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Salisbury poisoning: Russia 'targeted' Yulia Skripal email

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Russian intelligence agencies targeted poison victim Yulia Skripal’s email account as early as 2013, the UK’s national security adviser has said.

In a letter to Nato, Sir Mark Sedwill also said Russia trained “special units” to use nerve agents, including applying them to door handles.

Police said a nerve agent was found on Yulia’s father Sergei Skripal’s front door in Salisbury.

Sir Mark is to brief Nato on Sunday about the 4 March attack.

The UK says Ms Skripal, 33, and her 66-year-old father, who were found slumped on a park bench in the city on 4 March, were exposed to a nerve agent belonging to the Novichok group.

This analysis has been backed by the international chemical weapons watchdog.

The Russian government has denied any involvement and accused the British of inventing a “fake story”.

Mr Skripal remains at Salisbury District Hospital, while his daughter was discharged on Monday.

‘Assassination tests’

Sir Mark’s letter to Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is the first time the UK government has claimed to have specific information that the Russians were interested in the Skripal family.

“We have information indicating Russian intelligence service interest in the Skripals dating back at least as far as 2013,” he said.

“Email accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted by GRU cyber specialists,” he said, referring to Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency.

The letter accuses Russia of testing assassination methods with chemical weapons, including using nerve agents smeared on to door handles.

Police say traces of a Novichok nerve agent have been found at sites across Salisbury at low concentrations following the attack – with the highest concentration found on the door handle of Mr Skripal’s house.

But the details contained in the letter do not identify the exact culprits behind the poison attack.

Sir Mark said it was “highly likely” people such as Mr Skripal, who was exchanged in a spy swap in 2010 after being convicted of passing information to the UK, may be regarded as “legitimate targets” for “state-sponsored assassination” by Russia.

He said the UK government continued “to judge that only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals and that it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible”.

“There is no plausible alternative explanation,” he added.

The letter also claims President Vladimir Putin was closely involved in the Russian chemical weapons programme in the mid-2000s, and that it was “highly unlikely” any former Soviet republic other than Russia pursued chemical weapons after independence.

The Russian embassy, which is publishing its own report into the Salisbury attack, said the UK had not produced “any evidence” to support its claims about the incident.

Its ambassador Alexander Yakovenko called Britain’s response “quite strange, to put it mildly” as he criticised the UK’s refusal to grant consular access to Ms Skripal.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has said around 250 detectives were working on the Salisbury investigation.

She said they would do everything to establish the facts and “if at all possible” bring those responsible to justice.

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