- Around 180 troops have been deployed to Salisbury to aid with poisoned spy probe
- A huge military convoy has also been spotted in the city, shocking residents
- Police have also cordoned off the graves of Sergei Skripal’s late wife and son
- Home Secretary Amber Rudd to chair meeting of government’s emergency Cobra committee tomorrow
- Skripal and his daughter Julia remain in a “critical condition”
- Hospitalised police officer Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey is also in a ‘serious but stable’ condition
The investigation into the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia has moved into a new phase, with a huge military convoy and around 180 troops deployed to the streets of Salisbury.
Locals have spoken of their shock after specially-trained military personnel arrived this afternoon to help counter-terror police “remove a number of vehicles and objects” from the city centre, much of which has been cordoned off over contamination fears.
“It’s mad,” one bystander said while watching Army lorries, unmarked white vans, police motorbikes and ambulances drive down a ramp to the entrance of the A&E unit at Salisbury District Hospital.
The purpose of the operation was understood to be to remove a police car, which had been parked outside the A&E unit behind a police cordon.
Reports from the scene suggested men dressed in white hazmat suits examined the vehicle before it was towed away from the hospital covered by a tarpaulin on the back of an Army truck.
“They tell us there’s nothing to worry about, but then take all this precaution,” said bystander Ashley Thompson, 44.
Another local compared the scene in Salisbury to “living in an X-Files movie”, posting a video of the military convoy to Twitter.
The reaction comes as it was revealed Amber Rudd will lead a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee tomorrow (Saturday) about the suspected nerve attack on British soil.
Meanwhile, a police cordon has been put up at the entrance to the city’s London Road cemetery.
Fire officers in hazmat suits were seen pinning a blue forensic tent over the memorial stone of Skripal’s son Alexander – who was cremated last year – while other officers in white suits and gas masks were seen packing items from the cemetery into a yellow barrel.
The grave of Skripal’s wife Liudmila, who was buried in 2012, has also been partially covered with a blue and yellow tent.
John Glen, the MP for Salisbury, said the attempted assassination of Skripal and his daughter had been “deeply shocking” for the city’s residents, calling it an “unprecedented occurrence in our country’s history”.
“It is understandably worrying for local people to see locations in the city sealed off all week, and emergency service workers requiring treatment at the hospital,” he wrote on Facebook.
“As the immediate shock and concern regarding the incident recede and we reflect on what has happened, I suspect that these feelings we hold will give way to a genuine anger at the audacity of what has taken place within our city.”
But the Tory MP warned against a rushed response to the incident.
“Now is the time for cool heads and a rational examination of the facts,” Glen wrote.
“Once these are established, then and only then, will an appropriate and proportionate course of action be taken.”
Earlier today, Home Secretary Rudd confirmed that Skripal – a retired Russian military intelligence colonel – is in a “very serious” condition in hospital following the nerve agent attack, but that he is “conversing and engaging”.
Speaking during a visit to Salisbury, Rudd described the incident as “outrageous”.
Skripal was sentenced to 13 years in prison in Russia in 2006 after being accused of spying for Britain.
He was later released as one of four prisoners Moscow swapped for spies in the US in 2010.
The 66-year-old and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a park bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday following the attack.
In a statement, Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, said: “A man in his 60s and a women in her 30s remain in a critical, but stable condition in intensive care after being exposed to a nerve agent.”
A second man, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, was also hospitalised following the attack.
The police officer, who was first on the scene, is now “conscious in a serious but stable condition”, according to medical professionals.
Acting Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police, Kier Pritchard, who visited DS Bailey at Salisbury District Hospital, said the officer was “well-loved”.
Pritchard updated the total number of people being treated as a result of the poisoning, confirming 21 people in total had been affected.
A Sky News source claimed police are now working on the theory the Skripals may have been poisoned at their home. The pair had been found on Sunday close to a Zizzi restaurant, where they had dined earlier that evening.
On Friday, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Blair backed calls made by Labour chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee Yvette Cooper, who said the government should investigate 14 other suspicious deaths on UK soil.
Speaking to the BBC, Lord Blair said: “I am certainly of a view that this extraordinary attack in Salisbury is … as Yvette Cooper has said, let’s have a good look at this again and see whether there is some pattern here of people who go out jogging and fall dead, and who are found dead in their house in Surrey, and so on.
“There has got to be something here that at least is worth looking at.”
Speaking later Rudd added that the government would “wait until we’re absolutely clear what the consequences could be and what the actual source of this nerve agent has been” before deciding how to respond to the incident.
A Downing Street spokesman declined to comment on what sanctions might be taken against Russia if it was shown to be responsible for the Salisbury attack.
The spokesman said: “As both the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have said, if a state actor is found to be responsible, there will be an appropriate response.
“But the investigation by the police and authorities to establish the full facts is ongoing.
“We will take any necessary actions, but we need to ensure the police have the space to carry out the investigation.”
Russia has denied any involvement in the incident and has accused the press of publishing anti-Russian rhetoric.
The Russian embassy tweeted: “Investigation of Sergei Skripal case follows the Litvinenko script: most info to be classified, Russia to get no access to investigation files and no opportunity to assess its credibility.”
A British public inquiry found the killing of Alexander Litvinenko had probably been approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin and carried out by two Russians, Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoy.
Lugovoy is a former KGB bodyguard who later became a member of the Russian parliament.
Both denied responsibility and Russia has refused to extradite them.