After counter-terror police confirmed that two people who had collapsed in Amesbury, Wiltshire over the weekend had been poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has announced that he will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee, Cobr.
In a statement released a few minutes ago, Javid said:
‘The Amesbury investigation is ongoing and the police must be given the space they need to continue establishing the full facts.
‘My thoughts at this time are with the two individuals affected. The Government’s first priority is for the safety of the residents in the local area but as Public Health England has made clear, the risk to the general public is low.’
The working theory is currently that this exposure was accidental, rather than a second attack along the lines of that on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury earlier this year. However, it raises serious questions about how the latest two victims were exposed to the chemical. Neil Basu, the Assistant Commissioner for counter terrorism, said in a statement this evening that it wasn’t clear whether this Novichok was from the same batch:
‘I appreciate that there will be a great deal of speculation as to whether this incident is linked to the events in Salisbury in March.
‘I would add that the complex investigation into the attempted murders of Yulia and Sergei remains ongoing and detectives continue to sift through and assess all the available evidence and are following every possible lead to identify those responsible, for what remains a reckless and barbaric act.
‘However, I must say that we are not in a position to say whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skripals were exposed to. The possibility that the two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of enquiry for us.’
Nevertheless, the possible accidental exposure of two people to Novichok will raise some very serious political questions. It may re-ignite the row over the provenance of the agent used in the Salisbury attack, for instance. It is difficult to see how this incident won’t gain political baggage very quickly indeed.