Woman dies after exposure to nerve agent, police launch murder inquiry

9 July 2018

Woman dies after exposure to nerve agent, police launch murder inquiry

The woman exposed to a nerve agent in England’s south a little over a week ago has died in hospital, prompting police to launch a murder inquiry.

Forty-four-year-old Dawn Sturgess died on Sunday evening (local time) after falling critically ill on June 30.

Her partner, 45-year-old Charlie Rowley, was also exposed to the substance and remains in critical condition in hospital.

British Prime Minister Theresa May reacted to Ms Sturgess’ death, saying she is “appalled and shocked”.

“Police and security officials are working urgently to establish the facts of this incident, which is now being treated as murder,” Ms May said.

The UK’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Operations Niel Basu, said in a statement that Ms Sturgess’ death is “shocking and tragic news”.

“Dawn leaves behind her family, including three children, and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this extremely difficult time,” he said.

The investigation is being led by Counter-Terrorism Policing Network detectives, with more than 100 detectives working in conjunction with Wiltshire Police.

Investigators are still determining how Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess came into contact with the nerve agent, which British authorities believe to be a Soviet-era Novichok.

Tests have confirmed the couple touched a contaminated item with their hands.

Assistant Commissioner Basu said the death “has only served to strengthen our resolve to identify and bring to justice the person or persons responsible for what I can only describe as an outrageous, reckless and barbaric act”.

“Detectives will continue with their painstaking and meticulous work to gather all the available evidence so that we can understand how two citizens came to be exposed with such a deadly substance that tragically cost Dawn her life,” he said

British Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “shocked” and that a “full and thorough police investigation must now establish the facts, provide support to the local community and bring those responsible to justice.”

British health authorities maintain that risk to the public “remains low”.

Investigators are trying to find any links between the poisoning of Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess and that of Sergey and Yulia Skripal in March.

The couple were found in a residential building in the Wiltshire town of Amesbury, 13 kilometres from Salisbury, the location of the Skripal incident.

Authorities say it is most likely that Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess were accidentally poisoned by Novichok leftover from the Skripal attack, which the British Government has blamed on Russia.

The Kremlin has denied any involvment in the attack on Sergey Skripal, a former Russian spy who was turned by MI6, and his daughter Yulia and no evidence directly linking Russian Government has surfaced.

The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry has also extended several offers to assist in the investigations of both incidents.