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Sleepy cul-de-sac house that became Britain’s biggest crime scene

Police are investigating whether former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned at home before being found unconscious in a city centre.

It emerged yesterday that the policeman left seriously ill after being exposed to a nerve agent following the attack had visited Mr Skripal’s house – after trying to help him at the scene where he was found collapsed.

As the inquiry into the suspected Kremlin-back assassination attempt entered its seventh day: 

  • Investigators in hazmat suits descended on the cemetery in Salisbury where the body of Mr Skripal’s wife is buried and his son’s ashes are interred, and removed flowers and trinkets from the graves. 
  • More than 180 troops arrived in the cathedral city to help with decontamination.
  • Detectives seized CCTV thought to show Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia minutes before they were found on Sunday. 
  • Sources said one line of inquiry is that the poison was delivered through the post to the former spy’s home.

Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter, 33, who remained in a critical condition in hospital last night, had visited the cemetery in London Road, Salisbury, on the day they were found to lay flowers.

Yesterday officers in hazmat suits were seen placing a blue forensic tent over his son Alexander’s memorial stone and cordoning off his wife Liudmila’s grave.

Police search teams were also seen taking large blue evidence bags from the cemetery and placing them in airtight buckets.

It is understood they were removing flowers and trinkets, including a small toy dog, left at their graves. Officers guarded the cemetery while investigators in protective gear carried out the work. Mrs Skripal’s body was not exhumed, but detectives have not ruled out removing it for forensic tests at a later stage.

Her death certificate says she died of cancer in 2012. Their son is believed to have died of liver failure while on holiday in Russia last year aged only 43.

More than 180 troops descended on Salisbury yesterday to help at the numerous crime scenes in the city. A convoy of military vehicles rolled into the car park at Salisbury District Hospital to recover a police car which may have been contaminated.

Investigations also continued at the Zizzi Italian restaurant and a pub where Mr Skripal and his daughter ate and drank on the day of the attack, and at his house on the outskirts of the city.

A close relative of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, 38, who fell ill after rushing to the scene, said that as well as tending to the victims on the bench where they were found, he was also among the first to enter Mr Skripal’s home a few miles away after the attack.

She said: ‘He was at both places. First he was where they collapsed, trying to help them, then he went to the house, in that order.’

Lord Blair, who was Scotland Yard Commissioner when Russian Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London in 2006, suggested that the house could be at the centre of the inquiry.

‘Clearly what they’re trying to find out at the moment is how was this delivered personally. There are some indications,’ he said.

Hazmat protected officers investigate at the graveside of the wife and son of former spy Serge Skripal in Salisbury following his poisoning

Hazmat protected officers investigate at the graveside of the wife and son of former spy Serge Skripal in Salisbury following his poisoning

‘The officer has actually been to the house, whereas there’s a doctor who looked after the patients in the open who hasn’t been affected at all.’

Mr Skripal’s four-bedroom semi in a quiet cul-de-sac in Salisbury was surrounded by emergency vehicles yesterday. Aerial photographs showed police scouring every inch of the property, with forensic tents erected over his driveway and two areas of his back garden. A fourth police tent had been set up on the road.

A fleet of ambulances, police cars and unmarked vans also surrounded the property. Detectives were seen carrying blue boxes marked ‘Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear – Scene kit’.

Officers have recovered Mr Skripal’s maroon BMW from a police car pound, and taken away the blue Mercedes people carrier used to collect his daughter from an airport on Saturday. The search, recovery and decontamination operation is now one of the largest since the 7/7 London terrorist attacks in July 2005.

Troops from the RAF Regiment, Royal Marine commandos and specialist chemical teams from the Army were deployed to Salisbury yesterday as the hunt for clues to pinpoint a suspect ramped up.

They were asked by police to step in so they could help remove contaminated vehicles and objects from numerous locations across the city. It is understood the troops were asked to help move ambulances contaminated at the scene.

Any evidence found by the troops will be taken to the Ministry of Defence’s laboratory at nearby Porton Down to be assessed.

Father and daughter pictured on CCTV only moments before collapse

New CCTV images revealed yesterday appear to show Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia walking past a Salisbury cafe at 4.08pm on Sunday moments before they were found collapsed. Ten minutes later the same camera shows an ambulance speeding down the street in response to an emergency call.

Sleepy cul-de-sac house that became Britain's biggest crime scene

Sleepy cul-de-sac house that became Britain's biggest crime scene

Police advised the public not to be alarmed by the sight of military vehicles, saying their expertise was necessary for the complex probe.

The circumstances of the attack, and its echoes of the fatal poisoning of Mr Litvinenko, have prompted questions over the Government’s response if the evidence points to a state-sponsored assassination plot. Moscow has repeatedly denied it had anything to do with the attack, as it did when Mr Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in his cup of tea.

A public inquiry a decade later concluded that the Kremlin ordered his assassination, with the assent of President Putin.

Yesterday Salisbury MP John Glen said Britain could not have ‘silent assassins working outside the law, going around our country attempting to murder people’. Home Secretary Amber Rudd will chair a second meeting of the Cobra emergency committee today with ministers and security chiefs.

Ministers will be updated on developments after the investigation moved at a ‘fast pace’. Whitehall sources said they were closer to establishing what happened.

Miss Rudd, who visited Salisbury yesterday, said police officers who rushed to help the stricken spy said the scene ‘didn’t feel quite right’. But she said their suspicions ‘didn’t stop them for a minute’ from fighting to save the lives of Mr Skripal and his daughter.

Mr Skripal, who passed secrets to Britain while working for Russian intelligence, was jailed in his home country in 2006 but came to the UK in 2010 in a spy-swap deal.

n MPs are urging Theresa May to ban Vladimir Putin’s cronies from coming to Britain and buying properties by backing changes to a Bill aimed at stamping out corruption.

A cross-party group, led by former Tory minister Andrew Mitchell, are pressuring the Government to beef up a British version of America’s Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets and bans the visas of human rights violators. 

Spy looked unsteady on feet as he drank in pub 

by Claire Duffin and Inderdeep Bains 

The poisoned Russian spy was unsteady on his feet in a pub less than an hour before he was found collapsed, a witness has revealed.

Sergei Skripal went for a drink with his daughter at 3pm at The Mill in Salisbury after eating at a Zizzi Italian restaurant.

In the pub, they ordered two glasses of wine before Mr Skripal went to use the toilet. The witness, who did not want to be named, said that when he returned he appeared as if he was drunk.

He said Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia then left immediately without finishing their drinks.

‘I didn’t really notice them when they came in,’ he said. ‘They got their drinks from the bar and sat down. After a short time the man went to use the toilet. They are upstairs. I noticed him when he came back down as he wasn’t walking properly.

‘He looked like he was drunk. I thought the staff might have to ask him to leave.

‘He came back to the table and didn’t sit down, he and the woman just left straight away.

‘It was strange, but it makes you wonder now if the poison was starting to take effect then.’ Mr Skripal and Yulia were found in a ‘catatonic’ state on a bench around the corner from the pub just after 4pm, and rushed to hospital.

They are understood to have arrived in the city centre at around 1.30pm on Sunday. They had lunch at Zizzi, sharing garlic bread followed by a seafood risotto each. They then went to the Mill, which was sealed off by police on Monday.

The pub appears to have been a favourite venue of the close-knit family, who were said to visit regularly. One photograph taken there shows Mr Skripal – wearing a checked shirt and a denim waistcoat – sitting on the mezzanine level of the two-storey pub enjoying a beer.

Another shows his son Alexander, who died last year aged 43, sitting outside drinking a pint. The pictures are believed to have been taken around two years ago.