The police officer who first came to the aid of the former Russian spy and his daughter after they were suspected of being poisoned by a nerve agent is talking to the authorities after his condition improved.
The home secretary, Amber Rudd, said he remained in a serious condition in hospital in Salisbury. Speaking after getting a morning briefing from the counter-terrorist police chief in charge of the investigation, Rudd said she was “more hopeful” about the officer’s health than the principal victims: the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33.
In an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Rudd said: “I’ve spoken to Mark Rowley this morning. The two targets are still in a very serious condition. The policeman is talking and is engaging, so I’m more optimistic for him. But it is too early to say. This is a nerve agent. We are still treating it as very serious.”
Speaking later on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Rudd said the officer was not in intensive care, but his condition was serious.
She also suggested that experts had identified the substance involved in what she described as a “very, very serious attack”. But she refused to be specific. “For now all we are going to say is that it is a nerve agent … It is very rare,” she said.
On Wednesday Rowley said all three victims were suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent”.
Detectives believe the Skripals were specifically targeted in a deliberate act, Rowley added.
Rudd said detectives had divided the investigation into three separate sites: the Skripals’ Salisbury home; the city’s Mill pub, where they had been drinking; and the Zizzi restaurant where they had eaten before collapsing on a park bench.
Unlike in the case of Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with a slow-acting radioactive cup of tea, detectives got to the scene in Salisbury quickly. Hundreds of officers were now working around the clock, Rowley said. They were examining CCTV footage from the city centre and building a detailed timeline of events, he added.
Rudd, who is due to give a Commons update on the incident later on Thursday, refused to be drawn on whether Russia was responsible.