British police make appeal over spy attack as Russia deadline nears

Coveney says attack on Skripals ‘cowardly’ but his statement does not mention Russia

British prime minister Theresa May says former Russian double-agent Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. Video: Parliament TV


Police made a fresh plea on Tuesday for information about last week’s poisoning of a Russian spy and his daughter as a deadline approached for Moscow to explain how a deadly nerve agent was deployed in the attack. Britain’s National Security Council (NSC) will meet on Wednesday morning to consider what action Theresa May’s government should take in response to the incident.

Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism policing Neil Basu appealed for anyone who saw a red BMW carrying Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in the hours before they fell ill. He said the investigation, which will take “many weeks”, is focused on establishing how the nerve agent was administered.

“We are exploring all investigative avenues. This includes extensive CCTV footage from across the city and over 380 exhibits so far,” he said.

“It is a painstaking operation to identify anyone of interest and eliminate them or include them, but at this stage we are not declaring person of interest or a suspect at this time.”

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Tuesday condemned the attack in Salisbury and expressed concern at the use of chemical weapons, although he did not name Russia as the culprit.

“The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic weapons, is unacceptable and abhorrent. The incident in Salisbury represents a disturbing violation of international law and goes against norms which have long been established. We join many states in supporting the UK’s efforts to ensure a thorough investigation so that the perpetrators of this crime can be held accountable,” he said.

Trump response

US president Donald Trump said he would condemn Russia if it was found to be responsible for the attack. “It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding as fact,” he said.

“As soon as we get the facts straight and we are going to be speaking with the British today, we’re speaking with Theresa May today, and as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”

After a phone call between Ms May and Mr Trump, a Downing Street spokesperson said the president had offered his support

“President Trump said the US was with the UK all the way, agreeing that the Russian Government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used,” the spokesperson said.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson expressed satisfaction at the level of solidarity shown by Britain’s allies since Ms May said on Monday that it was highly likely that Russia was to blame for the attack. The prime minister spoke with German chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, a day after she spoke with French president Emmanuel Macron.

“They discussed the pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour and agreed it would be important to act in unison with allies to counter it. Chancellor Merkel condemned the attack and said she stood in full solidarity with the UK. They agreed that the international community should coordinate closely as the investigation developed and in the wake of Russia’s response,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, called on EU leaders to agree countermeasures against Russia at next week’s summit in Brussels.