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England fans were frightened away from World Cup, Russia claims

6:51 pm, 18th July 2018

In the early stages of the tournament, the number of England fans was low, reportedly due to warnings about hooliganism, racism and widespread corruption in the host country Russia.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has also claimed that Theresa May had made flimsy allegations and insulted Russia over the Salisbury poisoning.

In March, ex-Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with nerve agent novichok in the Wiltshire city, an attack blamed on Russia. A police officer also fell ill but all three recovered.

In the past few weeks, in nearby Amesbury, Dawn Sturgess died from exposure to the agent and her partner Charlie Rowley remains in hospital.

They are thought to have been exposed when they touched a contaminated bottle.

Ms Zakharova likened discussing the Salisbury nerve agent attack on the Skripals to being as traditional as drinking tea in England.

She repeated the Russian claim that there are still “no facts” and that instead there are “absurd fake stories” and “fake news”.

Ms Zakharova then alleged unrest and financial problems at the government’s laboratory at Porton Down, and questioned the circumstances surrounding the death of Richard Holmes.

Dr Holmes, who was a senior scientist at the defence lab, killed himself in 2012 after leaving the laboratory following allegations of bullying.

Ms Zakharova questioned the coincidence of Dr Holmes’ application to be a cleaner at Salisbury District Hospital, where the Skripals were treated, before his death.

She also mentioned the death of Dr David Kelly in the wake of the so-called “dodgy dossier” before the Iraq War, but did not directly link it to the current Salisbury and Amesbury investigations.

Her words come just days after a summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Speaking on this subject, Ms Zakharova said the arrest of a Russian national for conspiring to influence US politics had happened with the “obvious task of minimising the positive effect” of the summit.

She told reporters that US law enforcement was drumming up Russophobic hysteria with far-fetched claims about the Russian suspect, Maria Butina.

She accused officials of sitting with calculators and watches so the arrest of the 29-year-old student could be timed to minimise the summit’s success.

If the US was really worried about what Miss Butina was doing then it could have been passed on to Russia to investigate or been discussed on the sidelines of the summit, she said.

Ms Zakharova added that the Russian consulate in the US was attempting to get access to Miss Butina.