was jailed for betraying Russian agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence service.

He left Russia for England in a 2010 spy swap.

Russia has strongly denied involvement in the Skripal attack, sparking a diplomatic row that has led to tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between Britain and its allies and Moscow.

Searches are still expected to continue for several weeks, if not months
Scotland Yard

Two Britons fell ill in June after being exposed to Novichok. Experts are seeking to establish whether the toxin was from the same batch used against the Skripals.

Charlie Rowley, 45, and his 44-year-old partner Dawn Sturgess, collapsed at his house in Amesbury, a town close to Salisbury, within hours of each other on June 30.

Sturgess died on July 8, while Rowley has regained consciousness and is in stable condition. The Sturgess death is being investigated as murder.

PA said investigators believe Sturgess was exposed to at least 10 times the amount of nerve agent as the Skripals came into contact with.

Police have said it was detected in a “small bottle” at Rowley’s house.

Rowley’s brother Matthew told the BBC that the 45-year-old had told him the Novichok was contained in a perfume bottle.

Investigators are working to the theory that Sturgess sprayed Novichok straight onto her skin, the PA source said.

An inquest into the death of Sturgess was to open on Thursday at Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner’s Court in Salisbury.

Novichok nerve agent that killed UK woman could remain active for 50 years

In English law, inquests are held to examine violent, unnatural or unexplained deaths. They set out to determine the place and time of death as well as how the deceased came by their death, but do not apportion blame.

The inquest will be formally opened but then adjourned to a later date.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said its inspectors had collected samples in the Amesbury case and returned to the organisation’s headquarters in The Hague on Wednesday to begin analysing them.

The OPCW said in a statement that it had received a request from Britain on Friday to provide technical assistance.

They deployed a team to “independently determine the nature of the substance” alleged to have resulted in the death of Sturgess and the poisoning of Rowley.

“The OPCW team collected samples. The samples will be sent to two OPCW designated laboratories and once the results of the analysis are received, the report will be submitted to the United Kingdom,” it said.

Police have recovered more than 400 exhibits, samples and items as part of the investigation into the death of Sturgess.

“Searches are still expected to continue for several weeks, if not months,” Scotland Yard has said.

On Wednesday, police started a search of the Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury. Certain parts were to be searched by fingertip. The search is due to last several days.

The “detailed and meticulous search” is a “significant step in the operation”, said Wiltshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills.

The New York Times newspaper reported on Sunday that British investigators believe the attack on the Skripals was most likely conducted by current or former agents of the Russian military intelligence agency.

The service, known as the GRU, is the same one accused of interfering with the 2016 US presidential election. Twelve GRU officers were charged Friday with hacking Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The report cited a British official, a US official and a former US official familiar with the inquiry.