Is there a continuing clear and present danger?

by Philip Ingram MBE

As support from around the world grows for Prime Minister Teresa Mays stance on what she refers to as the “unlawful use of force” by the Russians on UK soil, with the poisoning of the former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey on the streets of Salisbury using a “military grade nerve agent” Novichok, questions remain.

We must not fall into the trap of thinking the casualties are in the hospital, a few Russian spies are being ejected and the Royals are missing the world cup, job done. The job is far from done and the threat remains.  To coin a phrase from a novelist who could have created a best seller with this story, we still potentially have a “Clear and Present Danger,” thank you, Tom Clancy.

We now know that this 4th Generation, rarely if ever seen before nerve agent, that causes uncontrolled jerking of the muscles, foaming at the mouth, breathing difficulties and collapse in the minutest quantities, has reportedly been found in traces from the Skripals car, possibly their home, the Mill pub and Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury.

We don’t know how it got there or who put it there.  That means we don’t know where the rest is! The police may have already secured the means of delivery and are confident that there is no further danger to the public or the assassin too it with them.

We have to ask where is the container that the assassin used to carry the Novichok agent to Salisbury, where is the method of application to the Skripals car door handle or where ever it was placed, where is the protective clothing used by the assassin, if in fact it was delivered by a person, to stop them from being contaminated whilst dispersing the agent, what danger remains on our streets?

I am surprised that none of these questions came up from MPs of any party in the House of Commons yesterday after the Prime Ministers statement, I am surprised the Police have no issued a statement to say they have found all of these items so the is no danger, or they haven’t, and the public should remain vigilant.

I have contacted the Metropolitan Police in London and they have not been able to give me a comment as yet, but until clarified we have to assume that there could be a clear and present danger from this horrific substance somewhere else in the UK.

What should you be looking out for?  The assassin will have put all of the contaminated material into another container or some thick plastic bags which will be sealed with an airtight seal; it won’t need to be very large, so the only advice is if you notice anything that looks like sealed bags or a container that looks out of place – do not touch it.  To get contaminated you must come in direct contact with it and its primary absorption route is through the skin, standard medical grade surgical gloves are no barrier to this type of agent!

What does a nerve agent do to you? Nerve agents, including Novichok, are called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.   Nerves transmit their signals using a transmitter substance called acetylcholine.  To switch the signal off there is an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase that is found throughout the nervous system, that disables the acetylcholine.  It acts as the nerve ‘off’ switch.  Nerve agents simply disable this off switch.

Novichok is from a class of nerve agents called very persistent so can remain around for weeks, after exposure initial symptoms are a runny nose, tightness in the chest, and constriction of the pupils. These are usually followed fairly rapidly by difficulty breathing, nausea, stomach cramps, drooling, uncontrolled muscle movement and collapse. They will degrade over time, especially in wet conditions but again there have been no statements as to how long the contaminated areas of Salisbury are likely to remain cordoned off.

As the world focuses on the political ramifications of this attack, we need the authorities to either reassure the public or to ask for their continued vigilance.  We need and deserve answers.

Note: This blog will be updated as new information is received.  The current version was updated at 1110 on 15th March 2018 – if you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE