Two people were found in a critical condition kilometres from where Russian spy and daughter were poisoned
Amesbury: UK counter terror police brought in to probe incident near Skripal poisoning
Fears of a new chemical weapon attack on British soil were ignited on Wednesday after two people fell ill near to the site where a former Russian spy and his daughter were attacked.
A man and woman, both in their 40s, were reported to have been exposed to an “unknown substance” in the town of Amesbury, which lies just 16 kilometres away from Salisbury, southern England, where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in March.
Counter terrorism officers have been brought in to probe what police in the county of Wiltshire have called a “major incident”.
British media reported that samples of the substance have been sent for testing to Porton Down, the UK’s military research centre, which identified the agent used in the Skripal poisoning as Novichok.
Emergency services were called to a property on Muggleton Road, Amesbury twice on Saturday, police said. First after a 44-year-old woman was taken ill and secondly in response to a 45-year-old man becoming unwell.
The couple have been named locally as Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, although their identities have not been confirmed by police.
The UK government’s emergency committee, Cobra, met on Wednesday morning with a spokesman from Downing Street adding that the incident was being treated “with the utmost seriousness”.
The pair, who were in a critical condition on Wednesday, are being treated at Salisbury District Hospital.
Police initially thought the couple had fallen ill after using heroin or crack cocaine from a contaminated batch of drugs but further "testing is now ongoing to establish the substance that led to these patients becoming ill".
"At this stage it is not yet clear if a crime has been committed. A police investigation has been established. In addition, a full multi-agency response has been co-ordinated," police said.
The hospital also reported that it was working as usual.
Salisbury’s parliamentary representative John Glen appealed to the public to remain calm and avoid “unnecessary speculation”.
"I appreciate that today's news from Amesbury could be unsettling, following so soon after the appalling incident in Salisbury on March 4,” Mr Glen said.
"But at this time we need to let Wiltshire Police and their partners carry out the investigation to find out what has happened.”
A number of locations where the couple are believed to have frequented have been cordoned off by police in Salisbury and Amesbury including Amesbury Baptist Church.
The church is believed to be one of the last places the two patients were seen in public, at a family fun day on Saturday afternoon.
"We are praying for the couple, one of our members knows them and clearly there are concerns for them and any others in the community. They are not church members or regulars," church secretary Roy Collins told The Sun.
The newspaper reported on Tuesday evening that security services had identified two suspects in the Skripal case. Quoting unnamed sources, it said the pair had left the UK within 24 hours of the poisoning and were now in Russia.
Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter, 33, were found unresponsive on a bench outside a shopping centre after coming into contact with Novichok.
The pair were left fighting for their lives but have since recovered enough to be discharged from hospital.
Britain accused the Kremlin of carrying out the attack, which led to diplomatic relations between the two nations sinking to their lowest levels since the end of the Cold War.
Moscow has consistently denied any involvement and the Russian embassy in the UK quickly rebutted the Sun’s claims, saying they were based on “vague sources”.