A Russian spy and his daughter were deliberately targeted with a nerve agent, police today confirmed.
A police officer is still fighting for his life, it has been revealed at a Met Police press conference outside New Scotland Yard.
Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner Mark Rowley said: ‘This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent.’
Mr Rowley said the poisoning was being treated as attempted murder and said the pair had been ‘targeted specifically’.
It is unclear exactly which police suspect was used to poison Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, but the most common types of nerve agent are VX and Sarin.
Sarin is a liquid that is clear, colourless, tasteless and odourless. VX is one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever created, and just 10 milligrams is enough to kill.
Further tests are taking place this week but investigators believe the use of nerve agent may be the best explanation of Skripal and his daughter’s sudden collapse in Salisbury on Sunday, the Guardian reports.
It comes after Amber Rudd hinted the police know what the poison used in an assassination attempt was.
Sergei Skripal, 66, (left, in 2006) and his daughter Yulia, 33, (right) are critically ill in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance
Following a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee, the Home Secretary said the police would give a further update about the substance used in a bid to kill Sergei Skripal, 66, later today.
She said ‘we do know more about the substance’ following today’s meeting of senior ministers and officials, which was due to receive a briefing from counter terrorism police.
At Prime Minister’s Questions Theresa May paid tribute to the emergency services who responded to the incident and told MPs about the continuing police investigation.
Today’s meeting came less than 24 hours after Mrs May convened a meeting of her National Security Council, thought to include the heads of the intelligence services.
Ministers met amid claims former Russian double agent Skripal may have been ambushed by attackers who sprayed him with poison in the street. Skripal remains in a critical condition following the attack on him.
Investigators suspect the Russian army colonel collapsed so quickly because he inhaled the deadly chemical.
Following the Cobra meeting, Ms Rudd said: ‘This is likely to be a lengthy and ongoing process. We need to make sure that the police and the other services have the space to continue that investigation.
‘We need to keep a cool head and make sure that we collect all the evidence we can, and we need to make sure that we respond, not to rumour, but to all the evidence that they collect, and then we need to decide what action to take.
‘We do know more about the substance and the police will be making a further statement this afternoon in order to share some of that.’
Amber Rudd (pictured today in London) hinted the police may know what the poison used in an assassination attempt was following a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee
Theresa May left Downing Street this morning to head to PMQs (pictured) as senior minister met in the Cobra committee on the poisoning of a Russian spy
Was Russian spy taken down by VX?Just 10 milligrams of the nerve agent is enough to kill in minutes
Military scientists are desperately trying to identify what was used to strike down Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Poison has typically been Russia’s weapon of choice when ‘dealing with’ perceived traitors.
From poison-tipped umbrellas to radioactive tea, a number of deadly toxins have been used in Russia-linked deaths in the UK.
VX is one of the deadliest chemical weapons created by man. Experts say just 10 milligrams of the nerve agent or a single drop is enough to kill in minutes.
With the texture and feel of engine oil, it can cause convulsions, loss of consciousness, paralysis and respiratory failure in minutes.
It has the texture and feel of engine oil, but its only known use is as a chemical warfare agent.
VX – classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations – was used in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong UN, at Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13.
Sarin – a volatile nerve agent that was initially developed in Germany as a pesticide – is a liquid that is clear, colourless, tasteless and odourless.
People can be exposed to sarin through skin contact, eye contact or by breathing it in through the air or it can be mixed with water or food.
Symptoms of severe exposure to sarin include loss of consciousness, convulsions, paralysis and respiratory failure leading to death.
Other possible poisons:
Dubbed the ‘poisoner’s poison’, Thallium is highly toxic but is tasteless, colourless and odourless and any contact with skin is dangerous.
Thallium (pictured) is highly toxic but is tasteless, colourless and odourless and any contact with skin is dangerous
Thallium, once known as ‘Inheritance Powder’ because it could easily kill people, is typically found in electronics and was used by Saddam Hussein on dissidents.
It is slow-acting and painful and symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and hair loss. However, it is hard to trace and experts at Porton Down science park in Salisbury may never find out what was used.
Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans, the same substance used to make castor oil.
If castor beans are chewed and swallowed, the released ricin can cause injury.
It can be found as a powder, mist or pellet or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid. It is very difficult to trace.
Ricin works by getting inside the body’s cells and preventing them from making the proteins they need – and without them, cells die.
Eventually this is harmful to the whole body and can cause death. But the effects of ricin poisoning depend on whether it was inhaled, ingested or injected.
