More details are to be revealed about the substance that caused a Russian double agent and his daughter to fall critically ill, the Home Secretary said.
Amber Rudd told reporters after a Cobra emergency committee meeting this morning: “We do know more about the substance, the police will be making a further statement this afternoon in order to share some of that.”
Counter-terrorism detectives have urged anyone in Salisbury city centre on Sunday to come forward to help with the “missing pieces” in the probe as Sergei Skripal, 66, and 33-year-old daughter Yulia fight for their lives in hospital.
The investigation has triggered a diplomatic row and prompted crisis talks in Whitehall, but Ms Rudd said police must respond to “evidence, not to rumour”.
She said: “We must let the police carry on their work, they will share what they can, but I’m sure there will be more updates as the investigation continues.
“There is a lot of information about Sergei Skripal in the public domain at the moment but I’m not going to comment any further about that because I do believe the police need to get on with their investigation and finding out more about him will be part of it.”
Counter-terror officers have extended the cordon yet further after the pair were found unconscious in Salisbury, Wiltshire, shortly after 4pm on Sunday.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the head of counter-terrorism policing, stressed to people in the city, particularly those who visited the Bishop’s Mill pub or Zizzi restaurant, that any details could help investigators.
He said: “We would like to hear from anybody who visited the area close to The Maltings shopping centre where these two people were taken ill on Sunday afternoon and may have seen something that could assist the investigation.
“The two people taken ill were in Salisbury centre from around 1:30pm. Did you see anything out of the ordinary? It may be that at the time, nothing appeared out of place or untoward but with what you now know, you remember something that might be of significance.
“Your memory of that afternoon and your movements alone could help us with missing pieces of the investigation. The weather was poor that day so there were not as many people out and about. Every statement we can take is important.”
Scotland Yard said detectives were “keeping an open mind as to what happened” and that the situation had not been declared a terrorist incident, adding it would not “provide a running commentary” on the investigation.
The cross-departmental meeting – previously held after terror attacks to plot the Government’s response to national emergencies – comes as relations between the UK and the Kremlin soured after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson went on the offensive in the House of Commons.
Addressing MPs about the “disturbing incident”, Mr Johnson noted that this case had “echoes” of the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident who was fatally poisoned in London in 2006.
The Foreign Secretary said the UK would respond “appropriately and robustly” if “suspicions” about Russian involvement in the mysterious illness that struck down Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, in a park in Salisbury during daylight hours on Sunday.
Both remain in a critical condition at Salisbury District Hospital, where they are being treated in intensive care for “suspected exposure to an unknown substance”.
Prime Minister Theresa May and senior ministers were updated on the investigation, which has been taken over by counter-terrorism officers from the Metropolitan Police, at a meeting of the National Security Council.
Tests are being carried out at the Porton Down military research facility to try identify the toxin involved.
A member of the emergency services is also in hospital after officers dealing with the incident complained of itchy eyes and breathing difficulties.
The Russian embassy said it was “completely untrue” to suggest the country’s special services were involved and criticised Mr Johnson for speaking “in such a manner as if the investigation was already over”.
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in nearby Porton Down, which has state-of-the-art equipment to look for trace amounts of substances, is believed to be involved in examining what could have caused Mr Skripal and his daughter to fall ill.
Mr Skripal was convicted in 2006 of passing state secrets to MI6 before being given refuge in the UK as part of a spy swap.
The former colonel in Russian military intelligence, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison, was among four convicts who were given pardons and one of two sent to Britain in 2010 in a deal that was said at the time to be the largest exchange since the Cold War.
He was found along with his daughter on a bench in The Maltings after police were called by a concerned member of the public about 4:15pm on Sunday.
The pair did not have any visible injuries and were taken to Salisbury District Hospital, where they are being treated in intensive care for “suspected exposure to an unknown substance”.
Officers “secured” a number of scenes - including the Zizzi restaurant on Castle Street and the Bishop’s Mill pub in The Maltings - as well as setting up a cordon at Solstice Park in Amesbury, a business park around eight miles north of the city which is home to restaurants and an ambulance station.
Scotland Yard said: “This is linked to the investigation and is a precautionary measure.”
At least two people left a contamination tent inside the cordon wearing protective suits and gas masks on Tuesday night.
People could also be seen inside the Zizzi restaurant wearing protective gear and masks.