Couple fighting for their lives WERE exposed to the same Novichok nerve agent as ex-Russian spy: Police make dramatic revelation as footage emerges of man found ‘foaming at the mouth’ being put in an ambulance
- Dawn Sturgess, 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45, fighting for their lives after exposure to Novichok nerve agent
- Couple, understood to be recreational drug users, are in critical condition after being exposed on weekend
- Counter-terrorism police sent samples to MoD’s Porton Down laboratory and confirmed it was Novichok
- Couple found seven miles from where Sergei Skripal poisoned with Novichok and live near where ex-spy ate
A couple rushed to hospital by paramedics dressed in hazmat suits were poisoned by the same nerve agent used against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, police confirmed.
Dawn Sturgess, 44, and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, are fighting for life after they were exposed to the deadly Novichok substance in Amesbury on Saturday.
They were exposed just 300 yards from where Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia ate on the day they were poisoned four months ago, and it was feared this could be leftover toxin from then.
Confirmation of the poisoning came hours after dramatic video emerged of one of the victims being loaded into an ambulance by a paramedic wearing hazmat gear.
Dramatic video has emerged of a poisoning victim being loaded into an ambulance by a paramedic wearing hazmat gear
Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess have been named as the couple who were exposed to a Novichok nerve agent in Amesbury
Mr Rowley, a registered heroin addict, was lying on his back in a stretcher as the paramedic in a white protective suit pushed it inside as two police officers watched on.
Ms Sturgess lives in a homeless shelter close to the Zizzi’s restaurant in Salisbury where Russian spy Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yulia were targeted four months ago.
Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Operations Neil Basu said blood samples were tested at the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down and confirmed to be Novichok.
‘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 Sergei Skripal,’ he said.
‘The latest update we have from the hospital is that both patients remain in a critical condition. Both are British nationals and are local to the area. Officers are still working to identify their next of kin.
‘The priority for the investigation team now, is to establish how these two people have come into contact with this nerve agent.’
Paramedics wearing hazmat suits work on Mr Rowley before he is loaded into the ambulance
Mr Rowley was lying on his back in a stretcher as the paramedic in a white protective suit pushed it inside as two police officers watched on
ASCO Basu said no-one else had presented with the same symptoms so far.
He said about 100 detectives from the Counter Terrorism Policing Network were investigating along with local Wiltshire Police, and had already locked down areas they were believed to have been.
They included a public rubbish bin in the corner of Rollestone Street just yards from the John Baker House homeless shelter where Ms Sturgess lives.
What is the Novichok nerve agent used against the Skripals?
The Novichok nerve agent used against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is among the most deadly poisons ever created.
They were secretly developed by the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold war in the 1970s and 1980s.
Communist scientists developed the poison so it would not be able to be detected by Nato’s chemical detection equipment.
They come in the form of a ultra-fine powder, Novichok is up to eight times more potent than the deadly VX gas.
Victims who are poisoned by the powder suffer muscle spasms, breathing problems and then cardiac arrest.
There is a known antidote to the nerve agent – atropine can block the poison.
But doctors find it very tricky to administer the antidote because the dose would have to be so high it could prove fatal for the person.
Novichok poisons are highly dangerous to handle, requiring the expertise of skilled scientists in a sophisticated lab.
Dr Vil Mirzayanov, former Chief of the Foreign Technical Counterintelligence Department at Russia’s premiere, was among the team of scientists who helped develop the agent.
In an article about the lethal weapon, he wrote: ‘They are extremely dangerous – most likely lethal – for people who would try to synthesise or manipulate them without the help of highly experienced scientists and engineers in special laboratory installations observing extreme safety measures.
‘Without exception, Novichok weapons cannot be used for any reason without specially trained military personnel under medical supervision.’
A Boots where Mr Rowley picked up his prescription after his exposure, and the Amesbury Baptist Church were also locked down by police.
It was believed the couple may have attended a village fete on Saturday, run by the church, on Raleigh Crescent.
‘I do want to reassure the public, however, that there is no evidence that either the man or woman recently visited any of the sites that were decontaminated following the attempted murders of Sergei and Yulia Skripal,’ ASCO Basu said.
Initially police believed the pair, understood to be recreational drug users, had come into contact with a contaminated batch of Class A drugs.
But on Wednesday a major incident was declared after it emerged the substance could be poison – with Scotland Yard and the Ministry of Defence drafted in to help investigate.
Wiltshire Police said it was ‘open-minded’ about the cause and said it was not clear whether a crime had been committed.
ASCO Basu said police prescence would be beefed up in Salisbury and Amsebury similar to how it was when the Skripals were attacked.
Officers would be wearing protective clothing and testing various sites – likely the ones already cordoned off – but this was just a precaution.
‘This is a precautionary, but necessary measure that allows officers to safely carry out meticulous and systematic searches for evidence to support the investigation,’ he said.
‘This must be done with great care as you will appreciate, to ensure there is no outstanding risk to both those brave officers and the public.’
ASCO Basu said he understood there would be speculation that the two poisonings were linked but the ‘complex’ investigation into the Skiprals’ attempted murders was still ongoing.
‘Detectives continue to sift through and assess all the available evidence and are following every possible lead to identify those responsible, for what remains a reckless and barbaric criminal act,’ he said.
‘We are not in a position to say whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skripals were exposed to. The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of enquiry for us.
‘It is important, however, that the investigation is led by the evidence available and the facts alone and we don’t make any assumptions.’
He said Public Health England said, based on the number of casualties affected, it was not believed that there was a significant health risk to the wider public from either poisoning.
England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies told residents not to be alarmed, even if they had visited the areas now cordoned off since the couple were exposed.
‘My advice for any individual that may have been in any of the areas now cordoned off from 10pm on Friday evening onwards is highly precautionary,’ she said.
‘As before my advice is to wash your clothes and wipe down any personal items, shoes and bags with cleansing and baby wipes before disposing of them in the usual way.
‘This is the same public health advice I gave during the previous incident, but now as a belt and braces approach.
Several places the couple visited or may have visited after they were exposed were locked down by police, including a church and Boots store. Ms Sturgess lives just 300 yards from Zizzi’s where the Skripals ate the day they were poisoned
Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Operations Neil Basu, pictured right alongside England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies, confirmed the substance was Novichok nerve agent
‘I should also warn the public to be careful, as always of picking up any unknown or already dangerous objects such as needles and syringes.
‘You do not need to seek advice from a health professional unless you are experiencing symptoms as any individual, who had been significantly exposed at the same time, would by now, have symptoms.’
Police were called to Mr Rowley’s home in Muggleton Road in the town of Amesbury, seven miles from Salisbury, on Saturday morning after Ms Sturgess collapsed.
Emergency services were called back to the property hours later when Mr Rowley became unconscious.
Boots UK confirmed one of our stores in Amesbury closed on Wednesday morning as a precautionary measure at the request of the police as part of their standard investigation protocol.
‘We would like to apologise for any inconvenience this may cause customers and patients, and our team are available to direct patients towards our Salisbury Street store where they will be able to access their prescription medicines,’ it said.
A public rubbish bin (pictured) in the corner of Rollestone Street just yards from Ms Sturgess’ home where they frequented was cordoned off by police
The John Baker House homeless shelter at at 16 Rollestone Street in Salisbury where Ms Sturgess lives has been cordoned off by police after the poisoning
The building is just 300 yards from Zizzi’s restaurant (pictured) where the Skirpals ate on the day they were poisoned with novichok
A friend who says he called an ambulance for one of the victims told MailOnline of the desperate state he was in.
Sam Hobson, 29, said: ‘Charlie was dribbling and was rocking backwards and forwards. He was in another world, he was hallucinating.
‘He wasn’t high or anything. He was stone cold sober. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. I called the ambulance and they took him away.’
Mr Hobson had seen the couple the evening before they fell ill and went to see them again at about 11am the next day.
He found that Ms Sturgess had already been taken away in an ambulance which Mr Rowley had called earlier that morning.
‘I went with Charlie over to Boots to pick up his prescription and then we came back to his flat,’ he said. ‘He had a shower and then he just started having all these symptoms. It was really terrifying.
He said: ‘The police contacted me and asked to interview me at Amesbury station. They said both Dawn and Charlie are not conscious or responding and are in a bad way.
‘They didn’t mention novichok or the Russians.’
