Was it all a hoax or not? Confusion still surrounds the latest poisoning scare to hit Salisbury. With the Wiltshire city still reeling from the two novichok-related attacks earlier this year, which left three seriously ill and one dead, the recent incident which saw two people taken suddenly ill at a city centre restaurant, has led to fears that the city’s battered economy will take another hit. Not surprisingly, many have been quick to brand the most recent incident a hoax, pointing out that neither of the alleged victims were actually poisoned, as it turns out, and that both were quickly discharged from hospital. But new allegations have emerged, claiming that, rather than a hoax, the ‘poisoning’ was part of an attempt to boost the city’s economy which badly backfired. “Look, ever since the first novichok incident, it has been obvious that something needed to be done to bring the visitors back to the city (tourism has always been a lucrative business for Salisbury) – and not just alleged GRU agents looking to poison people,” local businessman Tommy Pumpkin told the Salisbury Chronicle. “A group of us realised that, Ideally, what we needed to do was to actually exploit the novichck business for the benefit of the local economy.” Consequently, Pumpkin and his associates came up with the idea of offering visitors to Salisbury the ‘Novichok Experience’, which simulates the experience of being poisoned with a nerve agent for participants.

“Initially, we thought that we could do it through some sort of virtual reality,” he explains. “But that was just too expensive, so we hit upon the idea of having the participants follow a similar routine to the Skripals, with them surreptitiously given a dose of something in pill form that (harmlessly) simulates the effects of poisoning without warning at some point in the evening. This time the pill was administered when they were in an Italian restaurant, (obviously not the same one where the Skripals ate, as that still hasn’t reopened). Unfortunately, their reactions were just too realistic- it’s all a bit embarrassing really.” The ‘Novichok Experience’ hasn’t been the only attempt to exploit the poisonings for the city’s benefit. “We’ve been running our ‘Tea and Terror’ tours since shortly after the original poisonings of the Skripals,” Arnold Marrow, another local entrepreneur told the local newspaper. “We take groups of tourists around the city – wearing biohazard suits – taking in the route originally followed by the Skripals on the fateful day they were poisoned, before ending up at a quaint tea shop. Lately, of course, we’ve been able to extend the tours, to take in the house in Amesbury where the bloke who allegedly found the discarded bottle of nerve agent was taken ill, the hostel in Salisbury where his girlfriend who died after exposure to novichok, lived and the bins around the back of that charity shop where he claimed to have found the bottle. We’re now considering including the restaurant from the latest scare.”

Marrow has dismissed suggestions that his tours are in poor taste. “I don’t see how it is any different from those ‘Ghost Tours’ they do in places like York. Or the ‘Jack the Ripper Tours’ in Whitechapel, for that matter,” he says. “We’re merely showcasing part of this city’s fascinating history – just because it only happened this year doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthy of historical study!” Marrow also revealed that he is considering incorporating some of the features seen in other owns’ ‘Ghost Tours’ into his own tours. “We’re thinking of having some ‘jumper outers’ pretending to be GRU agents,” he chuckles. “They could leap out at strategic points, scaring the tourists and spraying them with (harmless) liquid from a perfume bottle!” One of the sights on Marrow’s tour should be the bench which the Skripals were found slumped on, but it still hasn’t been replaced. However, another budding entrepreneur has hit upon setting up their own bench on the spot instead and charging tourists to sit on it or photograph it. “Obviously, it doesn’t look quite the same as the real thing – ours is much lighter and can be quickly disassembled,” explains Danny Courgette. “We sometimes have to pack up and scarper in a hurry when the police turn up and move us on.” The fake bench has proven popular, with some foreign tourists paying twenty quid a time to have their photos taken sprawled on the bench, covered in puke in imitation of the Skripals. “They love it,” observes Courgette. “It’s a bloody gold mine!”

Bearing in mind that the novichok used in the attacks was contained in a perfume bottle, it should come as no surprise that there are now plans to launch an actual perfume with the same name. “It will bes old exclusively in Salisbury – if you want to buy ‘Novichok’, you have to come to our shop here in the city,” declares local businessman Frankie Cucumber, who believes that it could be a real money spinner in the run up to Christmas. “I’ve already seen the perfume ads appearing on TV, as they gear up for their traditional seasonal sales boost, when clueless blokes try to ensure getting their Christmas end away by impressing their other halves with some expensive perfume or other. So why not give them ‘Novichok’ – perfume with a scent that catches in the throat?” Indeed, Cucumber is already shooting a commercial on location in he city, which he describes as ‘classy’. “You know the sort of thing: a snatch of black and white footage of those bins where the bottle was supposedly found, with the sound of people vomiting in the background as someone whispers ‘Novichock’ on the sound track,” he says. “Classy and a sure fire winner.”

By far the most controversial suggestion for boosting Salisbury’s economy so far has come from another local entrepreneur, Joseph Melon. “The fact is that it could take years to attract tourists back to this city in sufficient numbers to reverse its economic decline,” he opines. “Trust me, attracting the sort of ghouls who want to go on ‘Tea and Terror’ tours simply won’t replace the lost trade.” Melon’s suggested approach is far more radical: settle more Russian defectors in Salisbury. “It’s obvious, when you think about it,” he enthuses. “If you have enough of them here, then we can corner the market in visiting GRU assassins. The only thing is that we’ll somehow have to persuade them to book into our local hotels, rather than some flea-ridden B and B in London they commute from to to do the killings. If it proves successful, then we could try taking in defectors from other dictatorships and authoritarian regimes – we could be getting visiting assassins from China, North Korea, all manner of dubious South and Central American countries! I know the Russians are cheapskates these days, but some of these other secret services must give their agents decent expense accounts when they send them overseas to kill, so it could prove a bonanza for the local economy!”