As ducks bob down the river, the bench where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found is cut up for removalby Jay Elwes / March 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
Coffee Lab, on Blue Boar Street in Salisbury, is an artisanal coffee house much like you’d find in Bristol or Edinburgh or anywhere else. Large windows give onto the street. Outside, the 201 bus goes by, followed by a rubbish cart.
“We had the police in here,” says the woman behind the counter. They were in there for days making sure there was nothing dangerous about the place. “They’ve been like my two little mascots,” she says.
A large van backs into a side street and elderly couples pass by carrying their shopping. Outside, a normal day is in progress. It’s not the kind of place where you’d set a spy drama—or any sort of drama.
Twenty metres down the street, the Zizzi pizza restaurant is boarded up and cordoned off—it’s so close that its wifi, “Zizzi Delivery” pops up on my computer. A group of police officers is stationed outside. It is one of the sites at the centre of the nerve agent assassination attempt on the life of the Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal. That puts it at the heart of a global political and diplomatic storm.
The r1 bus goes by, “District Hospital via City Centre,” followed by the 26 for Tisbury. Earlier today the EU announced it would recall its ambassador from Russia because of what happened here.
On the left hand side of the Zizzi restaurant is the entrance to a gloomy modern arcade called Market Row. There are a few restaurants and stores, and down at the far end of the colonnade is Salisbury’s central library.
Inside, the hum of the readers is punctuated by the sound coming from the kids’ area, which is situated by a series of floor-to-ceiling windows. A group of mums with toddlers is singing “Row, row, row your boat.” Signs overhead read “Board and picture books,” and “Children’s library.”
“If you see a polar bear, don’t forget to scream…”
Outside the window, a group of figures stands on a patch of grass. They are all wearing white biohazard suits and gas masks.
On a desk by the photocopier is a pile of notices printed on A4 paper, titled “Public advice for people in Salisbury,” and issued by Public Health England. “You will be aware of recent events in Salisbury involving a nerve agent… risk to public health to people in Zizzi and the Mill Pub…”
The notice advises anyone in either of those places on the day of the attack to wash clothing and wipe personal items such as phones using baby wipes. A librarian is on the telephone, discussing the late return of some books. “I was in the military,” she says. “This is small beer.”
At the very end of the Market Row arcade, four constables are standing by a blue and white tape cordon, with a sign that says: “Police: road closed.” Just behind them, the river Avon slides past. A brick walkway crosses the water and on the other side is a shop called “G&T’s World of Cards.” It is closed.
Just to the right of the shop’s front door is a bench. It is no more than ten metres away from the police cordon. It has curved iron legs supporting two wooden planks, one for the seat, the other for the back. It’s where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were sitting when they were found poisoned.
The cover was taken off the bench this morning. It’s the first time it has been seen since the immediate aftermath of the attack.
The police officers posted on the cordon have been in town for three weeks. They are talking about the ducks, large numbers of which are walking around on the riverbank. They have also been walking across the brick walkway, over to the bench, and then coming back again. The PCs are beginning to wonder whether the ducks might bring something back with them.
“We’ve got some more units arriving,” says a WPC, as a family of little mallards arrives.
“Can’t we just strap a camera to a duck and send it in to have a look?” suggests another constable, as the group of birds pads across towards the bench.
Today leaders of European countries including Lithuania, Denmark, France Ireland and Bulgaria have endorsed Britain’s strong response to the attack. The Skripals remain in a “serious condition,” and samples of their blood have been provided to chemical weapons experts for testing. Nick Bailey, a policeman injured in the incident, was released from hospital today.
The bench is in an area enclosed on three sides by office buildings and shops and criss-crossed by bricked walkways. The fourth side is a nest of tents, police vans, and army trucks.
Walking out of the other side of the enclosure takes you past the Mill Pub, an ancient-looking stone pile on the water’s edge, the kind of place where Inspector Morse might stop for a pint.
Its windows are all boarded up and a notice printed on a sheet of A4 and taped to the wall reads, “Major Incident: Wiltshire Police continue to support colleagues from the Counter Terrorism Policing network who are leading the major Investigation.”
All 28 EU countries now support Britain’s conclusion that Russia was behind the attack and ten EU countries are considering expelling Russian diplomats. Meanwhile Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Council and Donald Trump have both congratulated Vladimir Putin on his recent election victory.
Meanwhile, in the newsagent, the front page of the Salisbury Journal reads, “Free city parking: move to boost trade after spy attack.”
A group of four officers arrive, wearing white biohazard suits and carrying angle-grinders. They begin to cut up the bench and take it away.