UK woman poisoned by Soviet-era nerve agent dies

Ms Dawn Sturgess died on Sunday after she was exposed to novichok on June 30 in south-west England.
Ms Dawn Sturgess died on Sunday after she was exposed to novichok on June 30 in south-west England.

She and a man touched same poison that hit ex-Russian spy and his daughter in March

LONDON • A British woman has died after she was poisoned by the same nerve agent that struck a former Russian spy in March and triggered a crisis in relations between Western capitals and Moscow.

Ms Dawn Sturgess, 44, died on Sunday after she was exposed to novichok on June 30 in western England, not far from where Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked with the same poison four months ago.

The death of Ms Sturgess was being investigated as a murder, police said in a statement. Prime Minister Theresa May said she was appalled and shocked by the death.

Police said they were investigating how Ms Sturgess and a 45-year-old man, named by media as Mr Charlie Rowley, came across an item contaminated with novichok, which was developed by the Soviet military during the Cold War.

The March attack on the Skripals prompted the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War as allies sided with Britain's view that Moscow was either responsible or had lost control of the nerve agent. Moscow hit back by expelling Western diplomats.

After Ms Sturgess died, Britain's Interior Minister Sajid Javid said the "desperately sad news only strengthens our resolve to find out exactly what has happened".

The head of UK Counter Terrorism policing, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, said Ms Sturgess, a mother of three, died as the result of "an outrageous, reckless and barbaric act". The 45-year-old man remains critically ill in hospital.

The poisoning in March of the Skripals with novichok was the first known offensive use of such a chemical weapon on European soil since World War II.

Russia has denied any involvement in the Skripal case and suggested the British security services had carried out the attack to stoke anti-Moscow hysteria.

The two Britons were taken ill in Amesbury, a town in south-west England, 11km from Salisbury, where Mr Skripal and his daughter were attacked. The Britons were initially thought to have taken an overdose of heroin or crack cocaine.

But tests by the Porton Down military research centre showed they had been exposed to novichok. Britain has notified the global chemical weapons watchdog.

Further tests of samples from Ms Sturgess and the man showed they were exposed to the nerve agent after touching a contaminated item with their hands, police said.

Mr Javid said earlier on Sunday that police had a working hypothesis that the two poisoning incidents were connected. He also said there were no plans at this stage for further sanctions against Russia.

Ms Sturgess died at Salisbury District Hospital, the same facility that nursed the critically ill Skripals. Ms Yulia Skripal was in a coma for 20 days after she was attacked and was eventually discharged about five weeks after the poisoning. Her father was discharged on May 18.

The investigation into the nerve agent attacks is being led by Britain's Counter Terrorism Policing Network.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2018, with the headline 'UK woman poisoned by Soviet-era nerve agent dies'. Print Edition | Subscribe