Salisbury locals angered at UK delay in nerve-agent warnings

SALISBURY, England (Reuters) - Worried residents in Salisbury said on Monday it was inexcusable that the authorities had taken so long to issue a health warning after a former Russian spy was attacked with a nerve agent in the city.

A tent covers the park bench where former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found after they were poisoned, in Salisbury, Britain March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Public Health England on Sunday advised anyone who had been to a restaurant or a pub which Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia had visited prior to their poisoning to wash their clothes and belongings after traces of nerve agent were found in the two locations.

“It’s inexcusable in some ways,” Tim Bradley, a 62-year-old builder, told Reuters near the cordoned-off scene where the couple were found more than a week ago. He said he was “very, very worried” because the initial impression from the police and health chiefs had been that there was no cause for any alarm.

“You’ve got to think to yourself ‘give them time to find out where the source is, what the nerve agent is, but personal safety, that should be straight out there,” he said. “That should be the number one objective - to inform the local people, to make sure that we’re safe.”

Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were found unconscious on a bench on March 4 and have been in a critical condition ever since.

A police officer who initially responded is also in a serious but stable condition in hospital. Police have confirmed the Skripals had been poisoned with a nerve agent, although they have not disclosed what it was.

England’s chief medical offer Sally Davies said traces of the poison had been found at a branch of Italian restaurant chain Zizzi and the Mill pub, both of which the Skripals had visited before falling ill.

She said she was confident that no one who was in the restaurant or the pub on March 4 or 5 had been harmed, but that their clothing should be washed and personal items like phones wiped as a precaution against any long-term exposure to any substance.

Despite the reassurances about the health risks, locals said the delayed warning had had the opposite effect.

Florist Daniel Styles, 32, who was unable to open his shop in a shopping center near where the former Russian spy was found, said the latest advice could create panic.

“That’s more scary to be honest, saying ‘wipe yourself down, clean yourself off from this nerve agent,’” he told Reuters. “That’s not going to make you feel better. It’s going to make you feel worse saying that really.”

Writing by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison