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Implausible that Novichok poisonings are not linked, says anti-terror chief

Neil Basu, the Met Police’s assistant commissioner for specialist operations, said he would be led by science.

It is implausible that the two Novichok poisonings are not linked, according to the head of UK counter-terrorism policing.

Neil Basu, the Met Police’s assistant commissioner for specialist operations, said he would be led by science.

But he believed it was unlikely the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March, and the poisonings nearby of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley 10 days ago, were separate.

A massive counter-terrorism police investigation has been launched into how Ms Sturgess, who died on Sunday night, and her partner were contaminated by the nerve agent.

The pair fell ill at Mr Rowley’s home in Amesbury – eight miles from Salisbury – on June 30.

The main line of inquiry is whether their collapse is linked to the attempted murders of former Russian spy Mr Skripal and his daughter in March with the same nerve agent.

Mr Basu said there would need to be a forensic link to definitively prove a connection between the two but conceded the authorities were not looking for anything containing Novichok until the latest incident.

“I would love to be able to say that we have identified and caught the people responsible and how we are certain there are no traces of nerve agent left anywhere in Wiltshire,” Mr Basu said.

“But the brutal reality is that I cannot offer you any reassurance or guarantee at this time.

“At this stage we cannot say with certainty that both the incident in March and this latest incident are linked.

“Clearly that is our main line of inquiry, but our investigation must be led by the evidence available and the facts. I would need a forensic link to be definitive.

“This is a very rare substance banned by the international community and for there to be two separate, distinct incidents in one small English county is implausible to say the least.

“That said, the scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down will work hard to determine whether the nerve agents used in the two incidents are from the same batch.

“It may be that it will never be possible to establish such a definitive link.”

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Floral tributes left to Dawn Sturgess in Salisbury (Rod Minchin/PA)

Mr Basu, who was speaking at a public meeting in Amesbury, said his officers were working on the theory that Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley had found a container housing the nerve agent.

He said scientific advice suggested that Novichok could remain active for 50 years if left undisturbed in a sealed container.

A member of the audience suggested that authorities had not been looking for the Novichok until the latest incident.

Mr Basu replied: “I take your point and I know you are really concerned about it.

“This is the reason the most important line of inquiry for the Skripals and the same for Dawn and Charlie is exactly where they have been at any one time.

“The second most important line of inquiry is finding the people responsible.”

He added: “We have not found the container. You are absolutely right that I have no idea what it looked like.”

Another member of the public suggested the police were “looking for a needle in a haystack”.

“Yes, that’s why we need to be intelligence-led, which is why we need witnesses that tell us where it might be,” Mr Basu replied.

“The brutal fact is we don’t know where they found it. I am hoping Charlie recovers and when he recovers he will be able to tell us and perhaps shed some light on it which will narrow our search dramatically.

“There is a possibility they found it on March 5 and only opened it in the past 10 days.”

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