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said Theresa May was aware of the incident.
Wiltshire Police said it was not yet clear if the pair were the victims of a crime, but detectives were keeping an ‘open mind’ about the circumstances of the incident.
Public Health England said it did not believe there to be a ‘significant health risk’ to the wider public, although its advice was being reviewed.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said officers from counter terrorism are working jointly with colleagues from Wiltshire Police regarding the incident in Amesbury
Critical condition: Dawn Sturgess, pictured above, is fighting for her life in hospital after coming into contact with an ‘unknown substance’
The address is thought to be on a new housing development on the southern edge of the town, which lies close to Stonehenge.
Police and emergency services initially believed the pair may have taken illegal drugs, however further tests are now being carried out.
A Government spokesperson told MailOnline ministers were being kept up to date about the incident and urged members of the public to follow the advice of the police.
The incident comes after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were left poisoned by a suspected military nerve agent in Salisbury, which is around eight miles from Amesbury, in March.
On Saturday, Amesbury Baptist Church held a family fun day event on the village green of Raleigh Crescent. It is believed the couple could have been among the 200 guests.
Roy Collins, secretary at Amesbury Baptist Church, told MailOnline they were ‘shocked’ to learn of the news and even more surprised that their place of worship was cordoned off.
The Amesbury Baptist Church was among several other places cordoned off by police. The couple attended a fete nearby run by the church
It wasn’t clear whether the couple attended the church as well as the fete it put on, or why the building was sealed off
‘The only explanation we can think of is we had a public event on Saturday in a park opposite the church. It may well be that the couple attended, that is a possible connection,’ he said.
‘All sorts of people were coming and going and they may have been among them. We are trying to find out ourselves as to what happened but we have faith in the police that they will do their jobs and the investigation seems to be moving along very quickly.’
Mr Collins said around 200 people attended the community event, including many families and children, but ‘nobody else has suffered any ill-effects’.
‘There have been no reports of any other incidents,’ he added.
‘It was a beautiful, sunny day and it was a glorious event, there was nothing going on that was nefarious. This is a real surprise and shock to us – we do continue to keep the couple in our prayers.’
The church has been closed off today and a police officer stands guard outside.
The investigation is unusual for the town, Mr Collins said. ‘It is a peaceful and quiet area, the most drama we have going on here is Stonehenge just up the road.’
Crime scene investigators were present at a cordoned-off park in nearby Salisbury.
Police stand guard outside the house on Muggleton Road in Amesbury the couple were found poisoned in
Residents living near Muggleton Road in Amesbury say they were initially told the evacuation was down to a gas leak
Police, ambulance and fire crews descended to the scene on Saturday afternoon (pictured)
Police were unable to confirmed this was linked to the Amesbury incident, but neighbours of Queen Elizabeth Gardens said the cordon appeared in the early hours of Wednesday.
Officers surrounded the entire green with police tape, including a children’s play park and public toilets.
Harcourt Medical Centre had been included in the cordon but staff said tape was removed in the morning and no police had been present inside.
A neighbour who lives in the same block of flats as the couple described how he saw each of them being stretchered from their flat into waiting ambulances.
The man in his 30s, who did not want to be named, said they were ‘lovely people’.
On Saturday, Amesbury Baptist Church held a family fun day event on the village green of Raleigh Crescent. It is believed the couple could have been among the 200 guests.
Sam Hobson said Charlie Rowley was ‘dribbling, rocking and hallucinating’
Speaking through the window of his ground floor flat, which is inside the police cordon in Muggleton Road, he said: ‘It was about 10.30am on Saturday, when I saw Dawn being taken out on a stretcher.
‘Then later that evening, Charlie was also taken out and put into an ambulance. There were lots of emergency vehicles about and we were all told to stay in our homes.
‘Charlie and Dawn haven’t been living at the flat long at all, and I’ve only met them a coupe of times but they seem like lovely people. They seem decent.’
Residents living near Muggleton Road said they were initially told the evacuation was down to a gas leak.
‘I was told on the Saturday around half-six in the evening that there was a gas leak and to close my windows. Nothing else was ever mentioned to us after that,’ LeeAnn Brady said.
‘But I haven’t seen any British Gas vans anywhere.’
