Statements following public meeting regarding Amesbury major incident

Following last night's public meeting for residents in Amesbury, the following statements have been released. 

Statement from Neil Basu, National Lead for Counter Terrorism Policing in the UK: 

I would like to begin by offering my deepest condolences to the family of Dawn Sturgess, who sadly died on Sunday.

I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to the people of Salisbury and Amesbury for the tremendous support and understanding that you have shown to both our colleagues from Wiltshire Police, but also to the hundreds of officers from Counter Terrorism Policing who have been investigating how five people came to be poisoned by a deadly nerve agent since March 4.

As some of you may know, my role is the National lead for Counter Terrorism Policing in the UK. I run London's Counter Terrorism Operations and I coordinate the work of the UK's eight other regional Counter Terrorism Units in England and Wales on behalf of my fellow chief constables.

In March this year, we launched an investigation after Sergei and Yulia Skripal were both poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok.

It was led by the Counter Terrorism Policing South East Unit, answerable to both the South West Chief Constables, as well as myself, and the investigation was supported by Scotland Yard, along with every other Counter Terrorism Unit in the country.

A huge multi-agency response was set up in the wake of that incident, to identify and establish who was responsible for such a despicable act on British soil, and to identify anywhere that could have been contaminated by that nerve agent and make it safe for those who visit, work or live in Salisbury and the surrounding area.

I would love to be able to stand here and say how we have identified and caught those responsible and how we are absolutely certain there are no traces of nerve agent left anywhere in the county. The brutal reality, however, is that I cannot offer you any such assurances or guarantees at this time.

Late on Tuesday last week, we received that dreadful news that two more people - Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley - had fallen ill as a result of exposure to Novichok.

On Sunday, we were told that Dawn had tragically died. Our thoughts are with Dawn's family during what must be an unimaginable and devastating time for them.

Dawn's partner, Charlie, remains in hospital, although we have received encouraging news today that Charlie's condition is improving and that he has regained consciousness.

As I've said, the role of Counter Terrorism Policing is to now investigate these two incidents - the latest of which is being treated as murder and to try to identify and bring those responsible to justice.

At this stage, we cannot say with certainty that both the incident in March and this latest incident are linked. Clearly, this is our main line of enquiry, but our investigation must be led by the evidence available and the facts alone.

I would need a forensic link to be definitive, but this is a very rare substance banned by the international community and for there to be two separate distinct incidents in one, small English county is implausible to say the least.

That said, scientists at the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, probably the leading scientists in the world, will work hard to establish if the nerve agents from the two incidents are from the same batch, but as with any police investigation, we cannot make assumptions and we have to follow where the evidence takes us.

It may be that it will never be possible to establish such a definitive link, but DSTL are already crystal clear that it is the same nerve agent type - a Novichok - one that killed Dawn and poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal as well as Nick Bailey and Charlie Rowley.

In relation to the latest incident in Amesbury, our priority is to identify how and when both Dawn and Charlie came to be contaminated. We have around 100 counter terrorism detectives working around the clock on this.

You will have seen a number of cordoned-off sites in Salisbury and Amesbury. We have cordoned these sites off as they have been identified as places that Dawn and Charlie visited in the period prior to them falling ill.

Of the various sites that have been cordoned off, our focus - at this time - is on Dawn's address within John Baker House in Salisbury, Charlie's address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury and an area in the Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury.

We believe that Dawn and Charlie handled some kind of container which the nerve agent was in, and we're focusing our efforts on finding this container.

Specialist officers are carrying out painstaking searches, but as I'm sure you will appreciate, this work is made all the more difficult as they have to carry out their activity in protective equipment, which significantly impacts the speed at which they can work.

This, coupled with the extreme heat they have been working in, has proved extremely challenging for those carrying out this crucial work, but I know the officers are doing everything they possibly can to progress this as quickly as they can.

