Police open murder probe as victim of nerve agent dies
A woman who was poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent in southwest England died Sunday, eight days after police think she touched a contaminated item that has not been found.
London’s Metropolitan Police force said detectives had become a homicide investigation with 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess’s death at a hospital in Salisbury. She and her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, 45, were admitted June 30 after falling ill a few miles away in Amesbury; Rowley remains in critical condition.
Tests at Britain’s defense research laboratory showed the pair was exposed to Novichok, the same type of nerve agent used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury in March. Police suspect Rowley and Sturgess handled a discarded item from the first attack, though they have not determined for certain that the two cases are linked.
Britain blames the Russian state for the attack on Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter – an allegation Moscow strongly denies.
Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “appalled and shocked” by Sturgess’s death.
“Police and security officials are working urgently to establish the facts of this incident, which is now being treated as murder,” May said.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, Britain’s top anti-terrorism police officer, said the death “has only served to strengthen our resolve” to find those responsible.
More than 100 detectives have been working alongside local officers to locate a small vial or other container thought to have held the nerve agent that sickened the two. Officials say the search and cleanup operation will take weeks or even months.
Counterterrorism police are also studying roughly 1,300 hours of closed circuit television footage in hopes of finding clues about the couple’s activities in the hours before they became violently ill.