Suitcase spy poisoning plot: nerve agent ‘was planted in luggage of Sergei Skripal’s daughter’
The nerve agent that poisoned the Russian spy Sergei Skripalwas planted in his daughter’s suitcase before she left Moscow, intelligence agencies now believe. Senior sources have told the Telegraph they are convinced the Novichok nerve agent was hidden in the luggage of Yulia Skripal, the double agent’s 33-year-old daughter. They are working on the theory that the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics or else in a gift that was opened in his house in Salisbury, meaning Miss Skripal was deliberately targeted to get at her father. At a public meeting on Thursday evening Paul Mills, deputy chief Constable of Wiltshire police, revealed 131 people could have potentially come into contact with the deadly nerve agent, and that they were being monitored by health authorities over the phone on a daily basis. He also said 46 people had attended hospital expressing concerns since the incident, and that cordons around areas where traces of the nerve agent had been found or could yet be found may remain in place for months. Col Skripal was convicted of spying for Britain in 2006 but came to the UK in 2010 in a spy swap. Counter terror police and MI5, hunting the would-be assassins, no longer think the Kremlin-backed hit squad ever entered the UK, making it much harder for the UK authorities to pinpoint exactly who carried out the attempted murder of Colonel Skripal, 66, and his daughter. They remain in intensive care, fighting for their lives. Police sources have told the Telegraph that 24 cordons have now been erected in and around Salisbury as authorities race to eradicate any trace of the nerve agent. The latest cordon went up surrounding the home of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who is seriously ill in hospital. In a tour of Salisbury on Thursday, Theresa May launched a withering attack on President Vladimir Putin’s regime as Moscow prepared to expel British diplomats in retaliation for the sending home of 23 Russian suspected spies. The prime minister said: “We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen, brazen act and despicable act, which has taken place on the streets of what is such a remarkable city.” International allies rallied round Mrs May, directly blaming Russia for the attack. In a joint statement Britain, America, France and Germany said there was “no plausible alternative explanation” for the nerve agent attack other than Russian involvement. Donald Trump said: “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it” while the US administration announced fresh sanctions against the Putin regime for election meddling and cyber attacks, separate to the nerve agent poisoning of Col Skripal and his daughter. The political fallout from the nerve gas attack continued to reverberate with the Det Sgt Bailey’s family criticising Jeremy Corbyn for failing to condemn the Kremlin the previous day. William Pomeroy, the detective’s father-in-law and a life-long Labour voter, said: “I’m very disappointed in Mr Corbyn. He’s said almost nothing about this and came across as very weak on it. “He seems to have been a bit mealy mouthed about Russia’s involvement. It’s disappointing because he should be representing ordinary people like me.” DS Bailey, a 38-year-old father-of-two, was poisoned at Col Skripal’s home rather than at the bench in the city centre where the couple later collapsed, it is understood. That bolsters the belief that the nerve agent was brought into the home inadvertently by Ms Skripal. She arrived in the UK on Saturday March 3 on a flight from Moscow that landed, according to police, at 2.40pm. One source said it was straight forward for the assassins to break into Ms Skripal’s apartment in Moscow and plant the nerve agent in her luggage. Security sources have told The Telegraph that the timings are “hugely significant”. The next day, the pair drove into Salisbury city centre, parking in Sainsbury’s car park at 1.40pm before going to the Bishops Mill pub and on to Zizzi restaurant before collapsing on a bench. Traces of Novichok nerve agent have been found on Col Skripal’s car and in the restaurant and pub. Experts said it was telling that counter terror police have issued no images of possible suspects, given the large number of CCTV cameras in and around Salisbury city centre. The cordon thrown up around Det Sgt Bailey’s family home in the village of Alderholt in Dorset, 14 miles from Salisbury, included the entire cul-de-sac and surrounding streets. Both family cars were removed 11 days after the Wiltshire officer was made ill. Another car was removed from outside a house in married quarters at Larkhill garrison, home of the Royal Artillery, 13 miles north of Salisbury. Troops, trained in chemical warfare, are being deployed to decontaminate all areas which may have come into contact with the ‘persistent’ deadly nerve agent. Officials have drawn up a list of possible affected areas and objects and are working their way through them in order of highest risk. One source said: “You would basically need to decontaminate the whole of Salisbury before you could declare it safe to the public.” Public Health England has insisted there is a “low risk” to the public.