The search for clues to the assassination attempt on Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter has widened again as police sealed off a car park ticket machine in Salisbury.
The ticket dispenser at the Sainsbury’s car park, in the city’s Maltings Shopping Centre, was covered by a yellow and white forensics tent and a cordon placed several yards wide around it on Tuesday morning. Two police officers were guarding the scene.
The move suggests police believe Mr Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia – who are both still in a critical condition – parked in the car park and obtained a ticket at the machine before going on to Zizzi restaurant and the Mill pub, both of which were sealed off last Monday, the day after the attack took place.
Police began examining sections of the same car park on Monday for any traces of the Novichok nerve agent used to poison the pair. That reinforces the belief that the agent may have been introduced into Mr Skripal’s BMW car by the attacker, infecting him and Yulia when they first climbed into the vehicle, possibly to make their way into Salisbury city centre on Sunday, March 3.
It came as a former chemical weapons inspector warned that the Novichok used in the attack is “very persistent” and could linger for a “reasonable length of time” as a “dusty agent”.
Mr Skripal’s car has already been taken away for examination by experts at the Government’s Porton Down chemical weapons research centre, along with the vehicle used to tow it from the Sainsbury’s car park to a local car pound.
Other vehicles, such as the ambulances that arrived at the scene to treat the Skripals after they collapsed onto a bench on the banks of the River Avon, near the car park, have also been taken for examination.
The police car driven by Detective Sargeant Nick Bailey, who was among the first to help Mr Skripal and his daughter and suffered the effects of the agent but is now recovering in hospital, has also been examined.
From the car park, it was just a short walk through The Maltings shopping precinct to Zizzi, where they ate lunch before heading to The Mill pub for a drink.
The bench on which the pair later collapsed would have been on their route back to the car.
The recovery van believed to have towed his abandoned vehicle from the parking space early last week was carefully removed from an address in the village of Winterslow, eight miles from Salisbury, by military personnel in protective suits shortly after 2pm on Monday.
The road was also blocked off. The van was owned by Ashley Wood Recovery and was parked outside the home of one of its employees, 22-year-old Robert Horner, who lives with his parents.
Neighbour Robbie Williams, 54, said: “They took all the guy’s clothes.”
The Horner family, which owns Winterslow Coachworks, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the upper floor of the Sainsbury’s car park was also sealed off by police amid a sudden burst of activity close to the scene where the Russians collapsed.
Screens were erected to prevent the public from witnessing developments at the scene. The cordon around The Mill was also extended.
As it emerged a Novichok nerve agent was used in the attack, Philip Ingram, a former intelligence and security officer who has studied chemical warfare, said Col Skripal’s car was now the likely source of the contamination.
Mr Ingram said: “Using the car would explain why both Mr Skripal and his daughter got a dose at the same time and then transferred it around the restaurant and the pub.
“It is easy to break into a car and put some of the substance in there. They then jump into the car to go to the restaurant and pub and get contaminated in the process.
“This nerve agent Novichok would have taken effect in hours at most to work, rather than days.”
Video: What is Novichok? Nerve agent more potent that VX
Last Thursday, Ashley Wood Recovery’s garage in Salisbury was cordoned off as police recovered the BMW.
Ambulances, police cars and unmarked vehicles have also been removed from locations across the city.
Caroline Clayden, from Winterslow, said: “It is like something out a film, it is quite scary, we can’t go anywhere and nobody has been told what on earth is going on.
“They are right outside my door taping things up now.
“It would be jolly nice to know what is happening that’s for sure.”
As further details of Col Skripal’s movements emerged, a source close to Greg Townsend, manager of The Mill, revealed that he served the Russians last Sunday afternoon and had since been treated like a “terror suspect”, interviewed by police up to eight times last week.
He said The Mill had 12 CCTV cameras, covering the large open-plan bar area as well as the upstairs balcony and lavatories overlooking it.
“The pub has obviously remained closed for more than a week and the cordon widened, but Greg feels like he has been kept completely in the dark, they’re not telling him anything.
“He actually served them. He’s had a bit of a time of it all and is a pending terror suspect.
“He certainly said he’s being treated like one. He’s had around eight police interviews.”
The source said the CCTV cameras covered the whole bar and had been seized by police.
“Skripal and his daughter sat just to the right of the front door.
“One of the young bar staff who was on a break sat really near them and has also been interviewed.”
Neither the police nor Ashley Wood Recovery would comment.
Meanwhile, Jerry Smith, a former chemical weapons inspector for the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the Novichok agent is “very persistent” and could linger for a “reasonable length of time”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “To be honest there is very little knowledge in the open source about these agents. There is sort of six or seven elements that the whistleblower put out of certain lightweight detail shall we say, not a huge amount of detail.
“But we do know that they can be as you mention binary, we do know that they can be very persistent. In fact they can actually be micro pulverised dust so they are called dusty agents rather than being a liquid so they can hang around on surfaces for a reasonable length of time.”
Mr Smith also suggested the agent could have been made by other “advanced countries”.