World / Crime & Legal

Britain lets chemical weapons group check poisoned Russian pair's blood as exposed U.K. cop exits hospital

AFP-JIJI

The British police officer exposed to a nerve agent was discharged from a hospital Thursday, as an English judge ruled blood samples can be taken from the ex- Russian spy targeted in the attack for testing by international investigators.

Detective Sgt. Nick Bailey left a hospital in Salisbury, southwestern England, following several weeks of treatment after coming into contact with the chemical substance used on Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4.

“There are really no words to explain how I feel right now,” Bailey said in a statement read out by local police.

“Surreal is the word that keeps cropping up — and it really has been completely surreal,” he added.

“I am just a normal person with a normal life.”

Around the same time, a High Court judge in London ruled that blood samples from Skripal and daughter, Yulia, could be taken for testing by the world chemical weapons body (OPCW).

Britain has called in the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to verify their findings that the nerve agent was one developed by the Soviet Union and held by Russia.

Moscow denies all responsibility and the poisoning has plunged relations between Britain and Russia into severe crisis.

Judge David Williams deemed it was lawful for doctors “to take blood samples for provision to OPCW and to provide copies of medical notes to OPCW.

He concluded that it was in the best interests of the Skripals, who are unconscious and therefore unable to give their consent.

The hospitalization of Bailey, who was among the first to respond to the poisoning of the Russian pair in the southern English city of Salisbury, helped escalate an already explosive case in Britain.

Lawmakers and British tabloid newspapers decried his unintended targeting and stepped up the pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May for a swift and stern response.

“We will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian Government,” May said in a weekend speech, following the announcement it would expel 23 Russian diplomats.

May’s government has also tried to rally international support from Western allies for unified action against Russia by noting Russian aggression could hit their citizens too.

At a European Union summit today, she warned fellow leaders that the threat would “endure for years to come.

Mathieu Boulegue, research fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at the Chatham House think tank, told AFP earlier this month the involvement of a police officer was likely to have increased the pressure to find a suitable response.

Involving “a British citizen, a policeman even more, there is necessarily the immediate and strong involvement of the British authorities,” he said.

Bailey’s case has parallels with the murder of Yvonne Fletcher, a British policewoman patrolling a small demonstration outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984 when she was hit by shots fired from the diplomatic compound.

The killing led to Britain severing diplomatic relations with Libya until 1999 and was long an obstacle to ties between London and Tripoli.

Relations with Russia have deteriorated severely since the March 4 attack.

Following tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions, this week has seen an escalating war of words between the two countries.

On Wednesday British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson agreed with a lawmaker’s assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin would exploit the 2018 football World Cup in Russia as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler did the Berlin Olympics.

That prompted a furious reaction from Moscow, with the Kremlin branding the comments “disgusting.

Meanwhile, the Skripals remain in a hospital “under heavy sedation, according to the judge who issued Thursday’s ruling in favor of new blood tests.

“The precise effect of their exposure on their long term health remains unclear albeit medical tests indicate that their mental capacity might be compromised to an unknown and so far unascertained degree,” Williams noted.