Sarah Jane Cerqua, who was away in Italy at the time of the evacuation, said: ‘I’ve returned this morning to find areas taped off so, maybe it’s not drugs after all.
A Boots where Mr Rowley picks up his prescription was also locked down by police
Police corned off Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury but it was not clear why as they were not near Ms Sturgess’ home
Officers surrounded the entire green with police tape, including a children’s play park and public toilets
‘My friend messaged me and said she was told gas leak I said what, when there’s no British Gas present.
‘Police were knocking doors asking people if they had anywhere to stay the other night as it was a gas leak.’
Lewis Foote said: ‘My wife’s friend lives near them and I know there was a huge police presence the other day with firefighters. They were wearing hazardous chemical suits. A lot of people think it might be related to the spy poisoning again.’
Taxi driver in Amesbury, Stuart Weyers, said: ‘I don’t know who they are but I think keeping them anonymous could prove to be more destructive.
‘For instance I am a taxi driver, if I had picked them up then my vehicle could be contaminated and I’ve just dropped seven people at the airport so the whole aircraft could now be contaminated.
‘Lots of ifs and buts but without the info how would we know.’
Police said on Tuesday: ‘It was initially believed that the two patients fell ill after using possibly heroin or crack cocaine from a contaminated batch of drugs.
‘However, further testing is now ongoing to establish the substance which led to these patients becoming ill and we are keeping an open mind as to the circumstances surrounding this incident.’
Salisbury District Hospital was ‘open as usual’ and officials advised people to attend routine appointments unless they are contacted to do otherwise.
‘The current advice from PHE England, based upon the number of casualties affected, is that it is not believed that there is a significant health risk to the wider public,’ a PHE spokesman said.
‘This will be continually assessed as further information becomes known’.
The town is just seven miles from Salisbury, where Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia (pictured together) were poisoned with a nerve agent in March
Nerve agent victim Yulia Skripal ‘intends to soon return to Russia’ despite Putin being blamed for her poisoning
By Will Stewart In Moscow for MailOnline
Yulia Skripal has sensationally indicated she intends ‘soon’ to return to Russia, according to a Moscow newspaper.
The 34-year-old victim of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury recently spoke by phone to a friend and a relative in her home country, it was claimed.
Her reported desire to return to her homeland – which could not be independently verified – comes despite Theresa May directly blaming Russia for the poisoning.
Moscow strenuously denies poisoning Yulia and her ex-spy father Sergei Skripal four months ago.
Yulia called a woman named only as Diana who is renovating her flat in Moscow and told her ‘she was doing well and that she was due to come to Russia soon’, Moskovsky Komsomolets (MK) newspaper reported.
She also ‘gave a special order’ not to allow her own cousin Viktoria Skripal, 45, access to her flat, the woman was quoted as saying.
The report further claimed Yulia met a close Russian friend called Gulnara in London.
The report further claimed Yulia met in London a close Russian friend called Gulnara, was interviewed and exonerated by Scotland Yard after she brought a package of buckwheat from Russia to London around the time the Skripals were poisoned
Gulnara was interviewed and exonerated by Scotland Yard after she brought a package of buckwheat from Russia to London around the time the Skripals were poisoned.
She has been ‘in constant touch’ with Stepan Vikeev, 30, Yulia’s mysterious boyfriend who has vanished since the poisoning, MK claimed.
Vikeev was reported to have had connections to the FSB security service.
It is unclear from MK if Yulia has been in direct contact with Vikeev since the poisoning.
The newspaper claimed he initially had a ‘mental breakdown’ after she was poisoning, and he then disappeared.
It stated his ‘desire to go below the parapet can mean only one thing, that Stepan holds some information.
‘And it is quite possible that Russian special services had used him as a way of monitoring the English life of Sergey Skripal (considered a traitor in his homeland), because quite likely Yulia was sharing certain details about it with Stepan.
‘There is also another version, that Stepan is so scared for his reputation that he wants to be as far away as possible from the scandalous family.’
Vikeev’s mother Tatiana – also reportedly with links to the FSB – took her son to Sochi to recuperate for three weeks, and later he stayed out of sight with a business trip to the Arctic, it was claimed.
Meanwhile, the newspaper reported Yulia called her cousin Viktoria ‘several days ago’ and demanded she stop interfering in her life.
