Salisbury: British police scrambled today to determine how a couple were exposed to the same nerve agent used on a former Russian spy earlier this year, leaving them critically ill.
The couple was taken ill on Saturday in the village of Amesbury, close to the city of Salisbury, where former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench on 4 March in an incident that sparked a diplomatic crisis with Russia.
“The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of enquiry for us,” said Neil Basu, head of Britain’s counter-terrorism police force.
Police announced late Wednesday that tests on the couple, named locally as 44-year-old woman Dawn Sturgess and 45-year-old man Charlie Rowley, revealed they had been exposed to Novichok, but could not say whether it was the same batch used on the Skripals.
Novichok is a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The exposure of an apparently random British couple to the nerve agent is spreading fear through the normally quiet city in southwest England once again.
Interior minister Sajid Javid is to chair an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday, as counter-terrorism police lead the investigation into the incident.
Basu also insisted that there “remains a low risk to the general public,” saying” we’re satisfied that if anyone was exposed to that level of nerve agent by now they would be showing symptoms.”
However, many questions remain over the source of the contamination and why tests were not conducted on the couple until Monday, two days after they were taken ill.
Moscow has rejected British accusations of involvement in the Skripal poisoning, which sparked a diplomatic crisis that saw Russia and the West expelling dozens of diplomats in tit-for-tat moves.