Officers first to reach Skripal say something ‘didn’t feel right’

‘They were rigid, catatonic next to a phone with Russian writing on’: Police officers who were first to reach Sergei Skripal and daughter Julia on Salisbury bench say something ‘didn’t feel right’

  • Sgt Tracey Holloway and PC Alex Collins rushed to scene of the Novichok attack 
  • The pair said ‘we were very lucky’ there weren’t more casualties after March 4
  • Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were targeted with nerve agent in Salisbury
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Two police officers who rushed to the side of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter after they were attacked with a nerve agent have spoken in detail for the first time.

Sergeant Tracey Holloway and PC Alex Collins, from Wiltshire Police, began their shift just an hour and 15 minutes before Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4. 

The pair have now said ‘we were very lucky’ there were not more casualties in the Novichok attack – and admitted something ‘didn’t feel right’ when they arrived. 

Tracey Holloway and Alex Collins, from Wiltshire Police, began their shift just an hour and 15 minutes before the Sergei Skripal and his daughter collapsed on a park bench on March 4 (Pictured, military personnel in protective suits and gas masks working on the scene in March)

Bourne Hill police station was recovering from a busy week of heavy snowfall when Sgt Holloway received a medical call for two officers to attend the Maltings shopping centre at 4.15pm.

PC Collins, a police medic, said it took the officers two minutes to get to the scene on lights and sirens, the Guardian reported.

They drove through the pedestrianised area of the city centre and across a bridge where they found Skripal’s daughter, Yulia, on her side.

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A member of the public, a doctor, was maintaining her airways when the pair arrived  – PC Collins believes this may have saved her life.

He said: ‘The male was in a very unusual position. He was sat on the bench, rigid, catatonic, staring into space. He was breathing but totally unresponsive. We tried to help medically and to find out what had happened. Our first thought was that it was drugs.’

The officer put on gloves to handle the patients, but Holloway remembers examining Sergei Skripal’s wallet with her bare hands.

The pair have now said ‘we were very lucky’ there weren’t more casualties in the Novichok attack

A cordon was in place within minutes, and police pushed people far away from the scene as they endeavoured to uncover what had been the cause of the incident.

The officers then examined the pair’s possessions further, finding unfamiliar names in a situation they said ‘wasn’t quite normal’.

Collins said: ‘We looked at their wallets to try to find their ID. There was a phone with Russian writing on it. The names weren’t familiar. That was strange. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t quite normal.’ 

Other detectives went to the Skripal house at the other end of Salisbury – where UK authorities said the highest concentration of Novichok was found. 

It was here that an officer, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, was left critically ill after coming into contact with the nerve agent after it was sprayed on the door handle.

Neither Collins or Holloway, who attended the scene at the Maltings, noted suffering any illness. 

PC Collins, a police medic, said it took the officers two minutes to get to the scene on lights and sirens

Sergei Skripal (pictured) and his daughter Yulia were targeted with the nerve agent Novichok in a failed assassination attempt

Army personnel wear protective outfits to take away ambulances at the South Western Ambulance Service building in Salisbury, Wilts, during March 2018

But, concerned by the lack of information about the Skripal’s illness, Holloway called firefighters in hazmat suits to work on the scene around the park bench. 

Collins then went off shift and said instinct told him to change his clothes – which he left in his garage. He then received a phone call two days later telling him to bring his kit, his clothes, his watch, wallet and mobile phone to the station.

The officers only heard that Novichok was involved from media reports after Mr Skripal’s name emerged on March 5. 

But, like most, the pair feared the victims would not recover. Collins said: ‘ When I heard that Yulia had woken from her coma I was elated. The fact that both recovered was brilliant. It meant the attackers didn’t succeed. Lives were saved.’

Other detectives went to the Skripal house at the other end of Salisbury where one of them, DS Nick Bailey, was left critically ill after becoming exposed to Novichok at the property

Both Collins and Holloway knew Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, who were poisoned three months later after finding a bottle of the nerve agent disguised as a perfume bottle.

Ms Sturgess, 44, died in hospital a short time later and Charlie Rowley, 45, remained critically ill following his exposure.

Mr Rowley, who has suffered several strokes and is losing his eyesight, was eventually discharged from hospital before becoming critically ill again with meningitis. 

But for Holloway, the attack hit even closer to home, as the Skripal house was close to her property.

She described going ‘home to a crime scene’ and said she never really felt she left the situation at work.

Collins put on gloves to handle the patients, but Holloway remembers examining Sergei Skripal’s wallet with bare hands

But the pair said they were both proud of the job the police did on March 4, and Holloway thanked her team for their work that day.

Both Collins and Holloway said police were lucky they didn’t have more casualties that day.  

It comes after Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey described of the ’emotional battering’ he has suffered after he became an accidental victim of the attempt to kill the former spy.

The Wiltshire Police officer said last month: ‘I describe it as emotional battering and psychological impact.

‘It’s taken longer to deal with just because of everything that has happened to us. Not only did we lose the house, we lost all of our possessions, including everything the kids owned, we lost all that, the cars.

‘We lost everything. And yeah it’s been very difficult to kind of come to terms with that.’

A timeline of the key developments in the Salisbury poisoning case

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, 2018 – 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.

A police officer stands guard outside the Zizzi restaurant where Sergei and Yulia had lunch before they collapsed in a nearby park

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.

March 5, morning – Police say two people in Salisbury are being treated for suspected exposure to an unknown substance. 

Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was among the first police officers on the scene and was himself hospitalised

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. 

Officers wearing chemical protection suits secure the forensic tent over the bench where Sergei and Yulia fell ill

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.

Dawn Sturgess died in hospital on July 8

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 3: New photo emerges that appears to show Col Chepiga on the Wall of Heroes at the Far-Eastern Military Academy, providing more evidence against the Kremlin’s denials. 

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