Counter-terror police investigating after British nationals exposed to substance

PA

Counter-terrorism police are investigating after a couple were left in a critical condition when they were exposed to a mystery substance.

Officers were called to a home in Muggleton Road, Amesbury, Wiltshire, on Saturday morning when the 44-year-old woman collapsed. They were called back later that day when the man, 45, also fell ill.

It is around eight miles from where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a nerve agent in March, but it is not thought that the individuals are linked in any way to Russia or to the Skripals.

A meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee took place at official level on Wednesday morning to discuss the events and a second meeting was taking place that evening to update senior Whitehall officials.

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A Downing Street spokesman said: "This is an incident which understandably is being treated with the utmost seriousness.

"Ministers and the Prime Minister are being kept updated and there was a meeting this morning of officials to receive updates on the facts of the situation."

Wiltshire Police initially thought that the couple had taken contaminated crack cocaine or heroin, but then decided to carry out further tests and on Wednesday declared a major incident.

It is understood that tests are being carried out on the substance at the Government chemical weapons research laboratory at Porton Down.

Both are British nationals from Wiltshire and remain in a critical condition, Wiltshire Police deputy chief constable Paul Mills told a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

He was still unable to confirm whether a crime had been committed and said detectives are keeping an "open mind".

Cordons remained in place in areas the pair were known to frequent in Amesbury and in Salisbury, including Queen Elizabeth Gardens and Amesbury Baptist Centre where it is believed they were last seen in public at a family fun day on Saturday.

Police cordon at Queen Elizabeth Gardens
Police cordon at Queen Elizabeth Gardens

The Metropolitan Police, which leads the national counter-terrorism network, said it is assisting in the case "given the recent events in Salisbury".

Amesbury Baptist Centre secretary Roy Collins said the pair were among 200 who attended the Saturday event and they were not regulars.

"Last weekend we held a community fundraiser and we understand this may well be the last event this couple went to in public," he said.

"We are all quite puzzled and shocked - naturally the connection with Salisbury and recent events there mean there is a heightened public interest."

We are very aware of the public interest in this investigation and the concern it is understandably causing within our communities. #Amesbury

-- Wiltshire Police (@wiltshirepolice) July 4, 2018

Public Health England (PHE) said it did not believe there to be a "significant health risk" to the wider public, although its advice was being reviewed.

The address where the couple were found is on a new housing development on the southern edge of the town, which lies close to Stonehenge.

Neighbours living near the scene were keen to find out more about what had happened to the couple.

College student Chloe Edwards, 17, described seeing police cars, fire engines and people in "green suits" on Saturday night.

"We were just eating our dinner and all these emergency vehicles turned up," she said.

"They were putting on these green suits and we thought it was the gas as our electricity was turned off as well."

She said the vehicles arrived at about 7pm and she and her family were told to stay inside their home until about 10pm.

"We wanted to know what happened and, with the Russian attack happening not long ago ... we just assumed the worst," she said.

A support unit from Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service went to the scene on Saturday, but the Swindon crew tweeted on Sunday that the incident "wasn't serious and our decontamination shower wasn't required".

Salisbury District Hospital, where the man and woman from Amesbury are being treated, is "open as usual" and officials advised people to attend routine appointments unless they are contacted to do otherwise.

Mr Skripal, 67, and his 33-year-old daughter were left in a critical condition after they were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre on March 4.

They spent weeks in Salisbury District Hospital, where they underwent treatment for suspected exposure to the Russian-created nerve agent Novichok.

The British Government has accused Russia of being behind the attack on Mr Skripal, who settled in the UK after a spy swap.

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