Salisbury incident nerve agent ‘delivered in liquid form’

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The nerve agent used to attack former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter was delivered in a “liquid form”, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said.

Only a “very small amount” of the deadly Novichok substance was used against Mr Skripal, 66, and 33-year-old Yulia, it is understood.

The highest concentration was found at Mr Skripal’s home on the outskirts of Salisbury, with eight other areas across the city potentially contaminated.

Further details about the substance emerged at a press briefing on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Defra said: “In this instance, direct contact is required for a person to poisoned. Only a small proportion of the material is transferred in each contact and the substance is diluted in each secondary or tertiary contact.

“The class of nerve agent does not produce significant vapour or gas and can only be moved between sites by direct transfer from a contaminated person or by moving a contaminated item.”

Asked what form the nerve agent was in, the Defra spokesman said: “It’s in a liquid form.”

It comes as the first of 10 sites cordoned off across the city was reopened to the public on Tuesday.

Tests confirmed the area of London Road cemetery, which contains the remains of Mr Skripal’s dead wife and son, was not contaminated.

Meanwhile, work is set to begin to decontaminate the nine other locations experts either know or believe are contaminated.

“We either know there is contamination there, or we think there is a probability we could find contamination there,” Defra said.

A multimillion-pound operation, involving around 190 specialist military personnel, is expected to start in the coming days, with the process lasting months.

The evidence room and a police officer’s locker inside Bourne Hill police station will be among the first areas to be cleaned, along with two ambulance stations and The Maltings area – where the Skripals were found.

Other sites to follow include Zizzi restaurant, a car compound and the home of poisoned police officer Nick Bailey.

The Mill pub and Mr Skripal’s home, which are still part of the police investigation, will be the last to be cleaned.

Residents have been warned to expect to see more activity in the city as cordons are replaced with secure fencing and specialists wearing protective suits begin work to remove items and begin the chemical cleaning process.

Public Health England assured locals the risk to the general public remains low and that Salisbury remains safe for visitors and residents. No further cases of poisoning have been reported since the day of the attack, March 4.

Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Ian Boyd, said: “Thanks to detailed information gathered during the police’s investigation, and our scientific understanding of how the agent works and is spread, we have been able to categorise the likely level of contamination at each site and are drawing up a tailored plan.

“Meticulous work is required and we expect it will be a number of months before all sites are fully reopened.”

Russia claimed the efforts to decontaminate Salisbury were an attempt by the UK authorities to destroy evidence.

A statement on the Russian embassy’s website claimed “obvious inconsistencies” in the official response “lead us to believe that the so-called decontamination, which includes ‘incinerating of potentially contaminated objects’, is an element of the strategy aiming to destroy the important and valuable evidence”.

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