UK police say Dawn Sturgess was killed by same batch of nerve agent used on Russian ex-spy
Scotland Yard’s chief of counterterrorism says Sturgess and her partner fell ill after somehow coming across the container that once held the Novichok poison used in the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal
The British woman killed by the Russian military nerve agent Novichok suffered a huge dose after handling a container that held it – believed from the same batch used in the attempted assassination of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in March, police said on Monday.
Neil Basu, who heads Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism command, said that the substance that led to Dawn Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley falling ill on June 30 was in a vessel or container when the couple came across it.
Police opened a murder investigation after Sturgess died in hospital on Sunday at 8.26pm. Rowley remains critically ill.
On Monday, Basu said that Sturgess and Rowley got a high dose of Novichok after handling a container of the nerve agent. Police are now hunting for that container, which they believe was likely linked to the attack on the Skripals four months earlier.
Basu said that detectives would need forensic evidence before definitively concluding that the Novichok used in the first attack had made the British couple ill.
“They are unable to say at this moment whether the nerve agent found in this incident is linked to the attack in March on Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” Basu said. “However, this remains our main line of inquiry.
“In the four months since the Skripals and Nick Bailey were poisoned, no other people besides Dawn and Charlie have presented with symptoms. Their reaction is so severe it resulted in Dawn’s death and Charlie being critically ill. This means they must have got a high dose. Our hypothesis is they must have handled the container we are now seeking.”
The decision by Basu to link the two attacks on Monday increases the pressure on Russia.
Britain has blamed Moscow for the attack on the Skripals.
The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, directly accused Moscow on Monday. 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.”
Earlier on Monday, the Kremlin said it would be “absurd” to suggest that Russia was involved in Sturgess’s death.
“We don’t know that Russia has been mentioned or associated with this,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“We consider that in any case it would be quite absurd.”
Peskov added that “we of course very much regret the death of the British citizen.”
The Kremlin has also steadfastly denied any involvement in the Skripal poisonings, which sparked a tense diplomatic row between London and Moscow.
Both Skripals have been released from hospital and are living in a secret location.
Several sites have been cordoned off; the three of most interest are Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, where the British couple spent part of Friday; the Salisbury homeless hostel where Sturgess lived and both visited on Friday; and Rowley’s Amesbury home, which they also visited on Friday.
In addition to Sturgess and Rowley, 21 people have been examined by health experts over concerns they could have been exposed to the Novichok – eight police officers and staff, nine health care workers, one paramedic and three members of the public. Wiltshire police said that all had been assessed, screened and discharged. Kier Pritchard, the chief constable of Wiltshire, said: “There is nobody with any ongoing health concerns.”
A relative at Sturgess’s family home in Durrington, near Amesbury, said the family was “devastated” but declined to comment further.