I HAVE spent a great deal of time campaigning for stronger protections for emergency-service workers since I was elected in 2015. However, I could not have imagined that we would be faced with a police officer left seriously ill after exposure to a nerve agent, in the way that we have seen in Salisbury this week.
The Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary have now confirmed that they are satisfied they are investigating a targeted attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, constituting attempted murder.
Yet, further to this, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who was the first of the emergency services to arrive at the scene following the call from a member of the public concerned about the Skripals is now himself in a serious condition in hospital.
I will not join the long list of others speculating about the perpetrator or their motives at this stage, concerned that this will only serve to potentially compromise the robust and fearless investigation which this attack now requires.
Commentators will inevitably look to compare this incident with the fatal poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, who had Polonium 210, a radioactive substance – rather than a nerve agent – administered in a cup of tea.
Yet whatever the motivations of the perpetrators of the attack this week, their origins or their identity, what is truly outrageous about this act is the reckless and indiscriminate way in which its sloppy execution has put innocent members of the public, and our emergency services, at risk.
The Protect The Protectors Bill, which will come back to the House of Commons for its third and final reading on April 27, seeks to offer a greater degree of protection for all emergency service workers. The Bill recognises that these workers put themselves in danger to keep up safe.
Whether it’s those engaged in the police, fire, search and rescue roles, prison officers or NHS workers and ambulance staff, MPs have united across party lines to find a solution to the increasing risks faced by front-line responders. This nerve agent attack shows that these dangers can be totally unpredictable, and of the most serious kind.
What makes this particular attack so sinister, and why speculation about who is responsible has gripped the nation, is that nerve agents are incredibly difficult to come by, and are ordinarily developed by States.
They disrupt the nervous system and prevent nerves from communicating with the body’s vital organs. The first effects can appear just seconds after exposure, causing convulsions, respiratory failure, coma and death as the body’s systems start to fail, unless swift and effective treatment can be administered. Even the antidotes carry their own risks.
Nerve agents are so toxic that to use one as a means of assassination poses a significant risk to even the person using it for their own ends. You will appreciate that this is not the weapon of choice for your everyday criminal.
To have used such a volatile toxin, in a public place, knowingly endangering anyone who would come to the aid of the seriously ill father and daughter, is beyond comprehension.
I am pleased that despite earlier reports that Det Sgt Bailey had been in a coma, the Home Secretary confirmed that to the House of Commons yesterday that he is conscious and “engaging with and talking to people”.
I’m sure readers of The Yorkshire Post will want to join me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery, and to thank him for the bravery he has shown in what must have been exceptional circumstances on arriving at the scene.
Whoever carried out this heinous attack must now feel the full force of the British Justice system, and if required, the international courts.
This attack was not just an attack on a former Russian spy, but also put at risk both the public and our brave emergency-service workers. They diligently did their duty with a disregard for their own safety, showing exactly why we should always look to support these incredibly dedicated individuals, and take swift and robust action against those who seek to put them in harm’s way.
Holly Lynch is the Labour MP for Halifax.