Dramatic new pictures today reveal how police officers put their lives at risk as they responded to the nerve agent poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter.
They also show members of the public strolling in a Salisbury park unaware that a suspected assassination attempt using a “very rare” toxic substance had just been carried out, potentially putting them in mortal danger.
An officer believed to have been stricken by the poison was today conscious and talking in hospital, raising hopes that he will be able to provide vital clues about the targeting of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd voiced anger at the “outrageous crime” as hundreds of police were involved in the hunt for the perpetrators.
“The use of a nerve agent on UK soil is a brazen and reckless act,” she told the Commons. “This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way.”
Ms Rudd sought to reassure the public that they were not believed to have been put at significant risk by the poisoning in The Maltings area of the Wiltshire city. She said: “The Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies, has said that the risk to them is low.”
She added that the hospitalised officer was “engaging with, talking to, people”, adding: “He is not in intensive care, but it’s a serious situation.”
Salisbury MP John Glen, a Treasury minister, said: “I pay tribute to the vital and dedicated work of Wiltshire Police officers and the way they have supported the community at this bewildering time.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the officer currently hospitalised... we wish him and his family well.”
Mr Skripal and his daughter were still fighting for their lives today at Salisbury district hospital.
As the Evening Standard revealed yesterday, they were poisoned with a “very rare” substance, which points towards state involvement as it was likely to have been manufactured in a laboratory.
Amid increasing claims that Russian security forces may have been involved — strongly denied by the Russian Embassy in London — two Cabinet ministers stressed that once the culprit had been identified, strong action would follow.
Ms Rudd said: “There is nothing soft about the UK’s response to any sort of state activity in this country.” Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said that Britain would not be “pushed around” by Russia or other countries and that action would be taken to ensure “Britain continues to be a safe place to live”.
However, Yury Filatov, the Russian ambassador to Ireland, said the case showed that Britain could not protect people harboured in its lands, but added there was no evidence of Russian involvement.
He told the BBC: “My own conclusion would be that for some reason the British territories are very dangerous for certain types of people who are under the jurisdiction of the British Government.”
There were calls today for the Government to expel dozens of diplomats if a link between the Kremlin and the poisoning is proven.
Former minister Nick Boles said: “If the police conclude that the attempted assassination of two Russians on British soil... were carried out on the orders of any arm of the Russian state, our diplomatic ties with Russia must be downgraded.”