CCTV footage shows novichok victim day before being struck down, close to where Russian ex-spy found poisoned

Forensic investigators searching for item tainted with deadly novichok nerve agent as couple fight for life in hospital

Chris Baynes
Friday 06 July 2018 14:18 BST
Amesbury victim Dawn Sturgess seen on CCTV day before Novichok exposure

Footage has emerged of one of the Amesbury poisoning victims shopping close to where Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal was found collapsed on a bench after exposure to a novichok nerve agent.

CCTV video shows Dawn Sturgess, 44, buying wine from a convenience shop in Salisbury on Friday afternoon, the day before she fell critically ill after coming into contact with the same chemical.

Hours later her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, was also rushed to hospital, where the pair continue to fight for life.

Police believe the couple came into contact with an item contaminated with the deadly nerve agent used in a suspected assassination attempt on Mr Skripal, the former MI6 double agent, and his daughter Yulia in March.

Authorities had believed all traces of the toxin had been removed from the Wiltshire city during the extensive clean-up which followed that attack, but are now hunting for the source of contamination that led to the second poisoning.

Public Health England have insisted the risk to the public is low, but warned people not to pick up unknown objects as forensic investigators search for the potentially lethal item tainted with novichok.

Mr Rowley was reportedly known to have foraged for goods to fix and sell, and sometimes collected discarded cigarettes.

Three incident response vehicles and two fire engines joined police on Friday morning at Mr Rowley’s Amesbury flat, where he and his partner fell ill.

The flat is one of five sites, also including a hostel where Ms Burgess was living, which have been cordoned off by police.

Investigators said Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley had not visited an area previously known to be contaminated by the novichok.

CCTV footage shows Ms Sturgess, reportedly the mother of three children, wearing a long dress and straw hat as she enters Charlie’s Store in Old George Mall, Salisbury at about 2pm last Friday.

She is seen brushing past a child as she places a bottle of wine on the counter of the shop, a five-minute walk from the park bench where the Skripals were found slumped in March.

The next morning Ms Sturgess fell unconscious at Mr Rowley’s house in Amesbury, a village eight miles from Salisbury, and was rushed to hospital at 11am.

Mr Rowley later ”started feeling really hot and sweaty” and “acting all funny... rocking against a wall", said a friend, who called an ambulance.

Emergency responders initially treated the couple on the assumption they had taken contaminated drugs, but police declared a “major incident” on Tuesday after medics said the pair were showing symptoms of novichok poisoning,

Health authorities have advised anyone who visited the five locations, including a park, a church, and a Boots chemist, to wash the clothes they were wearing at the time and wipe any belongings they had with them.

Forensic tents have been set up outside the John Baker House homeless hostel in Salisbury after it was evacuated on Thursday.

Police forensic tents at the rear of John Baker House, a homeless hostel where Dawn Sturgess had been living (REUTERS)

Police have said they cannot not rule out more people falling ill as a result of contact with the remnants of the nerve agent left over from the attempted murder of the Skripals.

During a public meeting on Thursday evening, Wiltshire Police chief constable Kier Pritchard said: “I hope we are not back in this position in four months’ time.”

One theory under investigation is that Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley inadvertently found a container – such as a phial or syringe – used to carry novichok and discarded in a public place following the initial attack.

Novichok remains highly toxic for a considerable period of time, so even the tiniest trace remaining in a container picked up by the victims could account for them becoming severely ill.

Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu, the head of UK counterterror policing, said: “Following further tests of samples from the patients, we now know that they were exposed to the nerve agent after handling a contaminated item.

“Detectives are working as quickly and as diligently as possible to identify the source of the contamination.”

Sajid Javid, the home secretary, on Thursday blamed Russia for the “callous and reckless” attack on the Skripals – but Moscow denied any involvement.

Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons, Mr Javid demanded the Kremlin provide an explanation for the two episodes of poisoning.

“The eyes of the world are currently on Russia, not least because of the World Cup,” he said. “It is now time that the Russian state comes forward and explains exactly what has gone on.”

A Russian Embassy spokesman said: “It is regrettable that UK officials try to link a second poisoning with Russia without having produced any credible results of the investigation of the first one.

“Instead of genuine co-operation, London is doing everything possible to muddy the waters, to confuse and frighten its own citizens. One can only guess what the reasons behind such a line of behaviour are.”

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