Incident in Salisbury - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 8th March 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 12:30 pm, 8th March 2018

My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the incident in Salisbury that has been unfolding over the last four days. First, I would like to pay testament to the continued professionalism, dedication and courage of the emergency services. They have handled this incident with their customary attentiveness, alacrity and sense of public duty. We rely on their response to keep us safe. In doing so, first responders put themselves in dangerous situations on a day-to-day basis. This incident has underlined that fact, which I will sadly return to later.

I will now update the House as far as is possible based on the current facts of the case. At approximately 4.15 on Sunday afternoon, Wiltshire Police received a call from a member of the public who was concerned for the welfare of two people in a park in Salisbury. Emergency services were called and the two were admitted to the A&E department of Salisbury District Hospital. They were a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s with no visible signs of injury. They are understood to be Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Both remain unconscious and in a critical condition.

I regret to inform the House that a police officer has also fallen seriously ill. The officer was one of the first responders on Sunday, acting selflessly to help others. Officers from Wiltshire Police are providing support to the officer’s family and colleagues.

Our thoughts are with all three victims, their families and friends, at what for them will be an incredibly difficult time.

Wiltshire Police began an investigation on Sunday to determine how the individuals fell ill and whether a crime had been committed. They declared a major incident on Monday. On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Police decided that, given the unusual circumstances, responsibility for the investigation should transfer to the counterterrorism police network. Samples from the victims have been tested by experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, who are world-renowned experts in this field.

As Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley announced yesterday, that forensic analysis has revealed the presence of a nerve agent, and the incident is therefore being treated as attempted murder. I can confirm that it is highly likely that the police officer has been exposed to the same nerve agent.

We remain in the midst of a fast-paced criminal investigation, and I will not comment further on the nature of the nerve agent. We must give the police the space they need to conduct a thorough investigation. All Members will recognise that an investigation such as this will be complex and could take some time.

Public safety continues to be the number one priority for the Government. Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, stated yesterday that, based on the evidence we have, there is a low risk to public health. The UK has a world-leading emergency response. It is regularly tested and exercised to ensure we can deliver an effective response to a wide range of chemical, biological and radiological incidents. The three emergency services are well supplied with state-of-the-art equipment to respond to such threats.

The front-line response is supported by world-class scientific research and advice. This ensures that decision-making on the ground, by all agencies involved, is firmly based on the available evidence. This will also support the decontamination activity needed to return the location to normality. The police are working closely with Public Health England, Defra and Dstl. They have cordoned all known sites in Salisbury that were visited by the two initial victims before they became unwell and are taking the necessary measures to protect public safety.

I want to turn to the speculation, of which there has been much, around who was responsible for this most outrageous crime. The use of a nerve agent on UK soil is a brazen and reckless act. This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way. People are right to want to know who to hold to account but, if we are to be rigorous in this investigation, we must avoid speculation and allow the police to carry out their investigation. As the Assistant Commissioner said yesterday, the investigation now involves hundreds of officers following every possible lead to find those responsible. Some of the leads have come from members of the public. I thank the people of Salisbury for their help and for the calm they have shown over the last four days. I encourage anyone who visited Salisbury town centre and surrounding areas on Sunday afternoon, and who has not yet spoken to the police, to get in touch.

We are committed to doing all we can to bring the perpetrators to justice, whoever they are and wherever they may be. The investigation is moving at pace and this Government will act without hesitation as the facts become clearer. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear on Tuesday, we will respond in a robust and appropriate manner once we ascertain who was responsible.

I would like to close where I began—by expressing my sincere thanks to the emergency services and hospital staff for their tireless efforts over the last four days. They have acted with utter professionalism to minimise the risk to the wider public and care for victims of this attack, for which I know we are all grateful. Our thoughts will be with the victims in the coming days. Finally, I thank Members for their understanding that there will clearly be limits on what we can say as the investigation continues. As and when information can be made public, it will be. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.