Det Sgt Nick Bailey, another innocent victim…

“Collateral damage” is a cold heartless phrase indicating innocent victims of war.

Last Sunday, Det Sgt Nick Bailey went to work in Salisbury, Wiltshire, a medieval city surrounded by picture-book English countryside. With its cathedral viewed across water meadows, this place is, according to the local tourist board, famous as the “city in the countryside”.

In 2015, Lonely Planet decreed Salisbury to be one of the top ten cities in the world to visit. The Early English Gothic cathedral is home to one of four original Magna Carta manuscripts – the best one, according again to the tourist board (not that they’re biased or anything).

Not a bad place for Sgt Bailey to work, then. And the least likely city in the world in which to become gravely ill during an ordinary day’s policing thanks to an alleged Russian poison attack.

Yet that is exactly what happened to Sgt Bailey who was first on the scene at the apparent poisoning of Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33. He was reportedly alerted to two drunks acting strangely, as drunks do – everyday nuisance policing, in other words.

Sgt Bailey was taken ill after finding the pair slumped on a bench near the Maltings shopping centre last Sunday afternoon. It is thought that they had been poisoned by highly toxic chemicals known as nerve agents.

‘It is hardly surprising that the finger of suspicion should point at Russia and President Putin’

As Skripal was a Russian double agent who had betrayed his country, it is hardly surprising that the finger of suspicion should point at Russia and President Putin.

In a sense that doesn’t much worry me either way.

It seems reasonable to suspect that Putin or someone close to him might have ordered this poisoning. This has happened before, to Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian security officer who died in Britain of radiation poisoning in 2006, after drinking a lethally laced cup of tea in a Mayfair hotel. Putin washed his hands of that one, as Putin would.

Some theorists suggest the latest poisoning could have been a put-up job to swivel suspicion towards the Russian leader.

Either way, it doesn’t matter.

What is telling here is that an ordinary British police officer came close to death on an ordinary Sunday afternoon in Salisbury. Whoever administered the poison, they were not thinking of a blameless British police officer.

That’s the way with collateral damage.

Mrs Maybe is acting tough in today’s newspapers. She’ll be giving Putin a talking-to, that sort of nonsense.

Well, maybe she will.

But earlier this week as she hobnobbed with the de facto Saudi ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, was she thinking of the innocent victims of the murderous war in Yemen? No, mostly she was thinking (again) of Brexit and how to strike deals (including arms deals) with the Saudis once she’s cut the last chain tying us to Europe.

When the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks, was anyone thinking of the 2,000 US soldiers who would die, the 20,000 Afghan soldiers or the 30,000 civilians (figures from Jason Burke in the Observer)?

‘I can’t speak for Sgt Bailey, of course, but I don’t imagine he feels heroic, so much as deeply confused’

No, just more collateral damage.

The world is full of innocent victims, from Syria to the Congo and many other places of misery in between.

Sgt Bailey of Salisbury is just the latest of many accidental victims. At the time of writing, he is said to be “conscious but stable” but he is at least sitting up in his hospital bed.

Some of the newspapers cast Sgt Bailey in the hero mould, a routine reaction, but not necessarily a helpful one: he was just a man doing his job who stumbled on something very nasty. I can’t speak for Sgt Bailey, of course, but I don’t imagine he feels heroic, so much as deeply confused.

Mr Skripal and his daughter remain critically ill. Incidentally, virtually all the newspapers put the story on the front pages. Did they use large pictures of the ageing and balding alleged former double agent or did they use pictures of his daughter, who is youngish, female and attractive?

Oh, you work it out.

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