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Russia accused of deadly attack on British soil over Amesbury poisoning

Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after being exposed to Novichok on June 30 and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, remains critically ill.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has accused Russia of committing “an attack on British soil” over the death of Dawn Sturgess from Novichok poisoning.

The 44-year-old was killed and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, is still in a critical condition after the couple fell ill in Amesbury, Wiltshire, on June 30.

Investigators say their main line of inquiry is whether the latest poisoning is linked to the case of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who were left critically ill in March.

But on Monday Mr Williamson went a step further in pointing the finger at Moscow.

He told the Commons: “The simple reality is that Russia has committed an attack on British soil which has seen the death of a British citizen.

“That is something that I think the world will unite with us in actually condemning.”

He was backed by Salisbury MP John Glen, who defended the authorities’ handling of the Skripal poisoning, saying: “The poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley is very likely the result of picking up a discarded container from the original attack, at a site not previously connected to the Skripal case.

“The only way the current poisoning could likely have been averted would have been to conduct a fingertip search of every square inch of South Wiltshire – a logistical impossibility, especially when there was no way for the police to know that an object from the original incident had been discarded like this.

“There is always a temptation in these circumstances to look to blame the Government, or the police, or the local authority.

“But we must not lose sight of the fact that responsibility for the fact that a military-grade nerve agent was used in Salisbury and South Wiltshire rests with Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin alone.”

The Ministry of Defence is working with the police on the investigation and the clear-up effort, with 175 armed forces personnel involved.

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A police officer stands in front of screens erected in Rollestone Street, Salisbury (Yui Mok/PA)

Giving the latest update on the investigation, 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 poisoned, 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 hypothesis 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”.

Speaking in the Commons after a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said authorities are “doing everything that we can to help keep people safe.”

He added that a support package is being put together for local businesses affected by the two incidents.

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.

A bus that Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley used the night before they collapsed has also tested negative for Novichok.

Praising the “tremendous stoicism” of the 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.

They were eight police officers or staff, a paramedic, nine medical staff and three members of the public.

Addressing reporters at a press conference at Wiltshire Police HQ in Devizes, Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said it was a “real concern” that the contaminated container which poisoned Ms Sturgess and her partner had not been found.

Asked whether his force had failed to protect the Wiltshire public, he said: “I understand that concern. This is tragic news that none of us expected and none of us wanted.

“Of course there are key questions which need to be asked but what I can say is that responding to the information we were given back in March we have been really careful in securing a number of key locations across Salisbury.

“There is no suggestion that any contaminate exposure has come from any of those sites that have previously been secure and are currently in the process of being decontaminated.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that linking Russia to the poisoning would be “absurd”.

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