The police officer who was poisoned in the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal has told how his family lost their home and all their possessions after he was contaminated with Novichok.
In his first interview since it happened, Det Sgt Nick Bailey told the BBC: “Everything the kids owned, we lost all that, the cars, we lost everything.”
Det Sgt Bailey came into contact with the nerve agent after being sent to the Skripals’ home, where it had been sprayed on the door handle.
A perfume bottle containing the substance was later found in a bin, leading to the death of a woman who had sprayed the substance onto her wrists.
Investigators now say the bottle contained enough Novichok to potentially kill thousands of people.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found seriously ill on a bench in Salisbury on the afternoon of Sunday 4 March.
That night, Det Sgt Bailey and two colleagues were sent to their home, in a quiet suburb. Clad in full forensic suits, they were tasked with making sure there were no other casualties.
They had no idea the visit would change Det Sgt Bailey’s life. Hours later he began to feel unwell.
“My pupils were like pinpricks and I was quite sweaty and hot,” said the 38-year-old father of two. “At the time I put that down to being tired and stressed.”
By Tuesday he was so unwell, he was rushed to hospital.
“It was horrendous, I was confused, I didn’t know what was going on and it was really, really frightening,” he said.
Det Sgt Bailey was admitted to Salisbury District Hospital, where doctors tried to find the right combination of drugs to fight the poison in his body.
At the same time, scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory – at nearby Porton Down – worked around the clock to find out what had poisoned him and the Skripals.
When experts discovered Novichok was responsible for the poisoning it was “a jaw-dropping moment”, Professor “Tim”, the lead scientist dealing with chemical threats, said.
“Novichok is one of the most dangerous substances known. It’s quite unique in its ability to poison individuals at very low concentrations,” he added.
‘People could die from this’
For the first time, a nerve agent had been used in an attack in Europe.
Doctors had to break the news to Det Sgt Bailey that he had been poisoned with Novichok.
“It’s the fear of the unknown because it’s such a dangerous thing to have in your system. Knowing how the other two were [and] how badly they’d been affected by it, I was petrified,” he said.
Intensive care doctors at Salisbury hospital were faced with something they had not dealt with before and, according to Dr Duncan Murray, there was “a very real expectation” all three could die.
Det Sgt Bailey’s treatment was both painful and stressful.
“I was conscious throughout the whole time,” he said. “I had lots of injections… I had five or six infusions at any one time in my arms. Physically, I felt quite numb after a while.”
One of the Skripals was being treated in the room next door, which he said was guarded by police.
“One moment you’d have a nurse coming in with a sandwich for you dressed top to bottom in protective gear,” he said,
However, they might be “closely followed” by his wife and children, who were “allowed to just walk in”.
“It was very confusing.”
It took two weeks of painstaking investigation for scientists and police to work out exactly how the Skripals and Det Sgt Bailey had come into contact with Novichok.
When they eventually discovered the nerve agent had been sprayed on the Skripals’ front door handle, Det Sgt Bailey said the news helped him.
Mask and goggles
He’s still not sure how the nerve agent bypassed the protective gloves he was wearing to get into contact with his skin.
“I don’t know,” he said, “I could have adjusted my face mask and my goggles while I was in the house, with it being on my hand.”
Det Sgt Bailey and the Skripals weren’t the only ones poisoned by the nerve agent.
Four months later, Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after she and her partner, Charlie Rowley, 45, were exposed to Novichok in Amesbury, Wiltshire.
Mr Rowley survived.
“My heart goes out to Dawn and her family because I was able to walk out of hospital and, sadly, she wasn’t,” Det Sgt Bailey said.
It was the tragedy of Dawn’s death that helped detectives solve a vital piece of the puzzle. Charlie had found a perfume bottle and given it to Dawn.
Believing it was a popular brand of perfume, she sprayed some on her wrists. In fact, officers believe the bottle had been used to smuggle the Novichok into Britain.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, who is leading the investigation, said there was a “significant amount” of nerve agent in the bottle – probably enough to kill “thousands”.
“The amount that was in the bottle and the way it was applied to the Skripals’ home address was completely reckless,” he told BBC Panorama.
The UK government blames Russia for the attack.
For Det Sgt Bailey, it is something he has to come to terms with.
“It’s such an outrageous, dangerous way of doing something that it angered me as well because any number of people could have been affected by that,” he said.
The effects have not only been on his health. After finishing work on that fateful day, he unwittingly contaminated his home.
He and his family have so far been unable to return.
“Physically I think I bounced back pretty well thanks to the hospital,” he said. He says the fact he was able to walk out of hospital with his wife after two and a half weeks was “incredible”.
But the mental scars he has been left with are a “different kettle of fish”.
“I describe it as emotional battering,” he said. “It’s taken longer to deal with just because of everything that’s happened to us. Not only did we lose the house, we lost all of our possessions… Everything the kids owned, we lost all that, the cars, we lost everything.”
Det Sgt Bailey has never met Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who have also been discharged from hospital.
Looking to the future, he says he has some concerns: “I have passing moments where I think about how it could affect me, but I can’t control that.
“It’s happened now and I have to just take each day as it comes.”
Watch: Salisbury Nerve Agent Attack – The Inside Story on Thursday 22 November at 20:00 on BBC One, or on BBC iPlayer afterwards.