Military commander who led Salisbury decontamination team ‘felt no fear’

By Laura Parnaby, PA

The military officer in charge of decontaminating Salisbury following the Novichok attack said he felt “no fear” when faced with the deadly nerve agent.

Group Captain Jason Davies, of the Royal Air Force, was presented with an OBE by the Prince of Wales on Thursday for leading the military’s response to the attack in March 2018.

As the the commanding officer of the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Task Force, Mr Davies, 48, was responsible ensuring the removal of the deadly nerve agent, destroying contaminated objects and making the city safe, two weeks after the attack.

After the investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, where Mr Davies was commended for his leadership, he told the PA news agency: “It was very new and novel to us. We are trained to operate in a battlefield, not downtown Salisbury.

“The risk to your life and other people is always there. But there was no fear.

Personnel in hazmat suits work to secure a tent covering a bench in the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found critically ill (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“We spend a lot of time looking at the risk, and the risk of fatality in a road traffic accident was higher than one of my team dying.

“We had that much faith in the system that there was no fear.”

Former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury after they were exposed to the nerve agent on March 4 2018.

Four days later, a Wiltshire police officer, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, fell ill and was in hospital for two weeks.

In June that year in Amesbury, eight miles from Salisbury, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley fell critically ill after handling a perfume bottle believed to have been used to transport the chemical weapon.

Ms Sturgess, 44, never recovered and died a month later, while Mr Rowley, 45, has said he continues to suffer from the long-term effects of exposure to the nerve agent.

Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service deemed the evidence sufficient to charge two Russians, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with offences including conspiracy to murder over the attack.

Then-prime minister Theresa May said the UK believed the pair to be agents from the GRU military intelligence service – a claim which Russian leader Vladimir Putin denied.

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov on CCTV in Salisbury (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Meanwhile, Mr Davies and his team of more than 100 investigators were working in Salisbury to contain the deadly poison every day.

Mr Davies, from north Wales said: “It was like trying to find invisible ink. You can’t see it, you can’t smell it, you don’t know where it is.

“You have to go on statistics and laboratory testing and sampling.

“You add all of that together and you can start to work it out.”

He added: “We knew there was one ground-zero – the home Sergei Skripal visited with Yulia at the time.

“When there was a fatality in Amesbury – Dawn Sturgess, this was really quite pivotal.

“It meant the contamination spread was far wider than we thought. This was a new ball game.

“It really hits home the risk to life for the guys who had been exposed on a daily basis. The risk to my personnel hit home.”

The Skripal house being decontaminated in Salisbury (PA)

When asked what his thoughts on the investigation are now, he said: “The amazing thing about defence is that we are trained to make sure that we can turn our skills to whatever we may face, when such a ridiculous incident happens.

“You still pinch yourself to think: did we really do that – did that really happen on British soil?”

On receiving an OBE for his work, he said: “It’s a tremendous honour. I’m only one part of the team, but being part of the team was an honour.”

Mr Davies added that the Prince of Wales apologised for the delay in awarding him the honour.

He said: “He apologised that it’s taken so long. We met when we were in Salisbury doing the job. He remembered, which is amazing.”

Mr Davies received his honour alongside Major Nicola Wetherill, who received an MBE for leading the first all-female team to cross Antarctica using muscle power alone, Lady Helen Hamlyn, who received a CBE for her services to charity, and Bryan Appleyard, who received a CBE for services to journalism and the arts.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting.