'Any of us could have been poisoned': Salisbury residents outraged at 'slow' response to Russian spy attack

‘It’s the way the world is going at the moment. The world is a scary place’

Jon Sharman
Tuesday 13 March 2018 15:50 GMT
Salisbury city centre visibly quieter days after Russian spy attack

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Salisbury residents have described their anger at the use of a military-grade chemical weapon in the city, and expressed their frustration at the slow pace of guidance from the Government in the aftermath of the attack.

Police cordons remain in place following the attack, in which former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the deadly Novichok nerve agent.

A week after news of the attack first broke, Theresa May pointed the finger at the Kremlin, telling MPs that Russia had either sanctioned the attack or lost control of its weapons.

Vince Maynard, 76, a former soldier from Barford St Martin, a village outside Salisbury, said Ms May’s announcement in the Commons had been “a bit of a surprise – they could’ve come out a bit sooner”.

Police have said a total of 38 people had been treated for some degree of exposure to the nerve agent, but health authorities warned on Sunday that “hundreds more” should take precautions against prolonged exposure by washing their clothes, prompting concern at the response time.

Mr Maynard expressed outrage at the use of the lethal poison in a public place. “What about the people who were in that restaurant and used the table after those people? Were the ambulances used again? The contamination could have spread quite a long way.”

“Any of us” could have been poisoned, he added.

Residents are trying to get on with life as normal in Salisbury: ‘You just avoid the cordoned areas’
Residents are trying to get on with life as normal in Salisbury: ‘You just avoid the cordoned areas’ (Jon Sharman)

Jean Davies, a former Salisbury resident in town to celebrate her birthday, said the attack on the Skripals was carried out with “very little concern for bystanders – that bit makes me angry”.

“They’ve had very little thought,” she added. The fact Mr Skripal’s daughter, 33, was also targeted further angered her, she said.

Her husband Dave added: “It just brings home the fact that there are baddies out there.”

A market trader who asked not to be named said of Public Health England’s warning: “They took so long to say that. It was about a week on, they said to wash your clothes.”

He said he believed the drip feed of information had led to uncertainty about whether it was safe to come to the city and had kept people away, particularly older people.

Those who lived some way outside Salisbury had visited his stall at a different market in Christchurch rather than come here, he added.

Despite the air of concern, as Tuesday morning wound on and the sky brightened, the market began to fill up, with fruit and vegetable sellers serving a stream of people. A varied set of stalls included bric-a-brac, DVDs and video games, butcher’s trucks and a bakery.

Almost the whole city centre is now open for business, and traffic – pedestrian and motorised – is flowing as usual. Reports of a city teeming with soldiers and police do not reflect reality, shoppers said. A few Metropolitan Police officers drafted up from London wandered through the market square and were thanked for their presence.

Police officers drafted in from London have been thanked for their presence
Police officers drafted in from London have been thanked for their presence (Jon Sharman)

One woman said she was getting on with life as normal: “We were here on the Saturday the day before it happened, and we were here on the Tuesday. You just avoid it [the cordoned areas] ~ you don’t want to tread anything about.”

But she added: “I think it’s terrible that they can come over here and poison him. I don’t like the idea of it. The trouble is you don’t know who’s about.”

A second stallholder said: “It’s awful, but it’s not surprising. It’s the way the world is going at the moment. The world is a scary place.”

Residents said they were unsurprised Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had dismissed the Prime Minister’s accusation the Kremlin was behind the attack.

Mr Lavrov said Russia was willing to cooperate with the UK investigation, but required evidence and documents that had not been provided.

The UK ambassador was also reportedly summoned in Moscow, as the hours ticked away to the deadline set by Ms May for the Kremlin to explain how Novichok came to be used on British soil.

One woman, visiting Salisbury with her mother and young baby, told The Independent: “At the end of the day they’re going to deny it was them. We don’t know if it was or not.”

A man in Café Nero added: “The reason they’re not going to accept responsibility, even if they were responsible, is because they’re then putting themselves in a difficult position.” But, he admitted, it “does disturb me”.

Brett Smith-Daniels, 21, busking in Salisbury with his younger brother Blake, said he thought Mr Skripal should have been afforded more protection.

He said: “For me it’s very sad that if he was helping our Government, it’s disgraceful that they weren’t protecting him. His daughter as well. It’s tragic.”

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