Salisbury is a wonderful city that I've visited many times over the years. My last trip combined the pleasure of seeing family members based there with an appearance at Salisbury Literature Festival, and an overnight stay in the lovely Cathedral Close. But it was an unusual visit, because Salisbury was at that time in the process of recovering from a chemical weapons attack by a foreign power.
This was the extraordinary case of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a Russian father and daughter, who were found on a bench at the Maltings suffering from what proved to be Novichok, one of the deadliest substances on earth. Sergei Skripal was a former spy who had been the subject of an exchange deal with Russia eight years earlier and had made a new life in Salisbury. The Skripals eventually recovered well enough to leave hospital, and apparently they are now living under new identities elsewhere in the world. Another innocent victim was police officer Nick Bailey. A couple who touched a discarded perfume container, which had held the Novichok, were less fortunate. Charlie Rowley gave the perfume to Dawn Sturgess; Dawn died and Charlie continues to suffer the after-effects. The killers have never been brought to justice.
The BBC have just shown a three-part series about the case, written by Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn. The focus of this version was on the handling of the public health crisis occasioned by the poisonings. Anne-Marie Duff gave her usual professional performance as the public health director whose quick thinking averted even more casualties. Rafe Spall was an empathetic Nick Bailey, while MyAnna Buring did a good job as Dawn Sturgess. Another high-calibre actor, Mark Addy, was given a small part as a friend of the Skripals.
The human cost of this tragedy, the horrific 'collateral damage' if you like, was huge, and that was the theme of the series. As far as it went, the script was competent and at times affecting. However, there were yawning gaps in the story. We learned practically nothing about the Skripals, since the people who were actually targeted by the killers hardly featured. Addy's character, for instance, told us very little about them, and I found this frustrating. What of their human tragedy? The writers ignored it. Maybe this was inevitable in the circumstances, but if you choose to write about such a case, it seems odd to discount the people at the heart of it. As a result, The Salisbury Poisonings felt like a story half-told.