Traumatised novichok doctor says ‘we feared spies would come and finish them off’


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ICU consultant James Haslam speaks for the first time since the Salisbury poisonings and reveals the fear among medics as it dawned on them that their patients were victims of an assassination attempt

James Haslam at the hospital
Dr Haslam is committed to life-saving

The doctor who saved the Skripals from dying of novichok poisoning has revealed he feared assassins might visit his hospital to kill them.

Speaking for the first time since the poisonings in 2018, ICU consultant James Haslam said he immediately felt the working diagnosis of opioid overdose or toxicity did not add up when he took over care of Julia Skripal and ex-spy dad Sergei.

They had been admitted the day before.

Dr Haslam said: “In my gut, I knew this just wasn’t quite right. They were severely critically ill, developing multiple organ failure. I thought at this stage it was likely to be as assassination attempt.”

Yulia Skripal and ex-spy father Sergei
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He added of the scene at Salisbury District Hospital: “We had armed guards at the end of our ICU. Is anybody going to come back and finish our patients off?

“Could we get caught in the cross fire?

“That was certainly something that we worried about. Having been chucked in the deep end, I had to learn on the job how these evil toxic substances work.

“That’s why I didn’t sleep much that first week, every sinew was straining for that.”

Chepiga and Mishkin on Salisbury CCTV
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To confirm his suspicions, Dr Haslam had contacted Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, at that time commanding officer of the UK’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment. He agreed the symptoms were consistent with poisoning by a military-grade nerve agent.

Julia and Sergei were saved but three months later Charlie Rowley and girlfriend Dawn Sturgess fell ill after contact with the discarded novichok container.

Dr Haslam recalled: “Dawn dying was a real heartbreaking moment for the whole team.

“I went into intensive care as a profession partly because my dad was critically ill when I was a kid and the ICU guy saved his life. So that’s what I wanted to do for my patients.”

Dr Haslam continued: “I was drained – physically, emotionally and mentally – for about six months afterwards.

“It took a toll on all of us.”

British intelligence have blamed Russian agents Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga and Dr Alexander Mishkin for the attack.

A third agent, Sergey Fedotov, was later announced as a suspect. President Putin continues to deny Russian involvement.

The Kremlin has been running a propaganda campaign to imply the poisonings were a British conspiracy.

  • Feature-length documentary Secrets of the Salisbury Poisonings airs on Discovery+ on Boxing Day.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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