MoD experts trial fleet of drones to help examine for chemical threats

MoD experts trial fleet of drones and robots to help examine for chemical threats in the wake of the Salisbury Novichok attack

  • The use of robots could protect forensic investigators from contamination
  • Scientists from Porton Down who tested the Novichok agent trialled the robots
  • The £3million project tested a drone that is able to relay 3D images to detect
  • Salisbury has been subjected to a widespread testing for the nerve agent  
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The Ministry Of Defence have trialled a fleet of drones and robots to examine chemical agents in a bid to keep troops and emergency services safe.

In the wake of the Salisbury Novichok attack, Scientists from Porton Down, who tested for the nerve agent following the Sergei Skripal attack, were involved in the trial at the Fire Service College in Gloucestershire.    

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘Following the reckless nerve agent attack in Salisbury this year, we have seen the bravery and professionalism of our Armed Forces, emergency services and MoD scientists.

‘They have worked tirelessly to investigate and clean up deadly contaminated areas.


The Ministry Of Defence have trialled a fleet of drones and robots to examine chemical agents in a bid to keep troops and emergency services safe (pictured one of the fleet of drones)


In the wake of the Salisbury Novichok attack, Scientists from Porton Down, who tested for the nerve agent following the Sergei Skripal attack, were involved in the trial at the Fire Service College in Gloucestershire

‘This project will ensure we stay at the forefront of dealing with such heinous attacks, whether on our streets or on foreign battlefields.’

The £3million project, dubbed Minerva, lanched in 2016 tested a drone that is able to relay 3D images while detecting chemical agents, using a laser system.       

Salisbury has been subjected to a widespread testing for the nerve agent after it was used in an attempted murder on Mr Skripal on March 4.


The £3million project, dubbed Minerva, lanched in 2016 tested a drone that is able to relay 3D images while detecting chemical agents, using a laser system

The Prime Minister claimed that the Novichok poisoning was ‘almost certainly’ approved by the Russian government.   

Two men, believed to be from the Russian military intelligence service, who go by the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, have been named as the main suspects. 

Following the attack on Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, they were left hospitalised for weeks, with police treating the case as ‘attempted murder’.


Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia (pictured together in Salisbury) were poisoned with Novichok after it was smeared on his front door when the agents were in the city

It is thought that the former spy and his daughter first came into contact with the poison at the front door of their home, according to detectives.

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At the time traces of the drug were also found at the Mill and Zizzi, where the Skripals spent the afternoon before the effects of the nerve agent took hold.

Around 500 people who visited the pub and restaurant during the same day, were instructed to wash their clothes and belongings.


Salisbury attackers Alexander Petrov, left, and Ruslan Boshirov, right, both of whom are believed to be using assumed names

Police officers searched the surrounding area of the Skripal’s home and appealed for anyone who saw the pair on the morning of the attack to come forward.   

Since the attack detectives have identified around 500 witnesses and taken ‘hundreds’ of statements, while looking at more than 1,350 pieces of evidence and 5,000 hours of CCTV. 

Specialist counter-terrorism officers and military personnel have been deployed to the Salisbury area to remove objects that may have been contaminated with Novichok.      


CCTV shows Boshirov and Petrov on Fisherton Road in Salisbury at 13:05hrs on March 4 

The source of the nerve agent is still yet to be verified, however it is thought to have been deployed by a ‘state actor’.

Suspects Petrov and Boshirov are believed to have arrived in the UK on Russian passports, travelling from Moscow on March 2.

They stayed at the City Stay Hotel in east London and the following day they visited Salisbury, before contaminating Skripal’s front door with Novichok on March 4, say police.


It is understood that a modified perfume bottle, with strong glass, was used to spray the door of the home, before the pair fled to Moscow the same night.    

In an interview with Russia’s state-run international broadcaster, RT, the men said they were in the UK to visit the ‘wonderful town’ of Salisbury and see its famous cathedral.

Following the attack the Kremlin has issues a series of denials, usually laced with sarcasm.  

The interview came after Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted that the two suspects are ‘civilians not criminals’.   




The poisoning is being linked to a second attack in June, where Dawn Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley (pictured) were exposed to Novichok in Amesbury


The poisoning suspects have previously claimed that they were only in Salisbury to visit its cathedral (pictured) 

Russia even accused the UK as being the most likely source of the nerve agent, as well as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden or possibly the U.S. 

Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, suggested that a research laboratory in Wiltshire may have been the source of the Novichok.  

Although prosecutors will not apply for the men to be extradited, due to Russia’s lack of an agreement with the UK, a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained in case they travel to the EU. 


The attackers spent the night at City Stay Hotel in Bow, east London before contaminating the Skripals front door and boarding a flight back to Moscow

Colonel Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer, who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to M16. 

He was one of the four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI in 2010.   

Skripal was moved to a secure location on May 18 after responding well to treatment and making rapid improvements.  


The robots are hopefully being launched in a bid to keep teams of police and troops safe

Ms Skripal was discharged from Salisbury District Hospital on 9 April and also taken to a secure location, it is currently unclear what long-term effects she may suffer. 

Theresa May blamed Russia for the attack, before expelling 23 Russian diplomats and their families from the UK after the contamination. 

Countries including the U.S. who also expelled diplomats following the events, said that they were taking action to ‘disrupt the activities of the GRU’. 

The poisoning is being linked to a second attack in June, where Dawn Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley were exposed to Novichok in Amesbury.

Ms Sturgess died after handling a contaminated perfume bottle, which was labelled Nina Ricci Premier Jou. 

Mr Rowley told police he found the box containing a small bottle and an applicator – all found to be counterfeit – in a charity bin.

Ms Sturgess applied some of the contents of the bottle to her wrists while Mr Rowley also handled the bottle, which was found to contain ‘significant amounts of Novichok’. 

Their has also been links drawn between the Skripal attack and the poisoning of Alexander Litvienko in 2006.

The former Russian intelligence officer died after drinking tea laced with a radioactive substance in London.

It was concluded following a public inquiry that the murder was likely to have been carried out with the approval of Putin.  

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 site, 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 

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