UK: After Skripals, couple exposed to Novichok nerve agent

RSTV Bureau
Image: AP

Image: AP

A couple in the United Kingdom is said to be critically ill after they were found poisoned with the Novichok- the same nerve agent which had poisoned a former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March. Britain’s counter-terror officers have launched an investigation into the case.

The couple in their 40s named Ms. Dawn Sturgess and Mr Charlie Rowley collapsed after visiting village of Amesbury, close to city of Salisbury, the same town where former Russian spy and his daughter were attacked with the chemical weapon.

The Skripals have since made considerable recovery and believed to be in an undisclosed location for their safety.

Scotland Yard’s Neil Basu, the senior-most counter-terrorism officer, confirmed that expert scientists in chemical warfare at the UK’s Porton Down laboratory had established that nerve agent Novichok had caused their collapse.

“Following the detailed analysis of these samples, we can confirm that the man and woman have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, which has been identified as the same nerve agent that contaminated both Yulia and Skripal,” Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Basu said in a statement.

“The priority for the investigation team now, is to establish how these two people have come into contact with this nerve agent,” the Indian-origin officer said.

There was nothing in the backgrounds of Sturgess or Rowley, both British nationals, that would suggest they would be a target for a deliberate attack they have no connections to the intelligence or security communities, Basu said.

UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee to discuss the latest chemical attack, which is being seen as linked to Skripals’ attack in some way. “The government’s first priority is for the safety of the residents in the local area,” Javid said.

Novichok, a resilient and resistant military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, takes effect within minutes, blocking messages from the nerves to the muscles causing bodily functions to collapse.

“It was initially believed that the two patients fell ill after using possibly heroin or crack cocaine from a contaminated batch of drugs,” Wiltshire Police said. But it was later established as a chemical poisoning after lab tests.

However, Russia responded the case saying that they did not have any information on the case of a couple in the UK who were exposed to what London believes is the same nerve agent used on a former Russian spy this year.

“We do not have information about what substances were used and how they were used,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding it was “difficult to get a sense of this from media reports”.
He said that the case was “very worrying”.

The Skripals collapsed on March 4 on a Salisbury park bench and were treated for several weeks before being released from hospital.

The British investigation into the attack on the Skripals concluded that the poison was smeared on to the door of the victims’ house not more than 24 hours before they collapsed in March.

(With agency inputs)