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UK spy nerve agent row: Diners told to wash clothing

Former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter have been critical in hospital since March 4, when they were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury.

world Updated: Mar 11, 2018 19:57 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Police officers stand in front of a cordon in front the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury on March 11, 2018.
Police officers stand in front of a cordon in front the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury on March 11, 2018.(AFP)

Anyone who went to a restaurant in Salisbury where the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia dined last Sunday have been told to wash their clothes and possessions.

Public health officials issued a precautionary advice to the public on Sunday, as military experts in chemical and biological warfare joined one of the largest investigations in Britain into the suspected poisoning of Skripal and Yulia, widely attributed to elements in Russia, but denied by Kremlin.

As traces of a nerve agent were reportedly found in the English town, health officials mentioned the Zizzi restaurant as well as The Mill pub in Salisbury, where the Skripals went, and advised people who visited the two establishments on March 4 and 5 to undertake action, such as washing or dry-cleaning the clothes they wore, wiping their phones, and washing jewellery with detergents.

The advisory leaflet says: “While there is no immediate health risk to anyone who may have been in either of these locations, it is possible, but unlikely, that any of the substance which has come into contact with clothing or belongings could still be present in minute amounts and therefore contaminate your skin.

“Over time, repeated skin contact with contaminated items may pose a small risk to health. This risk can be removed by taking the actions we are explaining in this leaflet”.

Paul Cosford, director of health protection at Public Health England said: “All known first responders have been contacted through their organisations and encouraged to seek further advice should they experience any symptoms. The sites recently visited by the two people affected have all been secured and PHE is reminding local clinicians of the symptoms to look out for.”

Sites of investigations include Skripal’s home and the cemetery where his wife and son are buried. Over 250 personnel are involved in the investigation, which has reportedly yielded 200 pieces of evidence so far and more than 240 witnesses.

Marina Litvinenko, widow of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed by poisoning in London in 2006, told BBC on Sunday that Skripal’s case needed to be properly investigated before blame can be apportioned but it would appear lessons from her husband’s death had not been learned.

Skripal, a retired Russian military intelligence officer, was convicted by the Russian government of passing secrets to British intelligence agency MI6 in 2004, but was given refuge in the UK in 2010 as part of a “spy swap”.