Couple exposed to 'mystery substance' near Skripal poisoning site critically ill

A couple are in a critical condition after being exposed to a mystery substance in a town near Stonehenge.

The pair, in their 40s, are believe to have attended a church event hours before they were found unconscious in a property in Muggleton Road, Amesbury, Wiltshire, on Saturday.

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.

Wiltshire Police initially thought that the couple had taken contaminated crack cocaine or heroin, but then decided to carry out further tests. Investigators say it is not yet clear if they were the victims of a crime.

The force declared a major incident on Wednesday.

A Government source said: "Senior Whitehall officials are being kept informed of what is going on on the ground as we seek to establish the facts of this case. No definitive conclusions have yet been established."

Amesbury Baptist Centre
Amesbury Baptist Centre (Yui Mok/PA)

The man and woman from Amesbury are in a critical condition in Salisbury District Hospital. It is believed that one of the last places the couple were seen in public was a family fun day at Amesbury Baptist Church on Saturday afternoon.

The church is one of a number of locations in Amesbury and Salisbury which has been cordoned off by police.

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

"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 praying for the couple. One of our members knows them and clearly there are concerns for them and any others in the community.

"They are not church members or regulars."

Mr Collins said around 200 people attended the event, including many families and children, but "nobody else has suffered any ill effects".

Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury
A police cordon at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury (PA)

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 described seeing police cars, fire engines and people in "green suits" on Saturday night.

"We saw everything," the 17-year-old, who lives near the cordoned-off flat, said. "We were just eating our dinner and all these emergency vehicles turned up.

Public Health England's @PHE_uk advice is currently: "Based upon the number of casualties affected, is that it is not believed that there is a significant health risk to the wider public. This will be continually assessed as further information becomes known."

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

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

Ms Edwards 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, and we just assumed the worst," she said.

"I am not sure how long they were in there but we couldn't get out of the house for two and a half hours."

A support unit from Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service was brought 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".

The flats at Muggleton Road
Inquiries into the incident are continuing (Rod Minchin/PA)

Justin Doughty, who lives opposite the police cordon, said residents wanted more information from the police about what was happening.

"We don't know to be honest now, because is it linked to Salisbury or is it drug-related?" he said.

"None of us is being told anything by the police and it would be nice to know something.

"We would have thought the police would have been more forthcoming and keep us in the loop."

Salisbury District Hospital 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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