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Amesbury novichok incident: Family of Dawn Sturgess ask public to 'stop speculating' about her death

'Dawn had the biggest of hearts and she will be dreadfully missed,' family say in tribute 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 10 July 2018 12:43 BST
Amesbury victim Dawn Sturgess seen on CCTV day before Novichok exposure

The family of a woman killed by novichok have urged people to “stop speculating” about her life and the incident that killed her.

Dawn Sturgess, who was poisoned by the nerve agent alongside her partner Charlie Rowley, died in hospital on Sunday.

The 44-year-old, who leaves behind three children, has been the target of vile conspiracy theories circulated online as the investigation into how she was exposed to novichok continues.

“We need time and space to grieve and would also ask that people stop speculating about Dawn and what has happened,” her relatives said.

They thanked medics at Salisbury District Hospital for “affording Dawn every possible chance of survival and treating her with the utmost care and dignity”.

“Dawn will always be remembered by us as a gentle soul who was generous to a fault,” the statement added.

“She would do anything for anybody and those who knew Dawn would know that she would gladly give her last penny to somebody in need.

Dawn Sturgess, a mother-of-three from Durrington, died after being exposed to novichok (Facebook)

“She had the biggest of hearts and she will be dreadfully missed by both her immediate and wider family.”

Her relatives also sent their thoughts and prayers to her partner Mr Rowley and his loved ones as he remains in a critical condition.

The couple fell ill hours apart at Mr Rowley’s home in Amesbury on 30 June after handling a “container” of novichok that has not yet been found by police.

Emergency services initially treated the incident as drug-related because of information from a friend, their symptoms and items found at Mr Rowley’s home.

He had been prescribed methadone to help him overcome heroin addiction, while Ms Sturgess’ friends have said she had struggled with alcohol dependency and taken drugs in the past.

Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard defended the response as “entirely proportionate” last week and gave his support to the initial responders.

But medics at Salisbury District Hospital became concerned about Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley’s symptoms and sent samples to the Porton Down defence laboratory for analysis.

When they came back indicating nerve agent exposure, a major incident was declared.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the head of UK counterterror policing, confirmed that the main line of inquiry is whether the couple came into contact with the same novichok used against Sergei Skripal four months ago.

“Our focus and priority at this time is to identify and locate any container that we believe may be the source of the contamination,” he said on Monday.

Forensic investigators, wearing protective suits, in Amesbury, 6 July (REUTERS) (Reuters)

“[Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley] must have got a high dose and our hypothesis is that they must have handled a container we are now seeking.”

Public Health England has advised people in the Amesbury and Salisbury areas not to “pick up any foreign object which could contain liquid or gel, in the interests of their own safety''

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said: “This in practice means do not pick up containers, syringes, needles, cosmetics or similar objects, made of materials such as metal, plastic or glass.

“This is particularly important as families are starting to prepare for their children's summer holidays and so I am asking that people are extra vigilant. To be clear: do nsot pick up anything that you haven't dropped yourself.”

Angus Macpherson, Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire, said Ms Sturgess was an “innocent member of the public who should have been able to go about her daily life without becoming an unwilling victim in such an unprecedented, international, incident”.

Sajid Javid, the home secretary, told MPs that Ms Sturgess’ death “only strengthens our resolve to find out exactly what happened and who is behind it”.

He previously warned of “further disinformation from the Kremlin as we saw after the Salisbury attack”, following a glut of conspiracy theories earlier this year.

Many have focused on the proximity of Porton Down to Salisbury and accused the British government of direct or indirect involvement in both the poisoning of the Skripals, and Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley.

Others further the baseless claim that the couple’s illness was unrelated to novichok but used by the UK to reignite tensions with Russia during the football World Cup.

The defence secretary blamed Russia for committing ”an attack on British soil“ over the latest poisonings, four months after the Skripals were targeted.

”The simple reality is that Russia has committed an attack on British soil which has seen the death of a British citizen,” Gavin Williamson told MPs.

“That is something that I think the world will unite with us in actually condemning.”

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the attack on former double agent Mr Skripal or the latest incident, claiming that linking Russia to the poisoning would be “absurd”.

The supported-living accommodation where Ms Sturgess lived in Salisbury has been cordoned off alongside Mr Rowley’s home in Amesbury, where they both fell ill.

Other areas they visited on 29 and 30 June are also being investigated by police in protective clothing as they attempt to find the container.

A car belonging to an emergency services worker has been seized for testing in Swindon, as well as a red Ford Transit van Mr Rowley travelled in before falling ill.

Officials said the couple had not visited areas of Salisbury that had been frequented by the Skripals and subsequently decontaminated and security services hope that tracing the container will provide vital clues.

Friends of Mr Rowley said he was known to forage for goods to fix and sell, and he and Ms Sturgess are known to have collected discarded cigarettes.

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