Wiltshire police chief ‘was unaware ex-spy Sergei Skripal lived in Salisbury’

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The police chief whose officers responded to the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal has admitted he had no idea the former spy was living in Salisbury.

Kier Pritchard, chief constable of Wiltshire, has demanded he be told of any other VIPs who could be at risk.

The poisoning happened a year ago, hours before Mr Pritchard began his first day in the job as head of Britain’s smallest police force.

He told me: “I had no prior knowledge at all, this is a governmental issue, in terms of where former spies would be housed. Why would I know? No. I had no previous knowledge at all.”

It’s a core duty of police to protect the public. That includes spies such as Mr Skripal who was poisoned with his daughter Yulia when suspected Russian military intelligence officers sprayed novichok on the front door handle of his home a year ago.

Mr Pritchard said: “As soon as I am aware of people and there is information and intelligence then I will do all that I can to protect the people in our community. It is a fundamental duty of my office as a constable, I can only know what I know. There was clearly a decision made not to inform the force and not to inform the chief constable and I respect that decision.

He added, with apparent understatement: “I have certainly made it clear that it would be helpful to be aware if there are persons of public prominence who may face risk, that it would be helpful for chief constables to be aware of that information.”

The Russian former double agent and his daughter were left critically ill after the attack, but recovered and are now under police protection in hiding.

Sergeant Nick Bailey, a police officer sent to Mr Skripal’s home to investigate, was also contaminated and although he is back at work, he is still recovering. He is training to run the Salisbury marathon to raise funds for the hospital which saved his life.

The chief constable said: “Nick is making great progress in terms of any physical health. Psychological impact are ones that Nick has been really open about and that is going to take a long time for him and his family.

“We aren’t yet clear and nobody can be clear on the long-term implications but we are doing everything we can to do what we can for Nick and his family.”

Around 100 other police officers, more than 10% of the Wiltshire force, reported trauma concerns. Some were first responders, others guarded suspected contaminated sites around the city and elsewhere. Some are still being treated for emotional issues.

Four months after the attack mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess died from novichok poisoning after her partner Charlie Rowley found a contaminated bottle discarded by the attackers. Mr Rowley is recovering from being poisoned.

Police can’t rule out the possibility that there may be another discarded, contaminated container and Public Health England continues to warn the public not to pick up anything suspicious.

Mr Pritchard said: “I would like to say to you I am 100% confident. We have had no further reports of any concern or illness, so I can only be as confident as to say that presents a positive picture but the impact, the concerns and the deep seated worries of people are still there.

“But we need to look at one year on, this county, the partners, the support we had has enabled this story to get to a position where we can look to the future and this is how we return with our partners to a position of complete normality and this just becomes part of the history book of this area.

“It’s been one of the highest profile, fast-paced running events and incidents that this country has experienced. It dominated world headlines for weeks and weeks and weeks. So I recognised on day one the enormity of what we were going to be dealing with and I needed to bring talented experts around me.

“I needed to make sure we had the full partnership available, the response with the right people, the right skills and experience to come together to deal with something that was so unique and real, we didn’t have the plan on the shelf that we could pull off and follow the A-Z manual.

“We had to trust in our experience and the advice we were being given and build beyond those relationships that we had already formed. So it felt unique, it felt huge but I am hugely proud of the way my officers and my staff at all levels dealt with this incident.”

The government named two Russian military intelligence officers as suspects for the poisoning. They deny involvement and so, too, does President Vladimir Putin. Scotland Yard said it had enough evidence to charge the men, but if they stay in Russia they are beyond the reach of UK justice.

The chief constable said: “Of course all of us would like to see those individuals and any of their associates brought to justice for the crimes that they committed and the devastation they caused. Will we see that day? We will hope for that.

“It is hugely frustrating, the amount of work that has been done to get us to this point, I think the government have been resilient in their approach in saying here’s the European arrest warrant, here are our plans in terms of the charges and it’s been very clear in terms of the approach that will be taken.”

(c) Sky News 2019: Wiltshire police chief ‘was unaware ex-spy Sergei Skripal lived in Salisbury’

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