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Poisoned duo handled contaminated item

By PA Reporters

The couple fighting for their lives after they were exposed to the chemical weapon Novichok fell ill after handling a contaminated item, the Metropolitan Police have said.

Dawn Sturgess (44) and Charlie Rowley (45) were taken ill on Saturday in Amesbury, around eight miles from where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the same agent in Salisbury in March.

The second nerve agent emergency in four months prompted a diplomatic row, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid accusing the Russian state of using Britain as a "dumping ground for poison".

The Russian Embassy hit back, accusing the Government of trying to "muddy the waters" and "frighten its own citizens".

One theory understood to be under investigation is that the pair who were poisoned in the latest incident may have inadvertently found a container - such as a phial or syringe - used to transport the nerve agent for the initial attack on the Skripals and discarded in a public place.

The Metropolitan Police said the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down has confirmed that the victims had been exposed to Novichok.

"Following further tests of samples from the patients, we now know that they were exposed to the nerve agent after handling a contaminated item," the Met said. "Detectives are working as quickly and as diligently as possible to identify the source of the contamination." The Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police defended his force's initial response to the latest Novichok poisoning, but could not rule out that further people could fall now ill.

Kier Pritchard said he "fully supports" the decisions taken by officers who thought initially the couple had fallen ill after taking illegal drugs.

Novichok remains highly toxic for a considerable period of time, so even the tiniest trace remaining in a container picked up by the victims could account for their severe illness.

In a blistering attack in the Commons, Mr Javid demanded that the Kremlin provide an explanation for the two episodes.

"The eyes of the world are currently on Russia, not least because of the World Cup," he said.

"It is now time that the Russian state comes forward and explains exactly what has gone on."

Making clear that the UK will "stand up to the actions that threaten our security", Mr Javid added. "It is completely unacceptable for our people to be either deliberate or accidental targets, or for our streets, our parks, our towns, to be dumping grounds for poison."

A Russian Embassy spokesman said: "All allegations of Russia's involvement in the incidents in Salisbury and Amesbury are merely speculative and are not based on objective data of the investigation."

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