Russian suspects’ claims over spy attack spark mockery in UK

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who were formally accused of attempting to murder former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, are seen on CCTV at Salisbury Station on March 4, 2018 in an image handed out by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain September 5, 2018. (Reuters pic)

LONDON: An interview by two men accused by London of poisoning a former Russian spy in Salisbury has prompted mockery and derision on social media — led by Britain’s foreign minister.

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov denied being members of Russian military intelligence, telling the Kremlin-backed RT news network they were in the English city purely as tourists.

“The last time Russian military claimed to be on holiday was when they invaded Ukraine in 2014,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted.

Salisbury Cathedral, a landmark the pair said they had wanted to visit, used the opportunity for a little promotion, tweeting a picture of its famous spire, “the tallest in Britain”.

In the Daily Telegraph newspaper, cartoonist Matt depicted three men in classic spy outfits on a Moscow bridge with the caption, “You went to Salisbury cathedral and you didn’t bring us back a keyring or a bookmark?”

One Twitter wag posted a picture of door handles, with the caption, “Salisbury Cathedral gift shop announces range of souvenirs.”

The Russians are accused of putting the nerve agent Novichok on the front door handle of former double agent Sergei Skripal in the poisoning attack on March 4.

He and his daughter Yulia became seriously ill, while a police officer on the case was also hospitalised.

They all recovered but a fake perfume bottle containing Novichok was picked up by a local man. He gave it his girlfriend, who later died.

British police say the two Russians flew into London from Moscow and made two short day-trips to Salisbury on the Saturday and Sunday before flying home from Heathrow airport.

“It’s been said before, but what a bold move, to rely on Sunday trains to get themselves to Salisbury and back and then to Heathrow,” one Twitter user noted, in reference to the often unreliable Sunday train services.

TV quiz show host Richard Osman mocked-up a survey, asking, “Can you help two friends of mine? They’re coming to the UK but only for 2 days… which two places should they visit?”

He offered four choices: London and Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge, Manchester and Liverpool, Salisbury and Salisbury.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said the interview was an “insult to the public’s intelligence”.