Couple poisoned by Novichok received ‘high dose’ of lethal agent
The main police line of inquiry is to establish whether the death of Dawn Sturgess is linked to the non-fatal poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
The couple poisoned by a deadly nerve agent near Salisbury must have received “a high dose” of Novichok when they handled a vessel containing the substance, a leading police officer has said.
Dawn Sturgess, 44, died and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, is still in a critical condition after the couple fell ill in Amesbury, Wiltshire, last Saturday.
The murder investigation is the second major probe involving the nerve agent this year, following the case of Sergei and Yulia Skripal who were left critically ill in March. Both have recovered.
Giving the latest update on the investigation on Monday, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said: “The investigation is being led by detectives from the UK’s counter-terrorism policing network, and they are unable to say at this moment whether or not the nerve agent found in this incident is linked to the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, however this remains our main line of inquiry.
“Our focus and priority at this time is to identify and locate any container that we believe may be the source of the contamination. In the four months since the Skripals and Nick Bailey were posioned, no other people besides Dawn and Charlie have presented with symptoms. But their reaction was so severe it resulted in Dawn’s death and Charlie being critically ill.
“This means they must have got a high dose and our hypotheseis is that they must have handled a container that we are now seeking.”
Public Health England has emphasised that the overall risk to the public is low, but advised against picking up “any strange items such as needles, syringes or unusual containers”.
Asked by reporters outside Scotland Yard what it would take to link the original attack in Salisbury with the latest incident, Mr Basu said: “Well, clearly this is a very rare agent indeed.
“So as I said, it does remain our main line of inquiry but we are police officers and we have to work on evidence, so I would need a forensic link to make that absolutely 100% certain.”
When asked about it being a murder inquiry, and whether the people involved had been targeted despite evidence suggesting it was an unfortunate occurrence, he said: “This was a deadly agent unleashed on British soil and was completely reckless, and that in itself is a reason to launch a murder inquiry.”
A red Ford Transit van in which Mr Rowley was a passenger on June 30 has been recovered and sent for testing at the Government laboratory at Porton Down.
Three other men who also travelled in the van have been tested and show no signs of having been exposed to Novichok, Mr Basu said.
Praising the “tremendous stoicism” of people of Wiltshire, he told journalists outside Scotland Yard that 21 people have raised concerns about being exposed but have been given the all clear.
The government’s Cobra emergencies committee was due to meet at 1pm on Monday to discuss the case.
Appealing for witnesses to come forward, Mr Basu said: “I am sure that you will appreciate that the investigation is painstaking, meticulous and complex, but I can assure you that we are doing absolutely everything we can to gather all available evidence.
“Officers have already identified and spoken to a number of people who we know were with Dawn and Charlie before they became ill.
“However, if there is anyone who saw them or met with them who we haven’t already spoken to, I would urge them to contact police on 0800 789 321. Their evidence is vital for both public safety and for the investigation.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that linking Russia to the poisoning would be “absurd”.