In Brief

Novichok poisoning: is Wiltshire safe?

Police say nerve agent used in Salisbury and Amesbury could remain active for half a century

The deadly novichok nerve agent that killed a Wiltshire woman could remain active for 50 years, police have warned.

Dawn Sturgess, 44, died in hospital on Sunday after she and her partner, Charlie Rowley, 45, fell ill at their home in Amesbury on 30 June. The couple are confirmed to have been exposed to novichok, the same agent used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in nearby Salisbury in March. 

A police officer, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, also fell ill after helping the Skripals and searching for evidence in their home.

Last night Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, head of UK counterterrorism policing, told a packed public meeting in Amesbury that officers were working on the theory that Sturgess and Rowley came into contact with the lethal nerve agent after opening a container.

He said that if “sealed in a container”, novichok “could last 50 years”, The Daily Telegraph reports

Basu admitted that traces of the agent might still be in circulation, in containers that might never be found, as “it would be impossible to keep going forever”. Equating such a search to looking for a “needle in a haystack”, he added: “That’s why we need witnesses or intelligence.”

Investigators have no idea how or when Sturgess and Rowley came into contact with the novichok, and police have yet to find a forensic link between the pair’s poisoning and that of the Skripals.

Speaking at the Amesbury meeting, Paul Cosford, medical director for Public Health England, said that the novichok to which Sturgess and Rowley were exposed was in liquid form, and took effect within three to 12 hours.

“If it was outside, exposed to the elements, it gets washed away and that’s safe. Anything left over from March just wouldn’t be there by now. If it’s in an enclosed container, it takes a long time before it becomes inactive,” he said.

Meanwhile, it emerged that Rowley had regained consciousness, having been in a coma since he was rushed to hospital last week.

In a statement today, Scotland Yard said: “Officers from the investigation team have spoken briefly to Charlie and will be looking to further speak with him in the coming days as they continue to try and establish how he and Dawn came to be contaminated with the nerve agent.”

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