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Police contact 131 people over Salisbury nerve agent fears

Police and health officials have identified 131 people who could have been exposed to the nerve agent that has left Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a critical condition

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Police contact 131 people over Salisbury nerve agent fears” was written by Steven Morris and Caroline Bannock, for theguardian.com on Thursday 15th March 2018 22.57 UTC

Police and health officials have identified 131 people who could have been exposed to the nerve agent that has left Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a critical condition, it has emerged.

It was also revealed on Thursday that 46 people have attended hospital in Salisbury expressing concern that they could be affected.

Public health officials said it was possible – though unlikely – that clothes or possessions of those who ate and drank in the same restaurant and pub as the Skripals could still be contaminated.

However, a public meeting held at City Hall in Salisbury was told that only the Skripals and DS Nick Bailey had received hospital treatment.

Novichok refers to a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s to elude international restrictions on chemical weapons. Like other nerve agents, they are organophosphate compounds, but the chemicals used to make them, and their final structures, are considered classified in the UK, the US and other countries.

The most potent of the novichok substances are considered to be more lethal than VX, the most deadly of the familiar nerve agents, which include sarin, tabun and soman.

While the novichok agents work in a similar way, by massively over-stimulating muscles and glands, one chemical weapons expert said the agents did not degrade fast in the environment and had ‘an additional toxicity that was not well understood. Treatment for novichok exposure would be the same as for other nerve agents, namely with atropine, diazepam and potentially drugs called oximes.

The chemical structures of novichok agents were made public in 2008 by Vil Mirzayanov, a former Russian scientist living in the US, but the structures have never been publicly confirmed. It is thought they can be made in different forms, including as a dust aerosol.

The novichoks are known as binary agents because they only become lethal  after mixing two otherwise harmless components. According to Mirzayanov, they are 10 to 100 times more toxic than conventional nerve agents.

While laboratories that are used to police chemical weapons incidents have databases of nerve agents, few outside Russia are believed to have full details of the novichok compounds and the chemicals needed to make them.

Jenny Harries, regional director at Public Health England, accepted it was difficult for people to understand why they were allowed to get close to scenes that were being examined by officers in protective hazmat suits.

But she said: “The risk to the general public is low. There are only three cases in hospital. No members of the public have been harmed by this incident. It’s an important message to hang on to.”

Health and council officials, as well as police, promised to be as open as they could to allay fears, and public health representatives will be at the Saturday market in Salisbury to speak to anyone with concerns.

The deputy chief constable of Wiltshire, Paul Mills, said: “46 people have attended [hospital] expressing concern. Each has been assessed but other than the three patients you are aware of no other persons have required hospital admission.

“We have identified 131 people who potentially could have been in contact with the nerve agent and each of these has received calls to ensure their wellbeing. None of these persons have developed symptoms that would indicate they have been exposed to the agent.”

Mills called the nature and scale of the operation “unprecedented”.

He revealed almost 500 police officers and staff were involved backed up by 200 military personnel. There were also 80 ambulance staff on hand every day from nine out of the 10 ambulance trusts nationwide and 50 firefighters. Mills said that cordons could be in place for months to come.

Council leaders accepted that the international reputation of Salisbury could be dented by the attack and the economic impact could be severe.

They announced measures including business rate relief for those affected and the launch of a hardship fund for those worst hit. Park and rides in the city will be free from Saturday until Easter Monday – though there were howls of protest when the council insisted that parking costs in the city would not be reduced.

Asked what the city’s feelings towards Russia, Salisbury’s Conservative MP John Glen said: “People are outraged that a silent assassin could attempt murder. But our message to the people of Russia s that they are always welcome in Salisbury. Our issue is with the Putin regime.”

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Crime

Bo Dukes Sentenced To 25 Years In Prison For Covering Up Death of Tara Grinstead

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ABBEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A man convicted of helping hide the death of a missing Georgia teacher has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

News outlets reported that 34-year-old Bo Dukes was sentenced Friday morning in court in Abbeville.

Dukes was convicted Thursday night of lying to investigators about the 2005 death of Tara Grinstead. The high school history teacher’s body was burned to ash and bone fragments in a pecan orchard.

What happened to the woman wasn’t revealed until Dukes and another man were arrested in 2017.

Dukes was convicted of two counts of making a false statement, hindering the arrest of a criminal and concealing a death.

His co-defendant, Ryan Alexander Duke, is charged with murder in Grinstead’s death and is scheduled for trial April 1 in Irwin County.

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Crime

US Supreme Court Agrees To Decide Whether Lee Boyd Malvo Gets A New Sentence

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March 18 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether a gunman in the 2002 Beltway Sniper case should receive a new sentence because he was a teenager at the time.

The random shootings terrorized the Washington, D.C., area in September and October 2002 and killed 10 people. Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad were ultimately captured and convicted of the sniper killings. Muhammad was executed in 2009 and Malvo is serving six consecutive life sentences. At the time of the shootings, Malvo was 17.

The Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari Monday to hear the appeal next term.

At issue is a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that said juveniles cannot be given mandatory life-without-parole sentences unless they committed murder or were determined permanently incorrigible.

A Virginia court last year vacated Malvo’s sentences and asked a trial court to rule on whether his crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility or “the transient nature of youth.”

Malvo is now 34 years old.

A U.S. Court of Appeals panel called the Beltway shootings “the most heinous, random acts of premeditated violence conceivable, destroying lives and families and terrorizing the entire Washington D.C., metropolitan area for over six weeks, instilling mortal fear daily in the citizens of that community.”

The judges said, “Malvo was 17 years old when he committed the murders, and he now has the retroactive benefit of new constitutional rules that treat juveniles differently for sentencing.”

Malvo faces life without parole in Maryland, where he killed six people. That sentence was upheld in 2017 and is pending at the state Supreme Court. Muhammad, who was 25 years older than Malvo, smuggled him into the country illegally from Antigua.

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Crime

First Murder Trial in Tara Grinstead Case Begins

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ABBEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia man is standing trial on charges that he helped conceal the death of a high school teacher who disappeared more than 13 years ago.

Bo Dukes is charged with concealing a death, hindering the apprehension of a felon and lying to police after Tara Grinstead vanished from her home in rural Irwin County in October 2005. His trial began Monday in neighboring Wilcox County.

Prosecutors say Dukes’ friend, Ryan Duke, killed Grinstead and enlisted Dukes’ to help burn her body. Both men were arrested in 2017. Duke is charged with murder. His trial is scheduled to start April 1.

John McCullough testified Tuesday that he befriended Dukes during Army basic training in 2006. He said Dukes confessed to him a few weeks after they met.

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