Russian ex-double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were exposed to a nerve agent, UK police have confirmed. The police are investigating their attempted murder.

Assistant police commissioner for the Metropolitan Police Mark Rowley said “hundreds of detectives” are working on the case, after confirming an unnamed nerve agent has been identified in the case. The pair are currently in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

The pair were found slumped on a bench outside a shopping center in Wiltshire. It is believed they were exposed to a substance, but there are no facts as yet established as to what it was or how the pair came into contact with the substance.

Rowley, who has just weeks left in his role as head of national counter-terrorism policing, said an officer has also been taken seriously ill.

“This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent,” he said.

“These two people remain critically ill in hospital. Sadly, in addition a police officer who was one of the first to attend the scene in response to the incident is now also in a serious condition in hospital. Wiltshire Police are providing every support to his family.”

A police investigation has focused on a number of properties, including Sarum House next door to the Zizzi Zizzi restaurant. The Home Secretary warned this morning against speculation as rumors began to fly. Amber Rudd said police and the nation “has to respond to evidence not rumor.”

“We do know more about the substance and the police will be making a further statement this afternoon in order to share some of that. We must let the police carry on their work,” Rudd told the BBC. Earlier today, Rowley said: “Working alongside Wiltshire police and partner agencies, we continue to carry out extensive inquiries. This investigation is at the early stages and any speculation is unhelpful at this time.

“The focus at this time is to establish what has caused these people to become critically ill. We would like to reassure members of the public that this incident is being taken extremely seriously and we currently do not believe there is any risk to the wider public.

“The two people taken ill were in Salisbury centre from around 1.30pm. Did you see anything out of the ordinary? It may be that at the time, nothing appeared out of place or untoward, but with what you now know, you remember something that might be of significance. Your memory of that afternoon and your movements alone could help us with missing pieces of the investigation. The weather was poor that day, so there were not as many people out and about. Every statement we can take is important.”

An emergency meeting of the government’s crisis team, COBRA, has been chaired by Rudd while Counter Terrorism cops were called in.

Skripal worked as a double agent for the UK intelligence agency MI6 and was jailed in Russia in 2006 for spying for Britain, having passed on the names of undercover Russian intelligence agents. He was later part of a “spy swap” in which Russia released four spies in exchange for 10 Russian agents.

The investigation into what made Russian ex-double agent Sergei Skripal ill “has to respond to evidence not rumor,” says Britain’s Interior Minister Amber Rudd. She believes the investigation is likely to be lengthy.

Rudd added that authorities now know more about the substance affecting Skripal and his daughter. Police will make a further statement later on Wednesday, she said.

Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found slumped on a shopping center bench in Salisbury, Wiltshire, on Sunday. UK counterterrorism police are currently trying to establish what harmed the pair, who remain in a critical but stable condition.

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© Igor Russak

“We do know more about the substance and the police will be making a further statement this afternoon in order to share some of that. We must let the police carry on their work,” Rudd told the BBC.

When asked whether the Russian state was involved in Skripal’s illness, Rudd said: “I’m not going to comment … about that, because I do believe the police need to get on with their investigation.” She would not be drawn on whether or not Skripal is a British citizen.

“This is likely to be a lengthy investigation. We need to make sure we respond to evidence, not rumor,” she added.

Rudd’s comments came after she chaired an emergency meeting of the government’s crisis team, COBRA. Senior ministers and officials received a briefing from counterterrorism police, who took on the investigation yesterday amid “unusual” circumstances.

The Counter Terrorism unit was brought in yesterday afternoon to deal with the investigation, although police have stressed the situation is not currently being treated as an act of terrorism. The substance that Skripal and his daughter were exposed to has still not been identified.

Although Number 10 has so far avoided commenting on the ongoing investigation, Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon as part of her session at the dispatch box during PMQs.

The British mainstream media has been quick to point the finger at the Russian government, despite a lack of any official information or evidence.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described Skripal’s situation as “tragic,” but said the Russian government could not comment because it does not have any information. He reacted to the Western media’s linking of Russia to the deed, however, saying: “It didn’t take them long.”

Skripal worked as a double agent for the UK intelligence agency MI6 and was jailed in Russia in 2006 for spying for Britain, having passed on the names of undercover Russian intelligence agents. He was part of a “spy swap” in which Russia released four spies in exchange for 10 Russian agents.

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