Cold War dissident Georgi Markov was assassinated on the streets of London in 1978 by a Bulgarian secret service agent, who used an umbrella that fired a pellet of ricin into his leg.
Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans (pictured), the same substance used to make castor oil
When inhaled, symptoms include difficulty in breathing, fever, cough, nausea, sweating and tightness in the chest. Death occurs after blood pressure plummets and breathing stops.
When swallowed, ricin causes vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, low blood pressure, seizures, and blood in the urine.
There is no known antidote but treatment includes use of respirators, fluids, flushing the stomach and treating low blood pressure.
The toxin is considered an ideal poison because it is harmless until swallowed with a miniscule amount sufficient to cause a slow, painful and very public death.
However, it is almost impossible to acquire without a nuclear reactor – and then decays within a few months.
The radioactive substance was used to kill former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, perhaps the most high-profile case of fatal poisoning.
Thallium was the deadly poison that investigators originally thought had killed Alexander Litvinenko (pictured)
It was slipped into a cup of green tea at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair.
Polonium-210 also leaves a radioactive trace, which in the Litvinenko case led investigators to Andrei Lugovoy.
In 2016 a public inquiry concluded that the killing of Mr Litvinenko had ‘probably’ been carried out with the approval of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Thallium was the deadly poison that investigators originally thought had killed Alexander Litvinenko.
Thallium sulphate is colourless, odourless and tasteless salt that is soluble in water, making it an almost ideal poison to use to kill.
Known as the ‘poisoner’s poison’, if ingested, it attacks the nervous system and internal organs and even a dose as small as a gram can cause death.
Other symptoms include hair loss, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Within three days, victims can suffer headaches, convulsions, coma, delirium, dementia and even psychosis.
It’s believed Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy was poisoned after Gelsemium was slipped into his sorrel soup
Gelsemium is a rare and deadly plant poison which initially causes dizziness, nausea, blurred vision and convulsions.
At larger doses, it causes paralysis of the spinal cord leading to an almost loss of muscle power and ultimately asphyxia.
It’s believed Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy was poisoned after the substance was slipped into his sorrel soup.
Police initially thought his death was not suspicious because there was no signs of toxins after he was found dead near his luxury home in Surrey in 2012.
But scientists later found chemical traces of gelsemium in his stomach. An inquest into his death has been adjourned pending further inquiries.
Former Ukranian President Victor Yushchenko suffered facial disfigurement after being given TCDD
Curare is a plant extract initially used for poison arrows by South American tribes.
It causes the respiratory muscles to contract, asphyxiating the victim.
Scientists in Russia used curare under Joseph Stalin and American-born Communist spy Isaiah Oggins was executed in 1947 using this drug.
This type of dioxin, an ingredient of Agent Orange, was used in the attempted assassination of Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko in 2004.
He survived the attack to become his country’s president, but suffered major facial disfigurements.
The Home Secretary said the police must be given time to get on with their work.
Ms Rudd added: ‘We’ve taken all the action necessary to ensure that the public are safe and I’d like to reassure the public that we have the ability and the wherewithal and the knowledge to keep them completely safe.’
‘I want to make sure that this investigation responds to evidence, not to rumour, but I can reassure the public and your viewers that all action is going to be taken to keep everybody safe.’
One line of inquiry for the police investigation is that Skirpal’s daughter Yulia is ‘collateral damage’, coming into contact with the substance as she attempted to help him.
Another line of inquiry investigators are looking into is the possibility Mr Skripal’s drink was spiked at a pub he and is daughter visited shortly before they collapsed.
CCTV is believed to show the father and daughter walking through Salisbury moments before they were found collapsed in a park. However, some witnesses have suggested the blonde woman in the footage may be a third person.
Both Skripal and his daughter are still fighting for their lives in hospital and remained in a critical condition last night.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (left) and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (right) were among the first to arrive for the Cobra meeting today (pictured)
Forensic teams examined the scene in Salisbury last night as investigators suspect the Russian army colonel Sergei Skripal collapsed so quickly because he inhaled a deadly chemical
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday told MPs Britain would not hesitate to impose new punishment on Russia if it was found to be responsible for the suspected attack on Skripal, 66, in Salisbury on Sunday.
He suggested Britain could partially boycott the World Cup in Russia this summer by refusing to send officials or diplomats alongside players.
Mr Johnson said: ‘If things turn out to be as many members suspect that they are… I think we will have to have a serious conversation about our engagement with Russia.