However, we expect this work to take several weeks, if not months, but we simply cannot take any risks, both with our officers' safety, and with the safety of the public.

I know this has had a great impact on those living and working in the affected areas, and I can assure you that we are working as fast as we can, but we have to be absolutely meticulous in our work.

The investigation has pieced together a timeline of Dawn and Charlie's movements prior to them falling ill, which I am sure many of you are aware of.

One important point I want to stress is that we have not found any evidence that either Dawn or Charlie visited any of the sites that underwent decontamination following the attack on the Skripals in March.

You may also be aware that we recovered the bus upon which they travelled on Friday night, 29 June, as well as a red Transit van that Charlie travelled in on Saturday 30 June.

Tests on the bus have shown no trace of the nerve agent. The van is still undergoing examination, but four other men who had been in the van prior to its seizure by police have all been contacted and preliminary tests show that they are clear and have no symptoms.

Officers have also identified and spoken to a number of people who we know were with Dawn and Charlie before they became ill.

Clearly, everyone Dawn and Charlie were in contact with prior to them falling ill is a focus for our inquiry and the more we know about their exact movements, the better.

I am therefore appealing again to anyone who may have been with them or seen them in the period before they fell ill to contact us on 0800 789 321.

We continue to work extremely closely with our public health colleagues and scientific experts to monitor and assess the ongoing levels of risk to the public.

As the investigation progresses I can assure you that we are sharing everything we possibly can about the investigation with our colleagues so that they can, in turn, assess the risk and provide the best possible advice to the public.

Finally, I would like to reiterate my thanks to you, the public of Salisbury and Amesbury, for your ongoing support while this important work continues. You have shown and continue to show resilience and patience.

 

Statement from Kier Pritchard, Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police:

I would like to start by offering my sincere condolences and those of all my officers, staff and volunteers to Dawn's children, family and friends.

None of us can begin to imagine the suffering and anguish they must be feeling.

Our thoughts are also with Dawn's partner Charlie, as well as his family and friends. We are however, encouraged to hear today that his condition is improving and he has regained consciousness.

In addition to this, I know that our communities here in Amesbury and Salisbury are naturally feeling very anxious and, as a resident of Wiltshire myself, I completely understand these concerns.

I want to assure all of you here this evening and the wider community of Wiltshire that public safety remains the number one priority of all of the agencies involved in this incident.

You will shortly hear from Paul Cosford, from Public Health England, and I hope this will further reassure you that the risk to the wider public remains low.

You have heard from my colleague Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu from the Counter Terrorism Policing Network with an update into this fast paced and highly complex investigation.

Whilst you have heard that the primacy of the murder investigation rests with the CT network, our role at Wiltshire Police is to continue to co-ordinate the large-scale multi-agency response to this major incident.

We are working in conjunction with more than 12 partner agencies from health, local authorities in Wiltshire and Swindon, other blue light services, the military and government departments. This is being co-ordinated by Wiltshire Police as the lead agency under the leadership of my Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills who is also here with us this evening.

I wish to praise our partners for their collective efforts in providing a highly professional response to such a significant incident in our county.

Wiltshire Police, with the support of our Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson, are committed to making sure we have the right level of resource to both deal with this ongoing incident and ensure policing remains unaffected across Wiltshire and Swindon.

Whilst it is my role to ensure the delivery of policing in the county - it's the Commissioner's role to ensure we remain an efficient and effective force.

As Assistant Commissioner Basu outlined, a number of scenes, believed to be the areas that Dawn and Charlie visited in the period before they fell ill, and based on the intelligence provided by our CT network colleagues, remain cordoned off in and around Amesbury and Salisbury as a precautionary measure.

To confirm, the locations of the cordons are:

·      An area of Muggleton Road, Amesbury

·      Boots the Chemist, Stonehenge Walk, Amesbury

·      Amesbury Baptist Centre, on Butterfield Drive

 And also in Salisbury -

·      Queen Elizabeth Gardens

·      John Baker House, Rolleston Street

I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the public for respecting these cordons and for their ongoing patience and support.

