Pranksters have draped a huge Russian flag over scaffolding at Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday nearly a year on from the Novichok attack in the city.
The stunt has caused outrage from locals, after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok on March 4 last year.
The two men believed to have carried out the attack, Russian nationals Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, claimed they were only in Salisbury in March last year to visit the town’s cathedral.
Workmen were spotted removing the flag on Sunday morning.
Pranksters have draped a huge Russian flag over scaffolding at Salisbury Cathedral nearly a year on from the Novichok attack in the city
Jo Broom, Conservative councillor for the St Martin’s and Cathedral Ward, said: ‘My initial reaction was just one of shock and sadness that someone would choose to do this at any time, but particularly as we’re leading up to the first anniversary of the incident and the city is very much trying to be positive.
‘Residents will just be very upset, it’s just a little bit of a slap in the face.’
Salisbury MP John Glen said: ‘Thankfully it has been removed now – what a stupid stunt – mocking the serious events sadly experienced in Salisbury last year.
The Dean of Salisbury, the Very Reverend Nicholas Papadopulos chimed in, commenting it ‘was a remarkably stupid thing to do’.
The two men believed to have carried out the attack claimed they were only in Salisbury in March last year to visit the town’s cathedral
‘[It] makes light of the huge personal tragedies involved, and the damage done to the city by the unprecedented nerve agent attacks on Salisbury last year.’
A Wiltshire Police spokeswoman said inquiries are ongoing, but that it was not a police matter at this stage.
The incident comes while Mr Skripal is being treated by doctors amid fears he may never fully recover from the Novichok attack, reports claim.
Mr Skripal, 67, has reportedly suffered a deterioration in his health and is under close medical supervision at his home.
‘His health has got worse and he’s been receiving medical care at his home,’ a well-informed intelligence source told the Sunday Times.
‘No one has any idea of what will happen to him because there’s very little that’s known about the impact the nerve agent will have in the long run’.
Sergei Skripal (pictured with his daughter Yulia) has suffered a deterioration in his health and is under close medical supervision at his home, a well-informed intelligence source said
Mr Skripal was poisoned in Salisbury last year alongside his daughter Yulia, 33, when he came into contact with the nerve agent Novichok.
The pair were rushed to Salisbury District Hospital in a critical condition – but were discharged in April and May.
Toxicology experts said there is no way of predicting the long-term effects of Novichok – but studies into other nerve agents have revealed issues with memory loss and muscle functionality.
Wayne Carter, an associate professor at Nottingham University, said: ‘The agent itself would essentially likely be metabolised and removed, but the fingerprints of its effect could be long standing.’
Two Russian nationals have been accused of travelling to the UK to try to murder Mr Skripal with Novichok (Pictured left Ruslan Boshirov and right Alexander Petrov)
Mr Skripal’s current condition is not considered critical, reports said.
A source for Scotland Yard, who is familiar with the case, added that there is ‘no doubt’ Mr Skripal will be receiving medical care for ‘some time’.
Yulia, who appeared in a video interview after the attack, is said to be in good health.
Mr Skripal has not been seen in public since the failed assassination attempt.
His niece, Viktoria Skripal, claimed in January that British authorities may have covered up Mr Skripal’s death in an attempt to make Russia look bad.
But the Metropolitan Police confirmed at the time that her uncle is still alive.
The Novichok poisoning claimed the life of Dawn Sturgess, 44, who fell ill in Amesbury months after the incident.
The Novichok poisoning claimed the life of Dawn Sturgess (pictured left with Charlie Rowley right) who fell ill in Amesbury months after the incident
She died in hospital in July after coming into contact with a perfume bottle believed to have been used in the attack on the Skripals and then discarded.
Her partner, Charlie Rowley, 45, was also exposed to the same nerve agent but was treated and discharged.
A counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle – which Ms Sturgess handled – is thought to have contained the substance.
Three Russian nationals have been linked to the assassination attempt on Mr Skripal and his daughter.
Evidence gathered by intelligence agencies led the Government to conclude that the three men were officers from the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU.
Two suspects – known by their aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – were caught on CCTV in Salisbury the day before the attack.
A third suspect was unmasked as high-ranking Russian spy Denis Sergeev earlier this week.
The Kremlin denies being behind the attack.