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Downing Street slams Salisbury Novichok nerve agent attack suspects' RT interview as 'lies and blatant fabrications'

Downing Street has accused Russia of "lies and blatant fabrications" following a television interview in which Salisbury nerve agent suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov claim they only reason they were in the "wonderful" English city was to visit the cathedral.

The pair made the extraordinary claim in an interview broadcast by Russian state-funded news channel Russia Today (RT) in which they listed facts about the 13th century place of worship, while also claiming that the whole incident had turned their lives "upside down" and "into a nightmare".

So just what did we learn from the interview?

  • Petrov and Boshirov were in Salisbury to visit the cathedral

However, as ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn noted, the pair were caught on CCTV in Wilton Road, which is in the opposite direction to Salisbury Cathedral from the city's train station.

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Petrov and Boshirov walk along Wilton Road in Salisbury. Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA
  • The pair were so interested in the cathedral that they were able to tell their interviewer that it has an "123m spire" and the oldest clock in the world
The pair said they were in Salisbury to visit the cathedral. Credit: PA

Salisbury Cathedral's spire is indeed 123m tall (403.5ft) and the two men are correct in that the cathedral's clock is the world's oldest working mechanical clock.

It was made in around 1386 and still rings to this day.

Scotland Yard released pictures of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA
  • They claim they are civilians, not members of the Russian military intelligence service the GRU, and that the British investigation has "ruined their lives"

Following the Novichok attack in Salisbury on March 4 which left Sergei and Yulia Skripal fighting for their lives, police and prosecutors in the UK have announced they have enough information to charge Boshirov and Petrov, believing that the pair smeared the military-grade nerve agent on the 66-year-old's front door.

A police officer who visited Mr Skripal's home shortly after the attack, Nick Bailey, was also left critically ill from exposure to the substance.

Officers have also formally linked the attack on the Skripals to the poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley in Amesbury, but the charges do not relate to this second incident which left Ms Sturgess dead and Mr Rowley critically ill and it is still under investigation.

Despite the pair's denials, the UK Government remains unwavering in its belief that the two men are the "prime suspects in relation to the attack in Salisbury.

"The Government is clear these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service - the GRU - who used a devastatingly toxic, illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country."

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Theresa May called the interview "lies and blatant fabrications" which are "an insult to the public's intelligence.

"More importantly, they are deeply offensive to the victims and loved ones of this horrific attack. Sadly, it is what we have come to expect.

"An illegal chemical weapon has been used on the streets of this country.

"We have seen four people left seriously ill in hospital and an innocent woman has died. Russia has responded with contempt."

The official added that if either of the men "ever again set foot outside Russia" they will be "apprehended and brought to justice in the UK".

However, so long as Petrov and Borishov remain in Russia they are likely to be safe from the charging powers of British authorities, since Moscow does not extradite its nationals.

  • They claim that their real names are Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and they work in sports nutrition

UK intelligence suggests these are fake names and that the pair travelled to Britain under aliases, to carry out work for their real employer, the GRU.

The pair refused to show their passports on camera.

  • They did not have any of the military-grade nerve agent, Novichok, on them

The pair emphatically denied they had any Novichok or poison with them.

They also told RT that the clothes they wore in Salisbury are back in Russia, meaning it would be near-impossible for UK authorities to carry out any tests on them.

The pair arrive at Gatwick Airport two days before the Skripals fell critically ill. Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA
  • They did not have perfume with them

A counterfeit bottle of Nina Ricci, Premier Jour, perfume was found by Mr Rowley in a charity shop bin in Salisbury, but the bottle actually contained a “significant” amount of Novichok.

Mr Rowley spilt some of the contents of the bottle on himself, while Ms Sturgess sprayed it on herself.

The pair maintained that they had no knowledge of such a bottle, telling RT: “Isn't it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume?"

"The customs are checking everything, they would have questions as to why men have women’s perfume in their luggage. We didn’t have it."

The counterfeit perfume box found by Charlie Rowley on June 27. Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA
  • The pair got wet walking through slush on their visit to Salisbury on Saturday, March 3, and so they returned to London, going back to Salisbury the following day
Much of the slush had melted when the pair revisited Salisbury on Sunday, March 4. Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA

The pair's interview comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Petrov and Boshirov were civilians and that they should appear in public and talk about themselves.

Just hours later, RT said its Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan, had been contacted by the two men asking for an interview.

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Mr Putin said the men had been discounted as members of his security network.

In an address to the Easter Economic Forum in Vladivostok, he said: “Of course, we looked who these people are. We know who they are, we have found them already.”

He added: “There is nothing special and nothing criminal about it, I’m telling you.”

Questioned on whether the pair were civilians, he replied: “Of course they are civilians.”

The Russian President said he hoped Mr Petrov and Mr Boshirov would appear in public to dispel doubt about their true identity.

What we know about the suspect's movements up to and following poisoning according to UK authorities

  • ITV News correspondent Rupert Evelyn walks us through it
  • At 3pm on Friday, March 2, the suspects arrive at Gatwick airport, having flown from Moscow on Aeroflot flight SU2588, two days before the attack.
  • They then travel by train into London, arriving at Victoria station at approximately 5.40pm.
  • They travel on London public transport to Waterloo station the travel to the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, East London, where they stayed on Friday, 2 March, and Saturday, March 3.
  • On Saturday, March 3, they leave the hotel and take the underground to Waterloo station, where they caught a train to Salisbury, arriving at approximately 2.25pm. It is believed this trip was for reconnaissance of the Salisbury area there was no risk to the public from their movements on this day.
The pair were spotted on CCTV several times at Salisbury train station. Credit: Metropolitan Police
  • They take the same route when they return to London on the afternoon of Saturday, March 3. Leaving Salisbury at approximately 4.10pm and arriving in Bow at approximately 8.05 pm.
  • On Sunday, March 4, they make the same journey from the hotel, again using the underground from Bow to Waterloo station at approximately 8.05am, before continuing their journey by train to Salisbury.
  • CCTV shows them in the vicinity of Mr Skripal’s house and it is believed they contaminated the front door with Novichok.
  • They leave Salisbury and return to Waterloo Station, arriving at approximately 4.45pm and board the London Underground at approximately 6.30pm to London Heathrow Airport.
  • From Heathrow Airport, they return to Moscow on Aeroflot flight SU2585, departing at 10.30pm on Sunday, March 4.
Sergei and Yulia Skripal were left fighting for their lives after Novichok was smeared on the former GRU agent's front door.