I understand the inconvenience some of these cordons might be causing but please be assured that we, alongside our colleagues at the Counter Terrorism Policing network, will do all we can to progress this investigation safely and swiftly.

People in Amesbury and Salisbury will continue to see a significant increase in the amount of police officers around these sites. This will also include officers in protective equipment as they carry out activity at a number of sites.

This will look similar to some of the activity which took place in Salisbury earlier this year. I urge the public not to be alarmed by this - it is a necessary precaution that needs to be in place to enable the investigation team to safety go about the meticulous searching that they are conducting as part of the investigation. As alluded to by Assistant Commissioner Basu, we expect this to take some time.

My officers and staff, who are working around the clock to guard these scenes, are also there to answer any questions you might have and I would encourage you to speak to them.

In addition, officers on the ground have been joined by colleagues from Public Health England in order to provide direct advice to anyone concerned. Please continue to approach us with any questions you may have.

The Commissioner and I are very grateful for the huge amount of support the public are giving to our officers, including the provision of extra refreshments during the current heatwave. This outpouring of public support has been greatly appreciated by officers and staff across the county and officers from other forces who are providing mutual aid.

We are very aware of the high level of public interest in this investigation and the concern it is understandably causing within our communities.

Last week we very quickly established a public advice helpline which continues to operate.

To date, this line has taken more than 400 calls from members of the public.

To remind you, the numbers for you to call are 0800 0920 410 or 0207 158 0124. These are staffed by both police and colleagues from Public Health England.

Finally, I would like to finish by paying tribute to the continued strength and resilience I have seen from local residents and businesses here in Amesbury and also Salisbury. 

Since news broke of this second major incident, I have spent considerable time in the areas most affected, and whilst people have expressed some concerns to me, I am full of admiration for their continued support, patience and understanding during these challenging times.

Whilst this remains an extraordinary time for Wiltshire, I have every confidence that the communities will continue to pull together through this difficult period.

 

Statement from Paul Cosford, Medica Director and Director of Health Protection, Public Health England:

Firstly, I'd like to express my sincere condolences to Dawn Sturgess' family and friends at this very sad time.

We fully recognise that as residents of Amesbury and the nearby areas you are concerned. We share your shock that this has happened in your community and are working side by side with other agencies to ensure you receive all the advice and support you need.  

Public Health England's role is to evaluate the information that we have and assess the risk to the public, based on what we know. We are working very closely with the police and other partners and we keep our advice continually under review as new evidence emerges. We have not seen any further cases of illness since Dawn and Charlie became unwell and anyone with significant exposure would be very sick by now.  It is by using this information that we can say that the risk to the public in Salisbury and Amesbury remains low.

However, as a precaution, and as the Chief Medical Officer has said, I want to emphasise to everyone in the Salisbury and Amesbury area that nobody, adult or child, should pick up any foreign object which could contain liquid or gel, in the interests of your own safety. This in practice means do not pick up containers, syringes, needles, or similar objects, made of materials such as metal, plastic or glass.

This is particularly important as we approach school holidays and so I am asking that people are extra vigilant and we urge parents to talk with your children to be sure they understand. To be clear: do not pick up anything that you haven't dropped yourself.

You do not need to seek advice from a health professional unless you are experiencing symptoms. If you are concerned, you should call NHS 111. As before, you should continue to follow our advice and that of the police.

Despite this event PHE wants to stress that the risk to the general public remains low and there is no immediate health risk to anyone who may have been in the areas identified by police. As has already been mentioned parts areas of Salisbury which have already been cleaned and are back in use, like the Maltings, remain safe. We have not seen any more people with signs of illness.

Events of the past few days are shocking and very sad. PHE staff are working hard to ensure the community remains safe and that you can continue to go about your daily lives as normal.