As Theresa May branded the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter a “brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians”, large areas of the centre of the normally bustling cathedral city of Salisbury remain cordoned off.
Shoppers are scared to come out, and traders have reported a 60 per cent drop in earnings, with even regular customers staying away following the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Twenty one people have been treated following the attack in which the “military grade” nerve agent Novichok was used, including the Skripals and Wiltshire police officer Nick Bailey.
“People are just scared”, staff at local shops told The Independent. The Maltings shopping centre is home to several small shops whose workers admitted trade had collapsed in the week since the pair were found seriously ill from the effects of the poison on a bench in the middle of town.
As Theresa May announced in Parliament that the Government believed Russia to have been responsible for the attempted murder, either deliberately or by losing control of the nerve agent, The Independent asked traders if they would push for compensation from the Kremlin.
“Like you would ever get it”, scoffed Kate Mills, co-owner of The Cake Forge in The Maltings on Monday.
Her shop sits in what is ordinarily a well-trodden cut-through, sited strategically between a coach park and the city centre, that sees between 20,000 and 30,000 people pass by each week.
But since police cordons went up at two of four entrances to the riverside path – outside the doors of The Mill pub, and in the park where Mr Skripal was found – footfall has dropped hugely.
Ms Mills’ husband, Dan, told The Independent: “People are just scared. Our takings were down by 60 per cent last week. We opened in August so we’ve got an average takings now.
“Last week was our worst week by far. Even our regulars haven’t been in. I’m just glad it wasn’t on our doorstep.
“I can understand the police have got a job to do”, he added.
Authorities are thought to be updating the shopping centre team on a day-by-day basis as to restrictions on the public’s movements.
The fast-moving nature of the investigation became apparent on Monday afternoon when police sealed off the upper floor of Sainsbury’s car park, just over the river from where Mr Skripal and his daughter were discovered on a bench. Forensic tents and further cordons are still in place there.
At the supermarket, blue-and-white police tape restricted access from a number of stairwells, though at least one member of the public was allowed to retrieve their car from the upper deck.
While the store remained open, black sheeting at the entrance guarded by a police officer obstructed the view into the car park.
“The town is quiet”, admitted Sarah Haydon, owner of Conker Boutique in The Maltings.
“People are nervous but I don’t know what there is to be nervous about. They’re not interested in anybody else, whoever ‘they’ are.”
Of the official response to last weekend’s poisoning Ms Haydon said: “I have a view that it’s been reactive, not proactive.”
Marion Allen, speaking in the Stonehenge tailor’s shop, said Public Health England’s warning on Sunday that anyone who had visited Zizzi’s or The Mill, where the Skripals had been, to wash their clothes to avoid potential prolonged exposure to the nerve agent, came “a bit blinking late”.
Across the town traders are anxious to weather the storm.
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Poppy White, a retail assistant at Ganesha jewellery and craft shop only yards from the park-side cordon, told The Independent: “I’ve heard people say, ‘That’s all totally closed” – it’s not. There are signs everywhere saying we’re open. We’re losing a lot of trade purely because no one is walking this way.
“I’ve just been told that apparently it’s going to go on for another week.
“I didn’t feel comfortable coming into work the first few days, then I thought, ‘What am I worried about?’”
William Brown, landlord of the Salisbury Arms in Endless Street, said: “I think it will take a little while for people to get over it.
“We had a couple of bookings not turn up. We had bookings of nine and six who were supposed to show up and that never happens here.”
A friend of his also decided to drink elsewhere, he said. “I got a message on Friday saying, ‘We’re going to a country pub because one of the group is too scared to come into the town centre.’
“The weekend was definitely quieter than we expected.”