Leak at Porton Down lab may be behind UK nerve-agent poisonings – Russian embassy

A leak at the Porton Down secret laboratory may explain the nerve agent poisonings in Britain, as both cases happened in nearby Salisbury and Amesbury, the Russian embassy in the UK has said.

The embassy was asked by the media to comment on Friday’s announcement by the UK police that a small bottle they found in the home of one of the Amesbury poisoning victims contained the infamous Novichok nerve agent. 

However, Russian diplomats said that they “cannot check or verify any British statements” because London “refuses to cooperate with us in any way possible” on the issue.

Russia would like the UK to share its data on the nerve agent attacks that targeted former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last March, and another poisoning in Amesbury in late June, the embassy said. However, it added that they were “almost sure that the British side will not be informing us directly.”

The Russian mission pointed out that both poisoning cases took place “in the vicinity of the secret military chemical laboratory in Porton Down,” which may well lead to the conclusion that “some kind of ‘leak’ from this laboratory might have taken place. This cannot be excluded.

“We have already demanded that the UK reveal information concerning ongoing research and production of chemical warfare agents in Porton Down,” it added.

The Porton Down chemical laboratory is located some 8km from both Salisbury and Amesbury.

The embassy also criticized the British authorities for asking the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to examine the substance found by the police at Amesbury.

The “independent verification” procedure initiated by the UK is “non-transparent, goes beyond the mechanisms outlined in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC),” it said.

READ MORE: Full alert in Salisbury as man 'falls ill' near restaurant where Skripals ate before poisoning

“This initiative is yet another step towards politicizing the OPCW to the detriment of its reputation,” the Russian mission said.

In late June, the UK and its allies voted to expand the powers of the OPCW, allowing the body to not only investigate alleged chemical attacks, but also to assign blame for incidents. Russia said that it was a “dangerous” development, as the neutral body was being turned into a political tool that will be used by the West to apply pressure on Syria and other dissident states.

The British counter-terrorism police said on Saturday they had recovered not only the bottle with the nerve agent, but more than 400 items that “are potentially contaminated” as part of the Amesbury probe. The suspicious objects have been submitted to laboratories for analysis, it added.

"Work is ongoing to establish whether the nerve agent is from the same batch as used in the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March, and this remains a main line of enquiry for the investigation team," the police statement read.

On June 30, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were hospitalized after being poisoned at their home in Amesbury with what experts at Porton Down later identified as Novichok nerve agent. Sturgess died a week later, while Rowley’s health has improved. He is no longer in a critical condition, according reports on Wednesday.

In early March, Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious on the bench in Salisbury after a chemical attack and rushed to hospital. The UK authorities said that a Soviet-designed nerve agent, which they called ‘Novichok,’ had been used against the pair.

This gave London an opportunity to claim that Russia was “highly likely” responsible for the poisoning, and to introduce sanctions against Moscow. However, months later, the UK has yet to provide any convincing proof of Russia’s involvement, and it has turned down all requests for cooperation.

Meanwhile, the Skripals have miraculously recovered from the poisoning, despite Britain calling Novichok a deadly war-grade chemical. Their whereabouts are currently unknown, and Russian diplomats have been denied access to the pair.

The UK authorities say that the incidents in Amesbury and Salisbury are linked, but Professor of Chemistry at Cornell University, Dave Collum, told RT that “it’s impossible to make a connection as there’s been no data presented” to the public to back those claims.

He also reiterated that London’s statements of only Russia being capable of producing the novichok chemical were “totally false.” He described the nerve agent as “a simple compound,” which is actually just “three steps from commercially available materials.”

“I’ve put it on a final exam on my course… and they [the students] all got full credit. It was so easy, I knew none would lose credit because it’s like asking a bunch of bakers to make chocolate chip cookie recipe,” the US chemist said.

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