Home Secretary: With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement regarding the events that have been unfolding in Amesbury and Salisbury.
This morning, I chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee COBR covering the ongoing investigation in Amesbury.
I have been separately briefed by the Security Services and the counter terrorism police.
As many of you will now know, a 45 year old man and a 44 year old woman were found to be unwell at a property at Muggleton Road in Amesbury on Saturday.
Both are British citizens.
Paramedics attended the scene and admitted the pair to the A&E department at Salisbury District Hospital.
Here they were treated for exposure to an unknown substance.
Further testing by expert scientists in chemical warfare at the Porton Down laboratory confirmed this to be the nerve agent of the type known as Novichok.
This has been identified as the same nerve agent that contaminated both Yulia and Sergei Skripal.
The pair are currently in a critical condition and I’m sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing them a swift and full recovery.
I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the emergency services and staff at the Salisbury District Hospital for their tireless professionalism and for the dedicated way they are providing it. I understand that there will be some concerns about what this means for public safety. In particular, I recognise that some local Wiltshire residents will be feeling very anxious. Let me reassure you that public safety is of paramount importance.
Public Health England’s latest assessment is that based on the number of casualties affected, there is no significant risk to the wider public. Their advice is informed by scientists and the police as the facts evolve.
Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, has confirmed that the risk to the public remains low and has asked that the public follow the advice of Public Health England and the police.
She has also advised that people who have visited the areas that have been recently cordoned off should wash their clothes and wipe down any items they may have been carrying at the time. She has also urged people not to pick up any unknown or already dangerous objects such as needles or syringes. This is not new advice and it follows on from what was said in March.
We have a well-established response to these types of incidents and clear processes to follow.
All the sites that have been decontaminated following the attempted murders of Sergei and Yulia Skripal are safe.
All sites which have been reopened have undergone vigorous testing and any items that may have harboured residual amounts of the agent were safely removed for disposal.
We have taken a very robust approach to decontamination and there is no evidence that either the man or the woman in hospital, visited any of the places that were visited by the Skripals.
Our strong working assumption is that the couple came into contact with the nerve agent in a different location to the sites which have been part of the original clean-up operation.
The police have also set up two dedicated phone numbers for anyone with concerns relating to this incident.
Salisbury District Hospital remains open as usual and is advising people to attend routine appointments unless they are contacted and told otherwise. We are taking this incident incredibly seriously and are working around the clock to discover precisely what has happened, where and why.
Be assured that we have world-leading scientists, intelligence officers and police on the case. Local residents can expect to see an increased police presence in and around Amesbury and Salisbury. All six sites that were visited by the pair before they collapsed have been cordoned off and are being securely guarded as a precaution.
An investigation has started to work out how these two individuals came into contact with the nerve agent. Around 100 detectives from the Counter Terrorism Policing Network are working to support this investigation, alongside colleagues from Wiltshire Police.
Obviously this incident will invoke memories of the reckless murder attempts of Sergei and Yulia Skripal earlier this year. This is the leading line of enquiry.
However, we must not jump to conclusions and we must give the police the space and time to carry out their investigations. The police’s work will take time.
But we are ready to respond as and when new evidence comes to light and the situation becomes clearer.
Following the events in Salisbury earlier this year, we rapidly worked with international partners at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to confirm our identification of the nerve agent used.
Through a process of extensive, impartial testing and analysis, our findings were confirmed correct beyond doubt. The use of chemical weapons – anywhere – is barbaric and inhumane.
The decision taken by the Russian government to deploy these in Salisbury on March 4 was reckless and callous. There is no plausible alternative explanation to explain the events in March other than that the Russian state was responsible.
And we acted accordingly.
The British government and the international community immediately and robustly condemned this inhuman action. In light of this attack, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats from our shores. And we were joined by 28 of our closest international allies in this action – from the United States to Ukraine – who expelled over 150 of the Russian-state’s diplomats.
We have already seen multiple explanations from state-sponsored Russian media regarding this latest incident. We can anticipate further disinformation from the Kremlin, as we saw following the attack in Salisbury. And as we did before, we will be consulting with our international partners and allies following these latest developments.
The eyes of the world are currently on Russia, not least because of the World Cup.
It is now time that the Russian state comes forward and explains exactly what has gone on so that the most appropriate course of action can be taken. Let me be clear, we do not have a quarrel with the Russian people.
Rather, it is the actions of the Russian government that continue to undermine our security and that of the international community.
We will stand up to actions that threaten our security and the security of our partners. It is completely unacceptable for our people to be either deliberate or accidental targets. Or for our streets, our parks or our towns to be dumping grounds for poison. We will continue our investigations as a matter of urgency, and I will keep the House and the public updated on any significant developments.
I commend this statement to the House.