British police launched a murder investigation Sunday after the death of a woman who was exposed to a Russian nerve agent.
Dawn Sturgess, 44, of Durrington, was exposed to the nerve agent Novichok in Amesbury, police said. Her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, 45, also fell ill on June 30 and remains hospitalized in critical condition, police said.
About 100 police detectives led by the Counter Terrorism Policing Network are working on the case around the clock, police said. Authorities are still trying to determine where and how the two were exposed to the nerve agent.
"This is shocking and tragic news. Dawn leaves behind her family, including three children, and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this extremely difficult time,” said Neil Basu, an assistant commissioner who is head of Counter Terrorism Policing for the United Kingdom. "This terrible news has only served to strengthen our resolve to identify and bring to justice the person or persons responsible for what I can only describe as an outrageous, reckless and barbaric act.”
The couple were found by emergency services about 10 miles from Salisbury, where Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the same nerve agent on March 4. Britain blamed Russia for the Skripals’ poisoning.
“The working assumption would be that these are victims of either the consequence of the previous attack, or something else, but not that they were directly targeted,” Security Minister Ben Wallace told the BBC.
“Russia has categorically denied and continues to categorically deny the possibility of any kind of involvement to what was happening there,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters July 5. “The British side has not presented any evidence of Russia’s involvement in this, besides unfounded accusations.”
The case began with a 10:15 a.m. ambulance call June 30 to a residence in Amesbury, where Sturgess had collapsed. About 3:30 p.m., the ambulance was called to the same residence to care for the man.
The UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory confirmed on July 4 that Sturgess and her boyfriend had both been exposed to Novichok, police said. No one else at the scene developed the same symptoms.
Further tests from Sturgess and Rowley showed that they were exposed to the nerve agent after touching a contaminated item with their hands, police said.
Police said there is no evidence that either of them visited any of the sites that were decontaminated following the attempted murders of the Skripals. Police couldn’t say whether the four were all contaminated from the same batch of nerve agent.