THERE’S only one story in Salisbury this week: the tragic death of Dawn Sturgess whilst, as I write, her partner, Charlie Rowley remains critically ill.

Apart from the tragic effect on them, their families and those who live in and around the areas of police investigation, the impact on the city and its standing within the nation has also been profound. As one trader, interviewed on national radio put it, ‘Things were just starting to get back to normal, and now this… My shop emptied as the news came through.’ Adrian Green from the museum recently wrote in Footnotes that, even before this incident, visitor numbers had halved compared with last year.

A friend in Southampton was chatting to colleagues from the university who’d booked places on the Salisbury half marathon in October. ‘I’m not sure we should do it,’ one of them said. ‘Maybe it’s not safe…’. ‘This is sure to be one of the most popular half marathons in the south… around some of the great landmarks of the city,’ boasts the official website. I’m not so sure. Alongside its cathedral, Salisbury is now famous the world over for the ill-fated Zizzi restaurant, removed, contaminated park benches and now the taped off Elizabeth Gardens.

If intelligent students at a nearby university have misgivings, one can only imagine the panic gripping potential tourists. A colleague at work commented to me wryly that cycling in London was no longer my riskiest pursuit; sitting on a park bench in Salisbury might be lethal.

The nerve agent that has taken one innocent life and threatened the life of three others has also poisoned the life blood of a city and damaged its good standing in the world. Salisbury, the home of Magna Carta, once associated with freedom, emancipation and the inspiration of the US declaration of independence, is now inextricably linked with international espionage, assassinations and toxic risk.

In his article, Adrian appealed to the spirit of defiance that characterised other cities’ responses to terrorism. Difficult to achieve under the current circumstances, when as a friend commented, that Elizabeth Gardens is where she likes to walk her dog and is now wondering whether, for the last three months, she (and Towzer) had been at risk of contamination? Wasn’t there a comprehensive clear-up operation? What about all the assurances previously given that Novichok will degrade over time? Andrea Sella, professor of inorganic chemistry at UCL says nerve agents are designed to be quite persistent – they hang around in the environment, neither evaporating or decomposing quickly.

I am reminded of the famous prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” We are where we are. Alongside compassion for its victims, Salisbury now needs lashings of the hope, defiance and determination that has always characterised our national response to terrorism.