Wednesday 29 January 2020

'Package has been delivered' message after UK poisoning

Yulia Skripal spent weeks in intensive care after poisoning. Photo: Reuters
Yulia Skripal spent weeks in intensive care after poisoning. Photo: Reuters

Martin Evans

Russian agents responsible for the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury sent a coded message to Moscow which included the phrase "the package has been delivered", it was claimed last night.

A British intelligence listening station in Cyprus allegedly picked up the message shortly after Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, and Yulia, his daughter, were attacked in March.

The coded dispatch helped cement suspicions that it was the Russian state behind the attempted assassination, before counter-terrorism police using facial recognition technology and CCTV images were able to identify those responsible. It is believed the perpetrators flew back to Russia shortly after carrying out the attack, travelling to London from Salisbury by train.

Police are now exploring the theory that the assassins discarded a glass bottle containing traces of Novichok in Queen Elizabeth Gardens next to the railway station in Salisbury.

The bottle was found three months later by local couple Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, who mistook it for perfume.

Ms Sturgess (44) died. An inquest into her death was opened in Salisbury yesterday, with her body released for a funeral. It was adjourned until January. Mr Rowley (45) remains in hospital.

After the attack on the Skripals, allies in Europe and the United States ordered the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

Russia retaliated by expelling Western diplomats. Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement and accused the British intelligence agencies of staging the attack to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.

Sources close to the investigation have insisted the British authorities now have the names of those behind the poisonings. But the prime minister's deputy official spokesman would not confirm whether the information had been presented to the Russians.

Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry spokesman, said Moscow has not been officially informed of the identities of the alleged suspects.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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