20 Jul 2018

UK minister dismisses report on Skripal poisoners as 'wild speculation'

8:34 am on 20 July 2018

Britain's security minister has dismissed a report that police have identified several Russians who were behind the poisoning of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal as "wild speculation".

Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal at a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in 2006.

Sergei Skripal at a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in 2006. Photo: AFP

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain's MI6 foreign spy service, and his daughter Yulia, were found unconscious on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury on 4 March.

Britain blamed Russia for the poisonings and identified the poison as Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.

The UK's Press Association report said police had analysed closed-circuit television and believed several Russians were involved in the attack on the Skripals.

"Investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack," the unidentified source close to the investigation said, according to PA.

"They (the investigators) are sure they (the suspects) are Russian," said the source, adding security camera images had been cross checked with records of people who entered the country.

UK Minister of State for Security, Ben Wallace, rejected the report.

"I think this story belongs in the 'ill informed and wild speculation folder'" Ben Wallace said on Twitter.

A police spokesman declined to comment on the story.

The Skripals spent weeks in hospital before being taken to a secret location.

Yulia Skripal in London on 23 May.

Yulia Skripal in London on 23 May. Photo: AFP

'Suspects left UK'

CNN is also reporting that police have identified two suspects in the poisoning.

The pair left the UK in the wake of the attack on what is believed to have been a commercial flight, a source told the US broadcaster.

After the attack on the Skripals, allies in Europe and the United States sided with Britain's view of the attack and ordered the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

Russia retaliated by expelling Western diplomats. Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement and accused the British intelligence agencies of staging the attack to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.

Since then, a British woman, Dawn Sturgess, died this month after coming across a small bottle containing Novichok near Salisbury where the Skripals were struck down. Her partner, Charlie Rowley, was also stricken and is still in hospital.

The motive for attacking Mr Skripal, then aged 66 who was exchanged in a Kremlin-approved spy swap in 2010, is still unclear, as is the motive for using an exotic nerve agent which has such clear links to Russia'ss Soviet past.

The nerve agent attack put the Skripals into a coma, though after weeks in intensive care they have made a partial recovery and have been spirited away to a secret location for their safety.

- Reuters / CNN