England Police: 2 more exposed to nerve agent
For the second time in four months, two people lie critically ill in England’s Salisbury District Hospital after being exposed to a military-grade nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union, British police confirmed late Wednesday.
The country’s chief counterterrorism police officer said tests at Britain’s defense laboratory had confirmed what many residents feared – a man and woman in their 40s had been poisoned with the same toxin that almost killed a former Russian spy and his daughter.
“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,” said Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of London’s Metropolitan Police.
Local police declared the case a “major incident” Wednesday, four days after the man and woman were found collapsed at a residential building in Amesbury, eight miles from Salisbury, where the Skripals were poisoned.
Basu said it was not clear whether there was a link between the two cases and whether the nerve agent came from the same batch that left the Skripals fighting for their lives.
“The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of enquiry for us,” he said, amid speculation that the victims could have been sickened by residue from the poison used on the Skripals.
Basu said it was unclear whether the two were targeted, but there was “nothing in their background to suggest that at all.”
Residents of the area felt a grim sense of deja vu. Four months after their quiet corner of England was plunged into a Cold War-style saga of spies, chemical weapons and international tensions, they wondered whether it was happening all over again. Britain accuses Russia of attacking the Skripals; Russia denies it.
“With the Russian attack happening not long ago, we just assumed the worst,” said student Chloe Edwards, who said police and fire engines descended on a quiet street of newly built homes in Amesbury on Saturday evening.
Edwards said she saw people in green suits – like those worn by forensics officers – and her family was told to stay indoors for several hours.
Police said officers initially were called Saturday morning about a collapsed woman, then were summoned back in the evening after a man fell ill at the same property. Police at first thought the two, identified by friends as 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess and 45-year-old Charlie Rowley, had taken a contaminated batch of heroin or crack.