Salisbury attack: Police officer poisoned with novichok felt like ‘life was being taken away slowly’

Nick Bailey unknowingly touched door handle covered with nerve agent while investigating Sergei Skripal case

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Tuesday 28 September 2021 21:07 BST
Nick Bailey survived the attack after touching Sergei Skripal’s poisoned front door handle
Nick Bailey survived the attack after touching Sergei Skripal’s poisoned front door handle

A police officer who was poisoned as a result of the Salisbury attack has said he felt like his “life was being taken away slowly” as he battled the nerve agent in hospital.

Nick Bailey was a detective sergeant in Wiltshire Police when former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was targeted in March 2018.

Speaking at a summit in London, he described how his day had started “very normally” when he overheard radio chatter about two people found slumped on a bench.

“I thought ‘I‘m a bit bored with what I’m doing, so I’ll walk down to see what’s going on’.” Mr Bailey recalled.

“At this stage we didn’t know what had happened to them, it could have been alcohol or drug related, or a medical emergency. We had no idea.”

The investigation led to Mr Skripal’s house, where the former officer unknowingly touched the front door handle still covered in novichok allegedly left by Russian GRU agents.

It left a forensic latex glove he was wearing “saturated” in the substance, but it had not yet been identified by officials.

Mr Bailey said that as symptoms of nerve agent poisoning set in over the coming hours, he was still in the dark.

“I remember feeling very tired, feeling quite sweaty,” he recalled. “I noticed my pupils were like pinpricks, they were really small, but I just put it down to being incredibly stressed and tired.”

The day after the poisoning, Mr Bailey went to hospital for a check-up because he felt unwell, but was told that his vital statistics were fine and sent home.

But after he went to bed “everything changed”, he said, and he started having nightmares and hallucinations including a “tsunami of fire” engulfing his skin.

Mr Bailey returned to hospital on 6 March, after his vision became impaired and he started vomiting, and was told that blood tests found nerve agent in his system.

Russian spy Denis Sergeev accused of attempted murder over Salisbury novichok attack

He was taken into the intensive care unit, where the Skripals were in comas, and given the antidote but started to worsen.

“I couldn’t comprehend that this had happened, that I had been poisoned with a nerve agent,” he told the Global Counter Terror Summit. “It was like something out of a movie, it was just too ridiculous to get my head around … I was terrified, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Mr Bailey said he thought he was going to die at points, adding: “It wasn’t necessarily painful, it just felt like your life was being taken from you slowly, it was horrible.”

The officer was treated for two-and-a-half weeks in hospital, and Mr Skripal and his daughter also survived.

Months later, in June 2018, a local man unknowingly picked up a counterfeit perfume bottle containing novichok and gave it to his partner.

Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother, died after applying it to her skin. A judge has asked the home secretary to establish a public inquiry to fully examine the circumstances of her death and the wider attack.

Last week, the Metropolitan Police announced charges against a third Russian GRU agent accused of involvement in the poisoning. But the suspects are thought to remain in Russia, and the Kremlin denies involvement.

Mr Bailey said he had been targeted by conspiracy theorists, including some who accused him of being the person who poisoned Mr Skripal.

He added: “in a way they really hurt, because people couldn’t accept that I was just a normal copper doing my job and it just happened to me. People couldn’t accept that so in the absence of facts they could accept, they made up their own.”

Mr Bailey told how one of Mr Skripal’s neighbours had a narrow escape, after police stopped her from entering his house and touching the door handle hours after the attack.

Officers had obtained his name and address from his wallet on 4 March 2018, and wanted to check whether anyone else needed medical attention at Mr Skripal’s home.

Mr Bailey said that investigators asked one of his neighbours, who had a door key because she sometimes fed the cat, to go in with a police escort as they had no other lawful means of entry.

“Whilst I was chatting with my colleagues about our plan one of my colleagues said ‘sarge you’re going to need to come to see this’,” he recalled. “She had googled Sergei Skripal’s name and it came up with reams of information.”

Mr Bailey quickly read that Mr Skripal was a former double agent who had been sent to the UK in a spy swap, and stopped the neighbour going into his house.

“We called the officer who was about to go into the house with the neighbour and said ‘just don’t do it, something’s not right about this at all’,” he added.

“I reflect quite a lot on that decision we made. I think about the neighbour going in and unlocking the door and holding the handle and walking in. I think about what could have happened to her if that chain of events that led to us stopping her had happened literally two minutes later, because they were just about to go in.”

Mr Bailey has left the police service since the attack, which he said had caused mental health issues including trauma and depression.

The former officer said policing had been his “dream job” since childhood, but that he struggled with the loss of anonymity and privacy, as well as his family home and belongings that were destroyed for safety reasons.

In May, lawyers lodged a High Court case on his behalf making claims against Wiltshire Police for injuries and financial loss.

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