Cops failed to seal off area where Novichok pair were poisoned as Russia chief blames attack on rogue lab worker

Charlie Rowley, 45, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, are fighting for their lives at Salisbury Hospital after being found unconscious at a property in Amesbury, Wiltshire, on Saturday.

Officials believe the couple may have been poisoned after touching a syringe at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in the town.

Following the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were found collapsed on a bench in town centre in March, a multi-million pound decontamination programme was carried out before the town was declared safe.

What we know so far

  • Charlie Rowley, 45, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, were found unconscious on Saturday
  • Both are fighting for their lives at Salisbury District Hospital
  • Police confirmed they were poisoned with Novichok.
  • It is feared the couple may have stumbled across a discarded syringe or container used to carry the nerve agent used on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in March
  • Home Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed they were poisoned at a site which hadn't been decontaminated after the Skripal attack
  • Public Health England has warned members of the public in the area not to touch unknown objects 'including syringes'
  • Five locations the couple visited in Salisbury and Amesbury have been cordoned off by police

Nine locations were forensically cleansed including three in the town centre, two ambulance stations and Mr Skripal's home.

But the latest poisoning has raised fears residents could still be at risk from the deadly nerve agent as forensics officers desperately search for further traces of the poison.

Five sites – including the couple's homes, a Boots Pharmacy, the park and a church – are now being searched by specialist officers.

Experts have warned the nerve agent 'lasts forever' and long-term health conditions such as poor movement and brain function are incurable even if victims survive.

Prof Andrea Sella, professor of inorganic chemistry at University College London, said: "They are designed to be quite persistent – they hang around in the environment, neither evaporating or decomposing quickly.

"That means that if a container or a surface was contaminated with this material it would remain a danger for a long time and it will be vital to trace the movements of this couple to identify where they might have come into contact with the source.

"Until the source is found there is a remote chance that someone else might come into contact with it."

Vladimir Uglev, one of the inventors of Novichok said it is "near-impossible" to detect.

He told The Independent: "The substance can absorb itself into any soft surface, whether trees, leather, or park benches.

"From there it can be absorbed onto people’s skin with all the consequences.

"I am 99 per cent sure it was A-234 – I know it like a mother knows her child. You would assume this second incident is connected with the same substance."

The poisoning has sparked a fresh war of words between Britain and Russia after security minister Ben Wallace demanded Vladimir Putin's government 'come clean' about the incident.

He said: "What we said at the time is that this is a brazen and reckless attack

"The Russian state could put this wrong right, they could tell us what happened, what they did, and fill in some of the significant gaps we are trying to pursue.

"Until we can get to a place where we know much more then our levels of assurance will remain at low risk but not zero risk."

Home Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed security services believe the couple came into contact with Novichok at a site which had not been decontaminated.

He added he "cannot rule out" the Novichok was from the same batch as the Skripal attack.

Russia has always denied being involved in the Skripal poisoning and accused the UK of playing a 'dirty political game'.

Russian foreign minister Maria Zakharova said: "We urge the British law enforcement agencies not to go on about the dirty political game that certain forces in London have started and, at last, begin to cooperate with the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation."

Meanwhile, Nikolai Kovalev, former head of the Russian security services said Novichok 'could not have survived four months in the open' and must have been taken by someone working at the Porton Down government research facility.

Sam Hobson, 29, a pal of Dawn and Charlie who was with them in the hours before they collapsed, said he believes they could have smoked the nerve agent.

He told The Sun: "They walked round Salisbury picking up fags on Thursday because they had no baccy.

"They took it back to Dawn’s and emptied the tobacco in an old tobacco pouch and them two have been smoking it over the following days.

“The police must have missed something otherwise they wouldn’t have been infected."

Dawn's mum, Caroline Sturgess, 64, visited her daughter in hospital and fears she is 'on the brink of death', a family source told Mail Online.

Police say they initially believed the pair had taken heroin or crack cocaine from a contaminated batch of drugs when they were called to an address in Muggleton Road.

Neighbours described seeing emergency crews arrive at the scene in "green suits" on Saturday night.

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.

Mr Skripal, 67, and his daughter, 33, 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.

Scotland Yard believes the Skripals were targeted in a two-man assassination attempt.

The pair are thought to have left the UK the next morning after carrying out the attempted assassination on behalf of the Kremlin.

They are now thought to be back in Russia and under the protection of President Vladimir Putin.

Source: Read Full Article