Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Sergei Skripal: Police officer poisoned by 'very rare' nerve agent named as Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey

Home Secretary attacks 'brazen and reckless act...attempted murder in the most cruel and public way'

Lizzie Dearden,Samuel Osborne
Thursday 08 March 2018 09:02 GMT
Amber Rudd: Police officer involved in Sergei Skripal case is 'talking and engaging'

A police officer who was poisoned by a nerve agent in the attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter is sitting up and talking in hospital as the hunt continues for the culprits.

He was named as Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, amid hopes he will make a full recovery.

DS Bailey was given a formal commendation by Wiltshire Police in 2016 for his work putting a serial rapist who targeted victims over four decades behind bars.

Kier Pritchard, the force's temporary Chief Constable, said the officer was missed by his colleagues but should be “back on his feet and back at work very soon”.

After visiting DS Bailey in the intensive care unit, where his wife was by his bedside, the officer said: “I've known Nick for many years, he's a great character, he's a huge presence in Wiltshire Police - well liked, well loved, a massively dedicated officer.

“He's well, he's sat up. He is not the Nick that I know but of course he's receiving a high level of treatment.”

DS Bailey, who joined Wiltshire Police in 2002, was given a formal commendation in 2016 for his work putting a serial rapist who targeted victims over four decades behind bars.

DS Nick Bailey is in hospital after being poisoned by the nerve agent (Wiltshire Police)

T/Chief Constable Pritchard said he was “massively proud” of the officer and all his staff for their response, which will be the subject of a church service at St Thomas's, in Salisbury city centre next month.

“We’ve had multiple officers involved, there’s been a total of 21 people including the main two index patients…a number of those have been through the hospital treatment process,” the officer added.

“They’re having blood tests, they’ve having treatment, support and advice provided.”

Security sources told The Independent several people are believed to be behind the assassination attempt in Salisbury, and are likely to be “either present or past state-sponsored actors”.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in intensive care in hospital and authorities have not said whether they can recover.

Amber Rudd told the House of Commons both remain unconscious, in a critical but stable condition.

“The officer was one of the first responders on Sunday, acting selflessly to help others,” the Home Secretary said. “The latest update from the hospital is that the officer remains serious but stable and is conscious, talking and engaging.”

Ms Rudd said the nerve agent used was “very rare” but declined to name the precise chemical and emphasised that the risk to the public was low.

“Samples from the victims have been tested by experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down,” she added, referring to the secretive military facility where nerve agents have been developed and tested over decades of controversial research.

“That forensic analysis has revealed the presence of a nerve agent and the incident is therefore being treated as attempted murder.

(PA (PA)

“It is highly likely the police officer has been exposed to the same nerve agent.”

Downing Street said Theresa May was being kept updated by officials on developments in the case and has sent her personal thanks to police.

“It’s clear that this was an appalling and reckless crime and the public will rightly want those responsible to be identified and held to account,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

“But it is important that we avoid speculation and allow police and others to rigorously establish the full facts. As the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary have made clear, our response to those found to be responsible will be robust.”

Suspicion has turned to the Russian government, which jailed Mr Skripal for “treason” in 2006, or former spies he betrayed while working for MI6 during his time a colonel in the GRU military intelligence service.

He was given refuge in Britain after being exchanged in 2010 for Russian agents caught in the West as part of a Cold War-style swap in Vienna.

Mr Skripal appears to have lived a quiet life in a semi-detached home in Salisbury, but a former associate, Valery Morozov, believes he had not completely retired from espionage.

Skripal during his trial in Moscow, 2006 (AP)

“Every month [he was] going to the Russian embassy to meet military intelligence officers,” he told Channel 4 News, claiming that that the former double agent was keeping “dangerous” company.

The Russian Embassy said they were not aware of any meetings and denied any involvement by its security services.

Ms Rudd declined to say whether she regarded Russia as responsible for the attack but said the Government will put a plan in place to respond when the culprit is identified, adding that there was “nothing soft about the UK’s response”.

“The use of a nerve agent on UK soil is a brazen and reckless act,” she told MPs.

“This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way – people are right to want to know who to hold to account.

“But we are to be rigorous in this investigation we must avoid speculation and allow police to continue their investigation.

“We will respond in a robust and appropriate matter once we ascertain who is responsible.”

The attack in Salisbury may prompt further action following on from the Government’s Criminal Finances Act, which was inspired by the US’s Magnitsky Act.

Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned along with her father, Sergei Skripal (Facebook)

In measures introduced last year, it allowed the assets of international human rights violators to be frozen, and powers could be strengthened by the Sanctions Bill, which is currently going through committees in the Houses of Parliament.

Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, said Russia was becoming an “ever-greater threat”, citing its “aggressive stance” in Eastern Europe and alleged support for separatists in Ukraine.

“Russia’s changing the way they actually fight and raise the level of conflict,” he added. “We are seeing this in the north Atlantic as well, the amount of submarines that are operating, there’s a 10-fold increase in the last seven years.

“Russia’s being assertive, Russia’s being more aggressive, and we have to change the way that we deal with it because we can’t be in a situation in these areas of conflict where we are being pushed around by another nation.”

Mr Williamson also declined to say whether he held Russia responsible for the attack in Salisbury, saying: “What’s happened is absolutely disgusting and it is so important we give the police the space and opportunity to do a proper and thorough investigation.”

Hundreds of detectives, forensic specialists, analysts and intelligence officers working around the clock on the case, police said.

They are examining CCTV and building a detailed timeline of events, while specialist officers in protective clothing continue investigations and decontamination activity at cordoned off areas of Salisbury.

The work is expected to take several days, while police appeal for witnesses who were in and around the city centre on Sunday afternoon to come forward.

Mr Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a bench in The Maltings shopping centre at around 4.15pm.

They had eaten at a nearby Zizzi restaurant and gone for a drink at The Mill pub, with both establishments still cordoned off.

Chemical weapons experts told The Independent that the nerve agent could have been administered in a variety of ways, including in their food or drink, and in the form of a spray or liquid.

Sarin has been used globally in both liquid and gas forms, while the even stronger nerve agent VX – developed in the British military’s secretive Porton Down facility – was used to assassinate Kim Jong-un’s brother last year.

Dr Jennifer Cole, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, said anyone manufacturing nerve agents needs advanced chemical knowledge and some form of laboratory.

“With something that dangerous you need to know exactly what you’re doing, particularly so that you don’t get it on yourself,” she told The Independent.

“It wouldn’t be difficult to manufacture in the UK – it wouldn’t have to be imported.”

Dr Cole said that when nerve agents are absorbed through the skin or inhaled, they are very fast-acting.

“The fact that there doesn’t seem to have been anyone with them when they collapsed could point to it being ingested - the need to digest would slow the reaction and give whoever administered it chance to get away,” she added.

Antidotes do exist to several nerve agents but their effectiveness relies on them being administered immediately to counteract their rapid effect on the nervous system.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in