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Gavin vows justice after Salisbury poisoning suspects are revealed to be Russian spies

By Pete Madeley | Politics | Published:

Gavin Williamson has vowed to 'bring to justice' the two Russian military intelligence officers accused of carrying out the Novichok nerve agent attack.

Police and prosecutors announced they have enough evidence to charge the men – named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – over the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March.

In a statement to the Commons, Theresa May said investigations had concluded that the two suspects are members of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence service.

Defence Secretary Mr Williamson, the MP for South Staffordshire, said: "This proves our consistent warnings of Russia's threat and intent to use deadly force in a democracy.

"This is another act of blatant Moscow aggression. We will do our upmost to bring suspects to justice."

The attack left a trail of the deadly nerve agent around Salisbury, with mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, 44, dying after she came into contact with the chemical months later in nearby Amesbury.

Mrs Sturgess's partner Charlie Rowley, 48, and police officer Nick Bailey were hospitalised as a result of the incident, which prosecutors confirmed is linked to the attacks on the Skripals.

CCTV images released by the police show the two agents entering Britain at Gatwick, wandering around Salisbury on the day of the attack, and leaving the UK at Heathrow Airport just hours after the Skripals were found collapsed in a park.

Prosecutors confirmed they will not be applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men, as no agreement exists between the countries.

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However, a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained in case either of the pair are ever spotted outside of Russia.

The Prime Minister described the GRU as a 'highly-disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command'.

"So this was not a rogue operation," she added. "It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state."

Detectives believe it is likely the agents, thought to be aged around 40, travelled under aliases and that Petrov and Boshirov are not their real names.

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Prosecutors also revealed the men are wanted for conspiracy to murder Mr Skripal and the attempted murder of his daughter.

If caught, they will also be charged with the attempted murder of DS Bailey and the use of Novichok contrary to the Chemical Weapons Act.

Russian authorities have denied all knowledge of the two men, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova insisting: "The names published by the media, like their photographs, mean nothing to us."

Detectives believe the front door of Mr Skripal's Salisbury home was contaminated with Novichok on March 4.

Police said CCTV shows the two suspects in the vicinity of the property on that date.

Hours later, the men left the UK on a flight from Heathrow to Moscow – two days after they had arrived at Gatwick.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said: "We have no evidence that they re-entered the UK after that date."

Police also released an image of a perfume bottle they believe was used by the would-be assassins to transport the Novichok. It is thought that Ms Sturgess found the bottle and put the substance on her wrists.

The charges announced on Wednesday relate to the first incident, but Mr Basu said officers are continuing to liaise with the CPS regarding the poisoning of Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn condemned the attacks and said: "We will back any further reasonable and effective actions, whether against Russia as a state or the GRU as an organisation.

"I would encourage the Prime Minister to seek the widest possible European and international consensus for this to maximise its impact."

But former foreign secretary Boris Johnson attacked Mr Corbyn's response to the developments.

He told MPs: "I think the whole House will have noted what I'm afraid was the somewhat weaselly language of the leader of the Opposition in failing to condemn what is now, I think, incontrovertible, in the eyes of all right-thinking people, involvement of the Russian state at the highest level in the Salisbury poisonings."

Conservative MP Bob Seely, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee who recently authored a report on Russian warfare, said: "We shouldn't be under any illusion that naming the suspects will bring them to justice.

"We also should understand that the order to conduct this murder probably came from only one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin."

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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