CCTV shows 'persons of interest' in Sergei Skripal spy probe

British police are looking into what caused the former MI6 spy and a woman to fall ill

CCTV shows 'persons of interest' in Sergei Skripal spy probe

Image via @PA on Twitter

Updated 15.20

A picture has emerged of what is believed to be a Russian double agent, shortly before he fell critically ill at a shopping centre in England.

British counter-terror police are now leading a probe into what caused former MI6 spy Sergei Skripal and a woman in her 30s to fall ill at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon.

Officers are said to be interested in the two people shown in the picture.

It was taken from a camera at 3.47pm on Sunday at a Snap Fitness 24/7 gym - and shows a man and a woman walking through an alleyway connecting a Zizzi restaurant and the bench where Mr Skripal was found.

Gym manager Cain Prince said: "Police had a good look at the footage and were interested in these two people. It was the only image they took away. They wanted a list of everyone in the gym between 3pm and 4pm as well."

Meanwhile, London's Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley confirmed that counter-terrorist specialists are now leading the investigation into what had caused Mr Skripal to fall ill.

Stressing that it has not been declared a terrorist incident, Met Police said the counter-terrorism team "has the specialist expertise" to investigate the matter.

Mr Rowley said: "This investigation is at the early stages and any speculation is unhelpful at this time.

“The focus at this time is to establish what has caused these people to become critically ill. We would like to reassure members of the public that this incident is being taken extremely seriously and we currently do not believe there is any risk immediate to the wider public."

A police tent covers the the spot in Salisbury, England, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, where two people were found critically ill Sunday following exposure to an "unknown substance". Picture by: Frank Augstein/AP/Press Association Images

The Kremlin has denied suggestions Russia poisoned the 66-year-old, who was convicted in the country of spying for MI6 in 2006.

It was alleged that he disclosed the names of several dozen Russian agents working in Europe.

When asked about speculation in the British press that Russia had been involved, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "It didn't take them long."

Mr Skripal's illness was "a tragic incident", he added.

The Kremlin has said Moscow is "always open for cooperation" regarding the British investigation, which Mr Rowley described as a "very unusual case".

"The critical thing is to get to the bottom of what has caused this incident as quickly as possible," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"As you would expect, the specialist resources that sit within the counter-terrorism network that I coordinate across the country and other partners are working with Wiltshire Police to get to the bottom of that as quickly as possible.

"If you look back at other cases like (Alexander) Litvinenko, if necessary we will bring that investigation into the counter-terrorism network.

"At the moment the key is, though, to get to the bottom of what caused this."

Restaurant shut

Mr Skripal, a former colonel within Russian military intelligence, did not have any "visible injuries" when he was taken to hospital, Wiltshire Police's temporary Assistant Chief Constable, Craig Holden, revealed.

The Zizzi restaurant, close to where Mr Skripal was found, was also closed "as a precaution" and a major incident was declared at Salisbury District Hospital, where Mr Skripal and the woman - believed to be known to him - remain in a critical condition.

British Justice Secretary David Gauke declined to comment on the investigation on Tuesday, while the Russian embassy in the UK claimed that "neither relatives nor legal representatives of the said person, nor the British authorities" had been in touch regarding the probe.

Mr Skripal was sent to Britain as part of a spy swap in 2010, having been given a pardon from his prison sentence.

As part of the deal, 10 Russian sleeper agents were expelled from the United States.

The Salisbury incident has drawn comparisons with the death of Russian dissident Mr Litvinenko in 2006, who died in London after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.