UK police open murder inquiry after novichok victim dies

UK police have opened a murder inquiry after a woman who was exposed to the same nerve agent used against a former Russian double agent died on Sunday evening.

Mother of three Dawn Sturgess, 44, died on July 8, having fallen ill alongside Charlie Rowley, 45, who remains in a critical condition after coming into contact with a nerve agent on June 30. Chemical weapons experts from a government laboratory identified the substance as novichok, the same nerve agent used against Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March, in an incident that sparked an international diplomatic crisis. (Find WikiTribune‘s earlier coverage below).

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Police have been tracing the previous movements of Sturgess and Rowley after both fell ill in the Wiltshire town of Amesbury. They were both taken to nearby in Salisbury, in the same hospital where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were treated for novichok poisoning.

Local police reported a major incident on Tuesday July 3, before UK counter-terror chief Neil Basu gave a statement on July 4. This said that chemical weapons experts at Porton Down laboratory had confirmed Rowley and Sturgess were exposed to novichok.

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Basu said police are currently “not in a position to say whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skripals were exposed to. The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of enquiry for us.”

Police officers guard the entrance to a housing estate on Muggleton Road, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers guard the entrance to a housing estate on Muggleton Road, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve agent novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

“It is important, however, that the investigation is led by the evidence available and the facts alone and we don’t make any assumptions,” said Basu.

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Since March 14, the UK government has repeatedly said it blames the Kremlin for the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and expelled 23 Russian diplomats it said were undercover intelligence officers.

Russia responded by expelling UK diplomats, before the US and other UK allies expelled more than 100 diplomats who they said had been identified as undercover intelligence operatives.

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Read more coverage of the Salisbury attack and its fallout:

What is novichok, the nerve agent blamed for British attack?

UK offers detail on intelligence it says points to Russia over spy attack

Russia’s ‘disinformation campaign’ on Salisbury attack follows familiar script

Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry publishes questions about handling of Skripal case

Voices of Russians in ‘Londongrad’ speak of fear and propaganda

Russia, Britain, and the Chemical Weapons Convention

Who is Sergei Skripal, target of the nerve agent attack in Britain?

Britain could weaponize London’s “safe haven” against Putin

Russia changes the rules of warfare, perfecting “hybrid war”

Nerve agent attack would be new chapter in Kremlin playbook

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