‘And for my part I think it will be difficult to see how, thinking ahead to the World Cup this summer, I think it would be difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way.
‘We will certainly have to consider that.’
Sources close to Mr Johnson later insisted he was referring to officials and dignitaries attending the tournament and not footballers.
Russia president Vladimir Putin, whose country is suspected to be behind the incident, appeared untroubled as he toured a sweet and cake factory in the Samara region today
Russia has said it wasn’t involved in Skripal’s collapse, with papers loyal to the Kremlin calling accusations ‘Russo-phobic’
Former KGB man Putin, pictured today, has not commented on the incident himself
The World Cup begins in Russia in June. England are the only UK team to have qualified to take part.
Mr Johnson hinted at a range of new sanctions as he insisted any attempt to kill on British soil ‘will not go unsanctioned or unpunished’.
WHAT SANCTIONS COULD BE IMPOSED ON RUSSIA?
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson today hinted at a new range of sanctions if it is proven Russia is behind a suspected assassination attempt in London.
The intervention came after Tory MP Tom Tugendhat revived calls for a ‘Magnitsky List’ to be set up in Britain.
It would mirror US laws imposing travel bans on senior Kremlin officials responsible for the death of Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a prison in 2009.
UK ministers have repeatedly refused to pass a similar law, but has imposed financial sanctions on several senior Russian figures.
Further sanctions could see UK assets owned by Kremlin officials seized and travel bans on more individuals imposed.
The intent is to stop the ruling elite in Moscow travelling freely and keeping money abroad while Putin operates with little restraint.
The Foreign Secretary told MPs the Government would stand up for the ‘lives, values and freedoms’ of people in Britain.
He branded Russia a ‘malign and disruptive’ force in the global community and said Britain would continue to stand up against it, even if the nation is force to ‘pay a price’ for doing so.
Mr Johnson was summoned to the Commons after Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, secured an emergency debate on Russia’s ‘soft war’ against the West.
Mr Johnson told the Commons: ‘Police, together with partner agencies, are now investigating. MPs will note the echoes of the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
‘And while it’d be wrong to prejudge the investigation, I can reassure the House that should evidence emerge that implies state responsibility, then Her Majesty’s Government will respond appropriately and robustly.’
‘It is too early to speculate as to the precise nature of the crime or attempted crime that has taken place in Salisbury.
‘But I know members will have their suspicions.
Boris Johnson (pictured in the Commons today) has vowed ‘robust’ action if it is proven Russia was behind a suspected poisoning attack on a former spy
The Foreign Secretary (pictured today responding to an urgent question) told MPs the Government would stand up for the ‘lives, values and freedoms’ of British people
‘And what I will say to the House is that if those suspicions prove to be well-founded then this Government will take whatever measures we deem necessary to protect the lives of the people in this country, our values and our freedoms.
‘Though I am not now pointing fingers, I say to governments around the world that no attempt to take innocent life on UK soil will go either unsanctioned or unpunished.’
Mr Johnson said it may be that the UK will ‘continue to pay a price’ for standing up to Russia, adding he hopes MPs from all parties will support the Government’s approach.
He said: ‘I’m afraid that the events in Salisbury may very well – and again we must be very careful in what we say because it is too early to prejudge the investigation – but if the suspicions that I know on both sides of the House prove to be well-founded then it may very well be that we are forced to look again at our regime, our sanctions regime and other measures that we may seek to put in place.’
It was suggested last night that Vladimir Putin (pictured today) would never have forgiven Mr Skripal following his treason conviction
The Russian Embassy posted a short response to Mr Johnson’s address to MPs, saying ironically: ‘We are impressed by the statement of the Foreign Secretary in Parliament today.
‘The Foreign Secretary spoke in such a manner as if the investigation was already over and Russia was found responsible for what had happened in Salisbury.’
The statement continued: ‘We regret that instead of a proper official clarification on the issue the Foreign Secretary chose to threaten Russia with retribution. Looks like the script of yet another anti-Russian campaign has been already written.’
Skripal who had recently told police he feared for his life, was rushed to hospital after collapsing on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday.
He was found with a 33-year-old woman, who is also fighting for her life. She is thought to be a family member.
Health chiefs said the pair had been exposed to an ‘unknown substance’.
Mr Tugendhat said that if Russian involvement was proved, the Skripal case would amount to a further salvo in a ‘soft war against the UK’ conducted by Mr Putin’s administration.
