What started as news of a man and woman being found unconscious on a park bench 12 days ago is escalating into an international incident.
Sergei Skripal had worked as a double agent for British Intelligence MI6 before he was discovered and imprisoned in Russia in 2006. He was later flown to England as part of a spy-swap in 2010. On Sunday 4th March he was discovered along with his 33 year old daughter Yulia close to a shopping centre in Salisbury.
Since then the story has become increasingly bizarre. A policeman who was first to attend the scene also became critically ill and remains in hospital. Government scientists at Porton Down have confirmed that the cause is a Russian military-grade nerve agent Novichok. Yulia had recently returned from a trip to Russia and investigators are investigating whether something belonging to her had been impregnated with the toxin before she returned to the UK.
Cars, ambulances, a restaurant, a bar, houses even a recovery truck have been cordoned off for decontamination by hundreds of specially trained troops on British streets. It is the first known deployment of such a weapon in Europe since WWII.
Putin remains defiant and is denying all responsibility. The response from other Russian officials has been sarcasm and contempt. Britain has ordered 23 Russian 'diplomats' to leave the UK within 7 days.
Russia has form in this area but it is astonishing that even ex-KGB thug Putin could be so irresponsible. This incident has potential to escalate.