'Why would I believe them?' Salisbury residents doubt government response as Wiltshire town hit by second novichok poisoning

‘I understand they’re in the dark, but it would be helpful to have a little more information’

Tom Embury-Dennis
Thursday 05 July 2018 19:38
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Amesbury couple were exposed to nerve agent novichok

As the world’s media descended again on what was once “sleepy Salisbury”, residents have been left feeling a mixture of bewilderment and anger at the latest poisoning incident to afflict the town.

Still a bustling, lively place, schoolchildren excitedly discuss their hometown’s new-found fame, pointing out TV news crews and journalists prowling its pretty streets. But for the adults, not enough is being done by authorities to end what some say has turned into a charade.

Opposite Queen Elizabeth Gardens, the park where two Britons are suspected of having come into contact with a deadly nerve agent, one resident is being forced to live next to a 24-hour police guard and endless lengths of blue and white police tape.

Sarah Denvir, a retired civil servant, told The Independent locals were “a bit in the dark” over the latest incident, which has left Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess in a critical condition at Salisbury District Hospital.

Of the government’s attempts to advice locals about keeping safe, she said medical advice she had received was “not very helpful”.

“The chief medical officer said we should wash our clothes and our hands, well, obviously we do that anyway so it doesn’t really tell us anymore about it. I understand they’re in the dark, but it would be helpful to have a little more information. I don’t think Public Heath England’s advice to wash your clothes is very helpful at all.”

The British government has continued to blame Russia for the “barbaric and inhumane” use of novichok, which left former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia fighting for their lives four months ago.

Sarah Denvir

But in Salisbury town centre, locals expressed deep concern about public safety now the novichok connection was proven, given authorities had declared the area safe following the March attack.

Tracy, a sales assistant at Timber Treasures, a little independent store selling carved wooden gifts, said the government had given out “very little information”.

“They can say it’s low risk, but why would I believe them?” she said. “They said that everything was sorted, they said everything was cleaned up, but now they’re saying it’s very low risk, they don’t know that.”

'Major incident' declared after couple 'exposed to unknown substance'in Wiltshire town of Amesbury

“If this poison stuff does not break down and lives forever, where else is it?” she continued, adding: “I’m not saying it’s going to rule my life… but I might be more wary of where I go and what I touch.”

Jane Kadiev, who was sitting on a park bench opposite to the one where Mr Skripal and his daughter collapsed, accused the government of “scaremongering”, branding the official response to events an overreaction.

One sales assistant at a chocolate shop said the public were “never going to be told the real truth”. “Personally I think someone flew into England with her,” she said, referring to Yulia Skripal and offering a theory about the perpetrator’s identity.

Others were a little more sanguine, though still unimpressed by the government response.

Richard Flood, a 66-year-old former teacher, said he was “not in the slightest worried” over the latest poisoning, even as he looked over a deserted and quite possibly contaminated Queen Elizabeth Gardens.

“I just think it’s a complete overreaction, everyone keeping their arses covered, and that’s it. The money that’s wasted… terrible.”

“Let’s just have a bit of backbone and take a bit of risk,” he added. “They’re [Public Health England] just scared of being sued, aren’t they?”

Another local said it was more of an “inconvenience” for his dog than it was for him, as he would no longer be able to take him through the park and down to the river. “I don’t really know the facts of it, but my own feeling is that it’s a bit over the top really,” he added.

Over in little Amesbury, a 20-minute drive from Salisbury and the town where Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess were found collapsed in their home, one resident, who wished to remain anonymous said it was all “a bit unnerving”.

“It’s got bigger, and you’re expecting the people to walk about like everything’s normal? No, it is a bit scary because you don’t know what’s going down.

Richard Flood

“We thought as far as the Salisbury incident… that was it, now it’s exposed it all over again.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Outside Zizzi’s, the Italian restaurant still closed over fears of contamination, two South African tourists told The Independent they had come to Salisbury because of the Skripal poisoning.

“We wanted to take photos of the area where Skripal was found on the bench,” one said, adding disappointedly the bench itself had now been removed.

“I’m only here because of that, to be fair, in a morbid sort of way,” the other added, laughing.

And were they worried about now spending more time in the town? “I think it’s a one-off,” the first said. “A two-off maybe...”

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