Salisbury has been declared decontaminated of novichok after a year-long military clean-up operation following the Sergei Skripal nerve agent attack.
Government environmental experts today handed back the former Russian spy’s former house following the clean up of 11 other potentially infected sites.
Military teams have spent 13,000 hours on the clean-up after Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia were targeted with the nerve agent on March 4, 2018 and left seriously ill.
They took 5,000 test samples from across Salisbury and nearby Amesbury, where Dawn Sturgess, 44, was fatally poisoned in July, during the 355-day operation.
Following a year-long clean-up campaign, Salisbury has now been declared clean of the Russian nerve agent novichok, which was used in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter
The Skripals’ house, in Christie Miller Road, was handed from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) back to Wiltshire Council today.
Brigadier David Southall said: The incredibly complex decontamination work carried out by the Armed Forces over the past twelve months, in collaboration with their multi-agency partners, reflects the expertise, courage and selfless commitment of our Servicemen and women in getting the job done and done well.
‘The handover of the site at Christie Miller Road effectively now concludes the significant military contribution to support Salisbury and Amesbury following the novichok nerve agent attack on 4 March 2018.
Along with the house, the sites include the park bench where the Skripals were found collapsed, the Zizzi restaurant where they had dined beforehand, and the home of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who was exposed to the agent.
Lt Gen Urch, commander home command and standing joint commander, said it had been ‘the longest running’ operation of its kind on British soil.
He said: ‘Novichok is probably one of the most dangerous and most challenging chemicals in existence today and you don’t need very much of it and it’s highly spreadable.’
The most severely contaminated site was Skripal’s home in a suburban Salisbury street. It is pictured in March last year, shortly after the Skripal’s collapsed, before investigators realised how badly it was contaminated
Experts have now erected scaffolding around the building as they carefully dismantle it
An estimated 600-800 specially trained military personnel, including the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment, were involved in the clean-up, named Operation Morlop.
Around 190 worked at any one time and there were 250 ‘deliberate operations’ to cross into and decontaminate danger areas.
A senior military source said the Skripal house was the ‘most complex’ but each decontamination effort was ‘bespoke’ to the site.
Other sites were Salisbury and Amesbury ambulance stations, Bourne Hill police station, Ashley Wood vehicle recovery yard and The Mill pub.
Ms Sturgess fell ill and died after coming into contact with a perfume bottle believed to have been used in the attack on the Skripals and then discarded.
Police are hunting two Russian GRU agents, named as Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, over the chemical weapons attack
Her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, was also exposed to the nerve agent but was treated and discharged.
Mr Rowley’s home, a Boots pharmacy branch and Amesbury Baptist Church were also among the 12 sites.
In January, the roof of the Skripals’ house and garage were dismantled then removed and disposed of.
The novichok was hidden inside this fake perfume bottle
The roof was removed because the extent of the search ‘potentially spread the agent into every nook and cranny’, the source said.
Lt Gen Urch said ambulances used in the initial response also had to be decontaminated during the ‘slow, deliberate and detailed operation’.
Special dressing zones were set up near the Novichok ‘hotspots’ where teams changed into special respirator suits which included equipment not normally used by the military, the general said.
‘I think our military personnel have demonstrated genuine courage,’ he said.
‘This is something which young girls and boys crossing the hot zone have never done before in their lives and it’s been an amazing demonstration of physical and mental courage.’
He said the attack, believed to have been orchestrated by Russia’s secret service, was a ‘despicable act’, repeating a comment made by the Prime Minister in the aftermath.
Teams involved in the clean-up will be ‘recognised in due course for their courage’, Lt Gen Urch added.
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey and Charlie Rowley were also poisoned by the nerve agent
Timeline of the Salisbury attack
2010 – Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer jailed for spying for Britain, is released and flown to the UK as part of a swap with Russian agents caught in the United States. He settles in Salisbury.
March 3 – Yulia Skripal arrives at Heathrow Airport from Russia to visit her father in England.
March 4, 9.15am – Sergei Skripal’s burgundy BMW is seen in suburban Salisbury, near a cemetery, where his wife and son are commemorated.
March 4, 1.30pm – The BMW is seen driving toward central Salisbury.
March 4, 1.40pm – The BMW is parked at a lot in central Salisbury.
March 4, afternoon – Sergei and Yulia Skripal visit the Bishops Mill pub.
