UK Novichok Poisoning Victim Is Conscious and Has Spoken to Police
LONDON—Charlie Rowley, who is believed to have touched an item contaminated with the nerve agent Novichok, is in serious but stable condition in the hospital and has spoken to police for the first time since regaining consciousness.
Rowley, 45, woke up on July 10, two days after his partner, Dawn Sturgess, 44, died in the hospital after coming into contact with the same nerve agent that almost killed ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in March.
“Officers from the investigation team have spoken briefly to Charlie and will be looking to further speak with him in the coming days as they continue to try [to] establish how he and Dawn came to be contaminated with the nerve agent,” London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
“Any contact officers have with Charlie will be done in close consultation with the hospital and his doctors.”
Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing at Salisbury District Hospital said, “I’m delighted to be able to tell you that Charlie Rowley has made further progress overnight. He is no longer in a critical condition. His condition is now serious, but stable.”
She said that he still “has some way to go,” but the staff is optimistic about his recovery.
Police believe that Sturgess and Rowley fell ill after handling a contaminated container. Officials are urgently looking for that container.
Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director for Public Health England, said on July 10 that the nerve agent was in liquid form, and he has warned people in the Salisbury and Amesbury areas not to pick up any foreign objects that could contain liquid or gel.
“This in practice means do not pick up containers, syringes, needles, or similar objects, made of materials such as metal, plastic or glass,” he said.
“This is particularly important as we approach school holidays and so I am asking that people are extra vigilant and we urge parents to talk with your children to be sure they understand. To be clear: Do not pick up anything that you haven’t dropped yourself.”
The UK’s top counter-terror police officer, Neil Basu, said Novichok can remain active for 50 years if kept in a sealed container.
Basu was asked at a public meeting in Amesbury on July 10 what would happen if the nerve agent was in a landfill site.
He responded, “If it was sealed in a container in a landfill site, it would effectively be safe because it would not be touched by anyone. It would last probably, I’ve been told by scientists, for 50 years.”
Scientists at the Porton Down defense research laboratory have confirmed that the couple was exposed to the same nerve agent that nearly killed the Skripals in March. Britain holds Moscow responsible for the poisoning; the Kremlin has denied any involvement.
Scientists will be running tests to find out whether the nerve agents from the two poisonings came from the same batch.
Baus said, “I would need a forensic link to be definitive, but this is a very rare substance banned by the international community and for there to be two separate distinct incidents in one, small English county is implausible to say the least.”
Basu said that officers have not identified those responsible for the attack and cannot guarantee that there are no traces of Novichok in the country.
“I am hoping Charlie recovers and when he recovers he will be able to tell us and perhaps shed some light on it, which will narrow our search dramatically,” he said. “There is a possibility they found it on 5th March and only opened it in the past 10 days.”