British police officer tested for possible Novichok nerve agent exposure: Hospital

Investigators wearing camouflaged protective suits, gloves and gas marks work at a site in Amesbury, southern England, on July 6, 2018.
Investigators wearing camouflaged protective suits, gloves and gas marks work at a site in Amesbury, southern England, on July 6, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - A police officer is being tested for possible exposure to the nerve agent Novichok in connection with the poisoning of a couple in southwest England last weekend, the hospital said on Saturday (July 7).

A statement from Salisbury District Hospital said the officer had on Saturday evening sought "medical advice in connection with the ongoing incident in Amesbury", the town where the couple fell ill.

"The individual is now being taken to Salisbury District Hospital which has the ability to carry out the appropriate specialist tests," it said.

The statement stressed that the risk to the wider public was low, while the local Wiltshire Police force said its officer had sought medical advice as "a precautionary measure".

A couple named locally as Dawn Sturgess, 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45, fell ill last weekend in Amesbury, following what tests later confirmed was exposure to Novichok.

Amesbury is not far from the town of Salisbury where a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter were poisoned by the same nerve agent in March.

The British government accused Russia of trying to kill the Skripals, a charge Moscow angrily denied, sparking an international crisis.

Ministers said this week that a link between the two cases is a main line of inquiry, and has asked Moscow to help provide answers about what has happened.

There is speculation that the British couple may have picked up a container used in the original incident, and several sites in both Amesbury and Salisbury have been cordoned off by emergency services.

Salisbury hospital cautioned against alarm over the police officer's admission, saying it had seen "a number of members of the public who have come to the hospital with health concerns since this incident started and none have required any treatment".

"We would like to reiterate the advice from Public Health England that the risk to the wider public remains low," it said.

Novichok is a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.