Weedkiller: There is a reason groundspeople wear protective clothing when they’re spraying this stuff around.

There may be a chorus of outrage over the question in the headline – but it seems to be time to ask it.

The police officer who was affected by the same poison as the Skripals – DS Nick Bailey – has been discharged from hospital, and if he is continuing to suffer ill effects, we have not been told about it. This is not consistent with nerve agent poisoning.

The testimony of the late Soviet chemical weapons scientist Andrei Zheleznyakov indicates that anybody exposed to a nerve agent will die – possibly after years spent battling its effects. Mr Zheleznyakov died six years after he was exposed to an experimental Novichok in 1987, after battling cirrhosis, toxic hepatitis, nerve damage and epilepsy.

Does DS Bailey have to face this? It seems not. All the reports indicate that his ordeal is over and he will be able to go back to normal life.

To this, we can add information from Stephen Davies, a consultant in emergency medicine at Salisbury District Hospital, where the Skripals and DS Bailey have been treated.

In a letter to The Times, he stated: No patients have experienced symptoms of nerve-agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning.”

The full letter, re-published by Off-Guardian, states:

Sir, Further to your report (“Poison Exposure Leaves Almost 40 Needing Treatment”, Mar 14), may I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve-agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning. Several people have attended the emergency department concerned that they may have been exposed. None had symptoms of poisoning and none has needed treatment. Any blood tests performed have shown no abnormality. No member of the public has been contaminated by the agent involved.

STEPHEN DAVIESConsultant in Emergency Medicine, Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

He was saying three people were poisoned, with an “agent” – not a “nerve-agent”.

If we consider alternatives, it becomes clear very quickly that weed killers which include the organophosphate known as glyphosate among their ingredients can cause severe harm.

Initially, this type of poisoning can cause watery eyes and excess salivation. Breathing difficulties often occur, along with nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. The fingernails and lips can become blue. The person might develop a headache and feel both dizzy and weak. They might also experience anxiety and convulsions, and may slip into a coma. Organophosphates are especially dangerous because they can be easily absorbed through the skin and cause paralysis and death in a short period of time. Even if a person survives, they may suffer permanent brain damage.

Compare this with the description of Novichok nerve agent poisoning by Vil Mirzayanov, a Russian chemist who wrote a book about it.

He said the nerve agent can affect the eyes, constricting the pupils. It causes wheezing, shortness of breath, and excessive fluid secretion in the lungs, along with nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. The affected person may experience convulsions and slip into a coma. Death can occur by asphyxiation or cardiac arrest.

I know these symptoms are not identical – but they are similar enough, don’t you think?

Especially notable is the mention of permanent brain damage as a result of organophosphate poisoning. Reports of DS Bailey’s discharge from hospital also warn that the Skripals’ mental capacity may be “compromised to an unknown and so far unascertained degree.”

Organophosphate poisoning may be treated with many chemicals, most notably atropine. It would be interesting to know whether this was applied to DS Bailey.

Taking the above into account, it seems entirely possible that the Salisbury poisoning was not the result of a Novichok deployed by Vladimir Putin, but that of a clumsy groundsperson spraying Gallup 360.

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