‘It is too early to say whether it is certain or not, but it certainly bears all the hallmarks of a Russian attack,’ Mr Tugendhat said.
‘If it is, then I am calling for a whole-of-Government response.
‘Too much of this has been left to the Foreign Office or the Home Office separately.
‘What needs to be done is for the whole Government to get involved in responding to what amounts to a soft war against the UK, taking in the cyber-hacking they have done and the various aggressions they have been involved in.’
‘Poisoned spy case’ echoes fate of Alexander Litvinenko – Putin critic killed by polonium-laced tea
Relations between Britain and Russia have been strained since the murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, a killing which a judge said was probably approved by President Vladimir Putin.
The defector died after two agents slipped radioactive polonium 210 into his tea pot at a Mayfair hotel in central London, according to an inquiry headed by former high court judge Sir Robert Owen.
The inquiry found two Russian men – Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun – had deliberately poisoned Litvinenko by putting polonium-210 into his drink at a London hotel, leading to an agonising death.
Alexander Litvinenko died after two agents slipped radioactive polonium 210 into his tea
It said the use of the radioactive substance – which could only have come from a nuclear reactor – was a ‘strong indicator’ of state involvement and that the two men had probably been acting under the direction of the FSB.
Possible motives included Litvinenko’s work for British intelligence agencies, his criticism of the FSB, and his association with other Russian dissidents, while it said there was also a ‘personal dimension’ to the antagonism between him and Putin.
International arrest warrants issued for Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun remain in force although Russia continues to refuse their extradition.
The Millennium Hotel in Mayfair, where he is said to have been poisoned
In a statement to mark the 10th anniversary of his death, Marina Litvinenko said her husband – who she called Sasha – had been an ‘extraordinary man’ whose courage in speaking out against the Russian security service, the FSB, had left an enduring legacy.
While she acknowledged Mr Putin had refused to accept the inquiry’s findings, she said it remained open for other world leaders to take action against the Russian state and that she hoped her struggle to find the truth had not been in vain.
‘It has taken 10 long years for the truth to be established and for Sasha’s dying words that President Putin was responsible for his death to be proved to be true,’ she said.
‘I know that Mr Putin’s Russia does not accept the findings of the British public inquiry and will continue to deny the truth in the face of overwhelming evidence.
‘But those findings are now part of history and the rest of the world understands the difference between truth and propaganda. And that is what matters to me.
‘What action world leaders will take against the ever vengeful Russian state in these dramatic times remains to be seen. I hope and pray that my struggle has not been in vain.’
Last year the scandal took a new twist when Scotland Yard detectives who investigated the Litvinenko case revealed they too had been poisoned by the Russians in an extraordinary attempt to thwart the inquiry.
The inquiry found Andrei Lugovoi (left, in 2007) and Dmitri Kovtun (right, in 2006) – had deliberately poisoned Litvinenko
Detective Inspector Brian Tarpey, who flew to Moscow to investigate, says: ‘I remember one evening my officer [a colleague who travelled with him] was complaining of stomach cramp and not being very well.
‘Next morning I accompanied him to the general prosecutor’s office. We were offered tea. I had no hesitation in accepting.
‘After we left, I started to feel a little bit uncomfortable. Not wanting to put too fine a point on it, I had the s***s.
‘I have no doubt in my mind that someone poisoned us with something like gastroenteritis.’
Ms Abbott told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme yesterday: ‘I will be writing to Amber Rudd to say if it does prove to be the case the Russian state is involved in thus latest death what assurances can she give about the rigour of the investigation and where we go from here.
‘I don’t like defaulting to a red menace analysis but we can’t allow London and the Home Counties to become a kind of killing field for the Russian state.’
Ms Abbott’s intervention came as the Government remained tight lipped about the circumstances surrounding Skripal.
Julian Lewis, the chairman of the Commons defence committee, told MailOnline: ‘If a second Russian former spy has been targeted in the UK, after the reckless use of polonium to kill Mr Litvinenko, it shows that the Kremlin has not the slightest interest in a positive relationship with the West and has learned nothing from the outrage caused by its previous public act of murder.’
The pair were taken to hospital after they collapsed inside The Maltings shopping centre after coming into contact with an unknown substance. Pictured, emergency crews at the centre
Last night police shut down a Zizzi Restaurant in Salisbury ‘as a precaution’ in connection with the incident
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia, called for a Government minister to come to the despatch box today to update the Commons on what is known about the Skripal case.
