THE victims of the nerve agent emergency in Amesbury were not directly targeted, the security minister has said, amidst warnings to the public not to pick up any unknown objects.

Ben Wallace said the "working assumption" is that the pair were exposed to Novichok either as a result of the attack on Russian former-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury earlier this year, or "something else".

And home secretary Savid Javid warned the public should not pick up any unknown objects in the city. 

Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, were taken ill on Saturday in Muggleton Road, Amesbury.

Referring to the incident, Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think what we said at the time was that this was a brazen and reckless attack in the heart of a very peaceful part of the United Kingdom, and that is part of the anger I feel about the Russian state is that they chose to use clearly a very, very toxic, highly dangerous weapon."

The Kremlin described the Amesbury poisoning as "disturbing" and said Russia wished the victims a speedy recovery.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that Russia had so far received no "appeal" from the UK in relation to the incident.

According to the Tass news agency, Mr Peskov said: "This is very disturbing news. Of course, it triggers profound concern in connection with the similar incidents in the UK.

"We wish them a speedy recovery."

As the latest incident threatened to plunge Britain's relations with the Kremlin further into the deep freeze:

  • It was understood investigators are working on a theory that the pair came into contact with the deadly substance in a part of Salisbury city centre that was outside the clean-up launched after the attack against the Skripals.

  • There were warnings that the new Novichok poisoning will raise "serious questions" over the massive clean-up operation launched following the March incident.

  • The man and woman remained critically ill in hospital.

  • Public Health England (PHE) said it did not believe there to be a "significant health risk" to the wider public, although its advice was being reviewed.

  • Home Secretary Sajid Javid was preparing to chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on Thursday.

Officers were called to a home in Muggleton Road, Amesbury, on Saturday morning when the 44-year-old woman collapsed.

They were called back later that day when the man, 45, also fell ill.

It was initially believed that the two patients fell ill after possibly using drugs from a contaminated batch, police have said.

But after further tests, authorities declared a major incident and on Wednesday night counter-terror police assumed responsibility for the investigation after the Government's Porton Down laboratory concluded that the pair had been exposed to Novichok.

A senior Government source told the Press Association it is believed there was cross-contamination of the same batch of nerve agent involved in the "reckless" Salisbury attack, as opposed to a secondary attack.

"They (the authorities) have never been able to ascertain the item used to deposit the Novichok and it's possible the pair have come into contact with that item," the source said.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the country's most senior anti-terror officer, acknowledged there will be "a great deal of speculation" over potential links between the two incidents.

He said: "I would add that the complex investigation into the attempted murders of Yulia and Sergei remains ongoing and detectives continue to sift through and assess all the available evidence and are following every possible lead to identify those responsible, for what remains a reckless and barbaric criminal act.

"I must say that we are not in a position to say whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skripals were exposed to.

"The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of inquiry for us."

Health officials say their current advice, based on the small number of casualties affected, is that the risk to the public is low.

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director of Public Health England, told the Today programme: "The sites that were the subject of the clean-up after Skripal are not associated with this incident.

"So there should not be any concern that the clean-up after the previous incident has not worked here."