March 4, 2.20pm to 3.35pm – Sergei and Yulia Skripal have lunch at the Zizzi restaurant.
March 4, 4.15pm – Emergency services are called by a passer-by concerned about a man and a woman in Salisbury city centre.
Officers find the Skripals unconscious on a bench. They are taken to Salisbury District Hospital, where they remain in critical condition.
GRU agents Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin are shown smiling in Salisbury on the day they unleashed the novichok chemical weapon
March 5, morning – Police say two people in Salisbury are being treated for suspected exposure to an unknown substance.
March 5, afternoon – Wiltshire Police, along with Public Health England, declare a ‘major incident’
March 7 – Police announce that the Skripals were likely poisoned with a nerve agent in a targeted murder attempt.
They disclose that a police officer who responded to the incident is in serious condition in a hospital.
March 8 – Home Secretary Amber Rudd describes the use of a nerve agent on UK soil was a ‘brazen and reckless act’ of attempted murder
March 9 – About 180 troops trained in chemical warfare and decontamination are deployed to Salisbury to help with the police investigation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow might be willing to assist with the investigation but expresses resentment at suggestions the Kremlin was behind the attack.
March 11 – Public health officials tell people who visited the Zizzi restaurant or Bishops Mill pub in Salisbury on the day of the attack or the next day to wash their clothes as a precaution.
March 12, morning– Prime Minister Theresa May tells the House of Commons that the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
March 12, afternoon – Public Health England ask everyone who visited Salisbury town centre on the day of the attack to wash all of their clothes and belongings.
A bench where the Skripals collapsed became the focus of the investigation
March 14 – The PM announces the expulsion of 23 suspected Russian spies from the country’s UK Embassy.
March 22 – Nick Bailey, the police officer injured in the attack, is released from hospital.
March 26 – The United States and 22 other countries join Britain in expelling scores of Russian spies from capitals across the globe.
March 29 – Doctors say Yulia Skripal is ‘improving rapidly’ in hospital.
‘Unknown time in the spring’ – Dutch authorities expelled two suspected Russian spies who tried to hack into a Swiss laboratory
April 3 – The chief of the Porton Down defence laboratory said it could not verify the ‘precise source’ of the nerve agent.
April 5, morning – Yulia Skripal’s cousin Viktoria says she has received a call from Yulia saying she plans to leave hospital soon.
April 5, afternoon – A statement on behalf of Yulia is released by Metropolitan Police, in which she says her strength is ‘growing daily’ and that ‘daddy is fine’.
April 9 – Ms Skripal is released from hospital and moved to a secure location.
May 18 – Sergei Skripal is released from hospital 11 weeks after he was poisoned.
June 30 – Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley fall ill at a property in Amesbury, which is eight miles from Salisbury, and are rushed to hospital.
July 4 – Police declare a major incident after Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley are exposed to an ‘unknown substance’, later revealed to be Novichok.
July 5 – Sajid Javid demands an explanation over the two poisonings as he accuses the Russian state of using Britain as a ‘dumping ground for poison’.
July 8 – Mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, 44, dies in hospital due to coming into contact with Novichok.
July 10 – Mr Rowley regains consciousness at hospital, and later tells his brother that Dawn had sprayed the Novichok onto her wrists.
July 19 – Police are believed to have identified the perpetrators of the attack.
August 20 – Charlie Rowley is rushed to hospital as he starts to lose his sight, but doctors can’t confirm whether it has anything to do with the poisoning.
August 26 – Charlie Rowley admitted to intensive care unit with meningitis
August 28 – Police call in the ‘super recognisers’ in bid to track down the poisoners
September 4 – Charlie Rowley’s brother says he has ‘lost all hope’ and doesn’t have long to live.
Independent investigators, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, confirm the toxic chemical that killed Ms Sturgess was the same nerve agent as that which poisoned the Skripals.
September 5 – Scotland Yard and CPS announce enough evidence to charge Russian nationals Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov for conspiracy to murder over Salisbury nerve agent attack.
September 13 – Britain’s most wanted men speak to RT and claim to be humble tourists
September 26 – The real identity of one of the two assassins, named by police as Ruslan Boshirov, is reported to be Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga.
October 9 – The real identity of the second assassin, who used the name Alexander Petrov, is revealed to be Alexander Mishkin, a military doctor working for Russian intelligence.
March 1 – Salisbury is declared decontaminated.