Porton Down experts unable to verify ‘precise source of novichok’

Steven Morris — Guardian.co.uk April 3, 2018

biological warfare protective clothing

British scientists at Porton Down have not been able to establish where the novichok nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal was made, it has emerged.

Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, Wiltshire, said it had not proved it was created in Russia.

Aitkenhead confirmed the substance required “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something only in the capabilities of a state actor”.

The comments are bound to be seized on by Russia, which insists it was not behind the attack and claims the British government’s accusations that it is behind it are a provocation.

Speaking to Sky News, Aitkenhead said: “We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify that it was military-grade nerve agent.

“We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to government who have then used a number of other sources.”

He explained that establishing its origin required “other inputs”, some of them intelligence-based, that the government has access to.

Aitkenhead added: “It is our job to provide the scientific evidence of what this particular nerve agent is. We identified that it is from this particular family and that it is a military grade, but it is not our job to say where it was manufactured.”

He told the broadcaster there is no known antidote to novichok, and that none was given to either of the Skripals.

Aitkenhead would not comment on whether the laboratory had developed or kept stocks of novichok, but dismissed the suggestion from Russia that the agent used to poison the Skripals could have come from Porton Down.

“There is no way anything like that could have come from us or left the four walls of our facility,” said Aitkenhead.