Express & Star comment: Remembering the nerve agent attack on UK soil

A nerve agent attack on the streets of Britain. It sounds like something from a thriller set in the Cold War, but three years ago it was reality.

Members of the emergency services arrive at the house in Muggleton Road in Amesbury, Wiltshire, where counter-terrorism officers are investigating after a couple were left in a critical condition when they were exposed to the nerve agent Novichok.
Members of the emergency services arrive at the house in Muggleton Road in Amesbury, Wiltshire, where counter-terrorism officers are investigating after a couple were left in a critical condition when they were exposed to the nerve agent Novichok.

A former Russian double agent and his daughter were found slumped on a park bench in Salisbury. The more that was discovered in the hours that followed, the greater the levels of alarm, until this became a full blown emergency and the name of a deadly nerve agent called Novichok entered the public consciousness.

As nobody has ever been brought to book over the assassination attempt – the prime suspects are two Russian security agents who escaped from Britain and later claimed they were only in Salisbury to visit the cathedral – the full story is yet to be told, together with the extent of Russian state involvement, although there is no real doubt that it had all the hallmarks of an state-sanctioned operation with Putin's fingerprints all over it.

With it came the depressing realisation that Putin's Russia is a borderline rogue state, and that he did these things because he could, and did not care about the reaction of the West. Unfortunately it was not, and is not, an isolated incident, although other murderous attacks have used different methods.

Novichok is not a natural substance. It is a man-made weapon. The impact of a tiny amount, and let us not forget that others were also affected and Dawn Sturgess became an unintended fatality several months later, demonstrates the potential for mass deaths.

Salisbury had an early taste of lockdown and thorough decontamination was needed amid an atmosphere of fear.

Today humanity is fighting the natural scourge of coronavirus which despite its awful toll hardly compares, as some can be infected and unaffected, and far more people survive than do not. And the scientists are working tirelessly to turn the tide and have developed successful vaccines.

Those scientists are working for the good of all. At the opposite end of the moral spectrum there are those of evil intent. Apparently you can find out how to make chemical weapons on the internet.

Coronavirus is a terrible plague, but will not destroy all life on Earth. Only humans have the capability to do that.

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