Mr Bryant said: ‘We have got to be a little careful about establishing the facts – and I very much hope a Government minister will come to the chamber later today to explain what we do know – but we know Putin’s record of using excessive violence.
‘There is a long list of Putin opponents who have been bumped off around the world. The fact that this happens just before presidential elections, I would suspect, is not circumstantial.
‘We can’t be having Russian operatives bumping people off in the UK. I was very critical of both David Cameron and Theresa May in the 2010 Parliament because they kept refusing to allow a full investigation of the Litvinenko murder. It was years before Theresa May finally allowed one to happen.
‘If something similar has occurred in this situation, then we shouldn’t let the grass grow under our feet.’
A poisoned umbrella tip and radioactive tea: How Russian spies have died in the UK
It was one of the most audacious acts of the Cold War which could have come straight from the pages of a spy novel.
In 1978, Georgi Markov was jabbed with an umbrella which fired a poison pellet into his leg as he crossed Waterloo Bridge in London while he waited for a bus.
He died three days later – and for almost 40 years, mystery has surrounded the whereabouts of his killer.
Georgi Markov was jabbed with an umbrella which fired a poison pellet into his leg
A replica of the umbrella that a KGB agent used in 1978 to kill the Bulgarian dissident
Ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London in 2006, a killing which a judge said was probably approved by President Vladimir Putin.
The defector died after two agents slipped radioactive polonium 210 into his tea pot at a Mayfair hotel in central London.
The 43-year-old had been an officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB), but he fled to Britain where he became a fierce critic of the Kremlin.
He died after an agonising six-day battle in hospital.
Ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London in 2006 when a radioactive substance was poured into his tea pot at a Mayfair hotel
Alexander Perepilichnyy, a key witness in a £140million tax fraud investigation, collapsed while jogging outside his £3million mansion in Weybridge, Surrey, in November 2012.
The Russian had ingested gelsemium – a very rare toxic plant found only in China, a coroner heard.
Tests carried out by leading botanist Professor Monique Simmonds of Kew Gardens found a chemical in Mr Perepilichnyy’s stomach that could come only from a variety of gelsemium – a known method of assassination by Chinese and Russian contract killers.
Alexander Perepilichnyy collapsed while jogging outside his £3million mansion in Weybridge, Surrey, in November 2012
A radiation expert who investigated the ‘assassination’ of Alexander Litvinenko was found dead in a mysterious suicide five months after a trip to Russia.
Matthew Puncher, 46, bled to death at his home from multiple stab wounds inflicted by two knives in his home in Drayton, Oxfordshire in May 2016.
A pathologist said he could not ‘exclude’ the possibility that someone else was involved in the death – but concluded the injuries were self-inflicted.
Radiation expert Matthew Puncher, who investigated the ‘assassination’ of Alexander Litvinenko, was found dead in a mysterious suicide in May 2016
Boris Berezovsky, was found dead in his in Berkshire bathroom with a ligature round his neck in March 2013.
His friends in the secret service say he planned to give Putin evidence of a plot involving oligarchs to topple the strongman in a coup.
Theory has it that the exiled Russian tycoon was slain by Western secret services linked to the plan to overthrow the Kremlin leader.
A coroner recorded an open verdict saying he either took his own life or he was killed and the scene was staged to look self-inflicted.
Boris Berezovsky, was found dead in his in Berkshire bathroom with a ligature round his neck in March 2013 but the coroner recorded an open verdict
Bankrupt property tycoon Scot Young was the fifth member of a close circle of friends to die in unusual circumstances.
The 52-year-old suffered fatal injuries after falling from a window on to railings after being hounded over debts by Russian mafia members.
They had previously dangled him out of a window at the Dorchester Hotel, in Park Lane, threatening to drop him next time if he did not pay up, his close friend alleged.
Mr Young, who was once worth an estimated £400m, claimed to have lost his fortune when a vast Russian property deal, known as Project Moscow, collapsed in 2006.
Bankrupt property tycoon Scot Young (pictured right) suffered fatal injuries after falling from a window on to railings after being hounded over debts by Russian mafia members
Meanwhile in 2012, German Gorbuntsov survived despite being shot several times with a sub-machine gun on the Isle of Dogs in East London.
The Russian banker allegedly had evidence relevant to the attempted murder of Russian billionaire Alexander Antonov.
In 2016, former Russian double agent Colonel Alexander Poteyev, who exposed glamour spy Anna Chapman, died in the US.
Mr Poteyev had overseen the Russian sleeper agents in the US as a deputy head of the ‘S’ department of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.