After a daylong mystery, Britain’s top counter terrorism officer confirmed that a couple in the town of Amesbury was poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok. If that sounds familiar it’s because it’s the same nerve agent used to attack former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March. Dawn Sturgess, 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45, are in critical condition after they were found collapsed in their home, which is located around eight miles from where Skripal and his daughter were attacked. Police said the pair had visited gardens in Salisbury, close to the site of the attack on the Skripals, before they became sick.
At first, authorities believed the pair had collapsed due to drug use considering that Rowley is a registered heroin addict. But then when they didn’t respond to treatment doctors began to worry and called for specific tests to detect nerve agents. While officials tried to reassure the public, it seems clear that very little is known about how Sturgess and Rowley came into contact with the nerve agent.
“At this stage, no-one else has presented with the same symptoms linked to this incident,” Scotland Yard assistant commissioner Neil Basu, who oversees counterterrorism operations, said Wednesday night. “The priority for the investigation team now is to establish how these two people have come into contact with this nerve agent.” So far at least there is nothing to suggest that the pair was intentionally targeted for the attack. And while a connection seems evident, authorities emphasized they don’t know whether the nerve agent was even from the same batch that poisoned the Skripals.
“We don’t have any intelligence or evidence that they were targeted in any way,” Basu said. “There is nothing in their background to suggest that at all.”
Police have cordoned off at least five areas, including a park, a church and a pharmacy, where the couple had been before they became sick. Officials said people who had been in the areas around where the pair had been before collapsing should wash their clothes, although they insisted risk of contamination was minimal.
The pair is now being treated in the same hospital where Skripal and his daughter spent weeks in critical condition following the attack, which London blamed on Moscow. Russia vehemently denied the accusations, insisting it doesn’t have any nerve agents. And Moscow even went as far as to blame Britain for the attack, saying it was part of a larger effort to foster anti-Russian sentiment. The exposure will inevitably raise fresh questions about the insistence by authorities that there was no broader risk to the public from the March attack.