Police hunt for deadly poison source as Russia accused of ‘war crime’

A police officer stands in front of screens erected in Rollestone Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire, where counter-terrorism police are investigating after a couple were left in a critical condition. Picture: Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire
A police officer stands in front of screens erected in Rollestone Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire, where counter-terrorism police are investigating after a couple were left in a critical condition. Picture: Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire

POLICE are hunting for the source of the deadly Novichok poison which left a couple fighting for their lives in Wiltshire. 

Dawn Sturgess, 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45, were taken ill on Saturday in Amesbury, around eight miles from where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the same substance in Salisbury in March.

Police activity near the house in Muggleton Road in Amesbury, Wiltshire, where counter-terrorism officers are investigating after a couple were left in a critical condition. Picture: Steve Parsons / PA Wire

Police activity near the house in Muggleton Road in Amesbury, Wiltshire, where counter-terrorism officers are investigating after a couple were left in a critical condition. Picture: Steve Parsons / PA Wire

The second nerve agent emergency in four months has prompted a diplomatic row, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid accusing the Russian state of using Britain as a ‘dumping ground for poison’. 

Meanwhile Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the use of a deadly nerve agent in Salisbury was an ‘absolutely vile act of terror’ calling it the effect of a ‘war crime’ by Russia. 

The Russian Embassy hit back, accusing the government of trying to ‘muddy the waters’ and ‘frighten its own citizens’.

One theory understood to be under investigation is that the pair poisoned in the latest incident may have inadvertently found a container – such as a phial or syringe – used to transport the nerve agent for the initial attack on the Skripals and discarded in a public place.

The Metropolitan Police said the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down confirmed on Wednesday the victims had been exposed to Novichok.

‘Following further tests of samples from the patients, we now know that they were exposed to the nerve agent after handling a contaminated item,’ the Met said.

‘Detectives are working as quickly and as diligently as possible to identify the source of the contamination.

‘Meticulous and systematic searches are under way at a number of sites. The safety of the public and our officers remains paramount and the searches will take longer because of the precautions that we must take to ensure there is no outstanding risk.

‘Officers are wearing protective equipment as they carry out their activity and protective barriers may also be installed at some of these sites.

‘Cordons remain in place at a number of sites in the Amesbury and Salisbury areas that we believe they visited before they fell ill. This is a precautionary measure while we continue to investigate how they came into contact with the substance.’

When Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned earlier this year, police officers from Portsmouth joined colleagues in Salisbury for investigations. 

As another incident arose this week, Mr Javid demanded that the Kremlin provide an explanation for the two episodes in a blistering attack in the House of Commons. 

He said: ‘The eyes of the world are currently on Russia, not least because of the World Cup.

‘It is now time that the Russian state comes forward and explains exactly what has gone on.’ 

 PA WIRE