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Man exposed to Novichok nerve agent in UK is no longer critical, hospital says

Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, who has since died, fell ill last weekend in Amesbury, near the town of Salisbury.

The main entrance to Salisbury District Hospital, where Sturgess and Rowley were taken to
The main entrance to Salisbury District Hospital, where Sturgess and Rowley were taken to
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

A 45-YEAR-OLD British man who was exposed to a high dose of the nerve agent Novichok is no longer in critical condition, the hospital treating him has said.

“He is no longer in a critical condition,” Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing at Salisbury District Hospital in southwest England, said in a statement.

Wilkinson said Charlie Rowley’s condition had improved overnight and was now “serious, but stable”.

“Charlie still has some way to go to recover, but the progress we’ve seen so far gives us cause for optimism.”

Police said in a statement that they had spoken to Rowley.

“Officers from the investigation team have spoken briefly to Charlie and will be looking to further speak to him in the coming days,” the statement said.

The hospital yesterday said Rowley, who fell ill on 30 June at his home in Amesbury near Salisbury, had regained consciousness but was “not out of the woods yet”.

“Dawn’s partner, Charlie, remains in hospital, although we have received encouraging news today that Charlie’s condition is improving and that he has regained consciousness,” Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said in a statement today.

Death

Rowley’s partner who was also contaminated, Dawn Sturgess (44) had collapsed earlier in the day on June 30 at his house. She died on Sunday.

Sam Hobson, a friend of the couple, told AFP he had visited Salisbury with them the day before they fell ill.

Hobson said he went to Rowley’s house on Saturday as Sturgess was being taken to hospital and stayed with him for several hours until he too began to complain of feeling ill.

“He was sweating loads, dribbling, and you couldn’t speak to him,” Hobson said.

“It’s like he was in another world, hallucinating.”

Britain Poisoning Probe Emergency workers in military protective suits search the fenced off John Baker House for homeless people on Rollestone Street in Salisbury Source: Matt Dunham via PA Images

Skripals

Salisbury is the city where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the same Soviet-made nerve agent four months ago.

Police initially thought Rowley and Sturgess had consumed a contaminated batch of illegal drugs but their symptoms prompted further testing which confirmed Novichok poisoning.

Police now believe the two handled a contaminated item with a high dose of Novichok, although they have not been able to confirm whether it was from the same batch as the one used in the attempted murder of Russian ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

“At this stage, we cannot say with certainty that both the incident in March and this latest incident are linked. Clearly, this is our main line of enquiry, but our investigation must be led by the evidence available and the facts alone,” Basu said today.

I would need a forensic link to be definitive, but 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, scientists at the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, probably the leading scientists in the world, will work hard to establish if the nerve agents from the two incidents are from the same batch, but as with any police investigation, we cannot make assumptions and we have to follow where the evidence takes us.”

Amesbury incident Police officers on duty in Rollestone Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire as the investigation into the nerve agent exposure continues Source: Rod Minchin via PA Images

Basu added that police are continuing to piece together a timeline of Rowley and Sturgess’ movements prior to them falling ill.

He confirmed that they have not found any evidence that the couple visited any of the sites that underwent decontamination following the attack on the Skripals.

“I would love to be able to stand here and say how we have identified and caught those responsible and how we are absolutely certain there are no traces of nerve agent left anywhere in the county,” Basu said.

The brutal reality, however, is that I cannot offer you any such assurances or guarantees at this time.

The two Skripals have recovered since they collapsed on a bench in the centre of Salisbury on March 4.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies yesterday warned residents of Salisbury and Amesbury that they should not “pick up any foreign object which could contain liquid or gel, in the interests of their own safety”.

“This, in practice, means do not pick up containers, syringes, needles, cosmetics or similar objects, made of materials such as metal, plastic or glass,” she said.

Britain has blamed Russia for the attack on the Skripals – a charge strongly denied by Moscow which has challenged British authorities to publish the evidence.

- © AFP, 2018 with reporting by Hayley Halpin

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