Viktoria has led a campaign with support of other family members to visit Yulia and Sergei in Britain, and to demand the UK authorities give more information about their health and the conditions in which they are living in a reported ‘safe house’.
Britain has repeatedly refused to issue Viktoria a visa.
Moscow strenuously denies poisoning Yulia and her ex-spy father Sergei Skripal with a novichok nerve agent four months ago
The paper quotes Yulia in an extraordinary telephone blast at her cousin.
‘This is Yulia Skripal, if you remember me,’ she is reported to have said.
‘I am calling to say that you acted in a disgusting way. We did not allow you to meddle into this situation.
‘Neither my flat, nor my car, or my dog have anything to do with you. I am assisting my father and working on my own recovery.’
Yulia attacked Viktoria for her earlier remarks that the poisoning victim’s voice in a video statement suggested she was not speaking freely, and could have been under British influence.
‘How is that any of your business what tone I used to speak in my video message?’ she said.
‘I can’t come back now because you go on (Russian) talk shows, and you made all this a public affair. Please stop meddling with this story.’
Viktoria is devastated by the verbal attack from her cousin, which she tonight confirmed to MailOnline.
‘I am shocked and stunned as are the rest of our family,’ she said.
She had been trying to help Yulia by launching her campaign, and Yulia indicated she was speaking with her father’s knowledge, Viktoria said.
But Viktoria said she remained ‘saddened and upset’ as to why Sergei has not contacted his beloved 89 year old mother Yelena, even though his health has reportedly improved since he regained consciousness after the novichok attack.
Viktoria is the mother’s long-time carer at her home in Yaroslavl.
She said Yulia had not asked in their phone conversation about the her grandmother’s health.
Yulia has rejected help from the Russian embassy in London, according to her public statement.
Mayor of Amesbury, Councillor Margaret Strange, on Wednesday night visited the estate to ‘reassure residents’ and read a statement.
‘I’m here because I just want to be some kind of reassurance to the residents,’ said said outside the flat where the couple collapsed.
‘There are quite a number of residents on this estate and many of them are children and rumours go flying around.
‘The council just want to reassure them that at the moment it is considered safe to move around and if we all go along as calmly as we can this will hopefully resolve itself quickly.
‘I am here because I represent the town and I want us to keep as calm as we can and go about our daily business as best as we can. People should keep as calm as they can and when we know something we will tell them.’
College student Chloe Edwards described seeing police cars, fire engines and people in ‘green suits’ on Saturday night.
‘We saw everything,’ the 17-year-old, who lives near the cordoned-off flat, said.
‘We were just eating our dinner and all these emergency vehicles turned up. They were putting on these green suits and we thought it was the gas as our electricity was turned off as well.’
Ms Edwards said the vehicles arrived about 7pm and she and her family were told to stay inside their home until about 10pm.
‘We wanted to know what happened and with the Russian attack happening not long ago, and we just assumed the worst,’ she said.
‘I am not sure how long they were in there but we couldn’t get out of the house for two-and-a-half hours.’
She added that firemen had connected a hosepipe to the water mains.
Sergei Skripal (pictured) and his daughter were poisoned with chemical agent Novichok and found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4
Yulia Skripal (pictured in May) left hospital in April and gave her first interview last month, outlining her desire to return to Russia in the future despite the poisoning
Justin Doughty, who lives opposite the police cordon, said residents wanted more information from the police about what was happening.
‘We don’t know to be honest now, because is it linked to Salisbury or is it drug-related?,’ he said.
‘None of us is being told anything by the police and it would be nice to know something.
‘We would have thought the police would have been more forthcoming and keep us in the loop.’
Mr Doughty added: ‘I know the people that live there in passing and they seem alright people.’
Mr Skripal, 67, and his 33-year-old daughter were left in a critical condition after they were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre on March 4.
They spent weeks in Salisbury District Hospital, where they underwent treatment for suspected exposure to the Russian-created nerve agent Novichok.
The British Government has accused Russia of being behind the attack on Mr Skripal, who settled in the UK after a spy swap.
Sergei, 66, and Yulia, 33, were poisoned with chemical agent Novichok and found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4. Pictured, the scene after the poisoning in Salisbury