In Brief

Was Prezzo Salisbury poisoning a hoax?

Police considering theory that incident was faked as it emerges ‘victim’ is convicted criminal who pranked Prince Charles

Police investigating an incident at a Salisbury restaurant that triggered a novichok poisoning scare last weekend are considering the theory that it may have been a hoax, according to reports. 

A major incident was declared in the Wiltshire town on Sunday evening after a couple apparently fell ill at a branch of Prezzo not far from where the attack on the Skripals took place earlier this year.

Streets were sealed off and experts in protective clothing rushed in to help, but police quickly downgraded the response after the couple tested negative for any forms of poison. The pair, Alex King, 42, and his Russian-born wife Anna Shapiro, 40, had been rushed to Salisbury District Hospital after raising the alarm at around 6.45pm. 

According to the Salisbury Journal, Shapiro, a model, claimed her husband had begun to feel unwell towards the end of their meal at the Italian restaurant.

Speaking to The Sun, she said that her husband went to the toilet and that she had grown concerned when he did not return after 15 minutes.

“I headed up and saw him lying on the floor near the sinks,” Shapiro said.

“I ran downstairs for help. I was panicked.”

Soon after going to raise the alarm, she too began to feel unwell, the newspaper said.

Shapiro told The Sun on Tuesday that she believed that like the Skripals, she had been targeted by Russian assassins. Her father was a top military official under President Vladimir Putin, she claimed. 

However, police sources yesterday “suggested that one line of inquiry could be that a hoax had taken place”, says The Guardian.

“The hoax line of enquiry comes after it was revealed Mr King, a convicted criminal, once hoaxed Prince Charles by infiltrating a meet-and-greet at a 2006 film premier,” according to the i news site.

On Tuesday, Wiltshire Police said in a statement that they did not believe a crime had been committed although they had not yet established exactly what had happened.  But “they made it clear they were not linking the Prezzo incident to the poisonings of the Skripals and the Salisbury couple Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, all of which have been blamed on Moscow”, says The Guardian.

The Sun now appears to have distanced itself from Shapiro, with the original story about her claims currently unavailable on its website “for legal reasons”.

A Sun spokesperson said: “Like any newspaper, we were keen to talk to those at the centre of the incident and in this case chose to give Ms Shapiro the opportunity to share with the public her version of events.”

The spokesperson added: “Given recent tragic events in Salisbury, the reporting of an event requiring the evacuation of bars and restaurants … and that requires tests for the presence of novichok, is of obvious public interest.”

In the initial report The Sun, suggested that King was fighting for his life and that strychnine – rat poison – might have been to blame.

However, on Wednesday afternoon, Salisbury hospital confirmed that both patients had been discharged and were “medically fit”.

Meanwhile, a Prezzo spokesperson said: “We wish to confirm that the chemical strychnine is not used in Prezzo in Salisbury. This has been verified through independent technical support. We have been informed that Wiltshire Police are not linking the event on Sunday evening to the recent nerve agent poisonings in Salisbury and Amesbury and have made no suggestion that the illness was a result of anything present in our restaurant.”

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