Woman poisoned by nerve agent Novichok has died; family says partner only has 'days to live'

Dawn Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley were only a four-minute walk away from where the former Russian spy Sergei and daughter Yulia had been poisoned earlier this year.

                            Woman poisoned by nerve agent Novichok has died; family says partner only has 'days to live'
(Source:Getty Images)

Dawn Sturgess, who was poisoned by the Novichok nerve agent in Wiltshire last week, has died in the hospital after the 44-year-old suffered a major heart failure. Her 45-year-old partner, Charlie Rowley, was also infected with the nerve agent after he picked up a contaminated syringe close to where Sergei Skripal, the former Russian spy, was found unconscious in Salisbury, four months ago. Dawn and Charlie were found unconscious and foaming at the mouth at a property in nearby Amesbury, Wiltshire before being admitted to the hospital last week.

Scotland Yard has announced that they have launched a murder investigation. This is the second time an inquiry has been started into the nerve agent after Sergei and Yulia Skripal were victims of the nerve agent in March. Rowley is still in the hospital and is in critical condition. Doctors have told the family that the man has "just days to live".

Caroline Sturgess, the 44-year-old's devastated mother, told the Daily Mail just a few hours after her daughter died: "It's not looking good for Charlie either. Maybe a few days. He won't pull out of this either. He's just alive with the machines." She also told her family: "Dawn died before 10 o'clock tonight. Her body just shut down. With her drink and drug addiction, her body wasn't strong enough to deal with this." She did not visit her daughter on July 8 in the hospital, which is the day she died. Sturgess' two sons, 23-year-old Aidan and 19-year-old Ewan, were at their father Andy Hope's home building a wall outside.

The publication revealed on July 6 that Caroline had criticized the hospital in Salisbury for allegedly not giving her dying daughter the same level of treatment that the poisoned Skripals had received after they were attacked with the nerve agent in March. She told the family: "Dawn is not getting the same quality of treatment as the Skripals because of her background and the fact she's an alcoholic. She's seen as a nobody, really."

Sturgess' third child, 10-year-old Grace, is "beside herself" with grief according to a close family member who also said the child "doesn't really understand what has happened". The girl lives with Caroline and was said to have had a sleepless night after she was told that her mother had passed away.

Both Dawn and Charlie were known to have an alcohol and drug addiction and Charlie has been described as a "scavenger who would pick up cigarette butts from the ground and often go through the trash cans outside charity shops in search of something he could use or sell." The couple had been exposed to the nerve agent at the Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury. This is only a four-minute walk away from the park bench where the Skripals were found unconscious earlier in the year. A police officer, who was the first to have found the Skripals and who was also affected by the Novichok, was finally allowed to go home on July 8 night after recovering. 

Now several sites are being searched by the local and Scotland Yard counter-terrorism officers, including Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, a property at John Baker House, Rolleston Street, Salisbury, a property on Muggleton Road, Amesbury, Boots the chemist, Stonehenge Walk, Amesbury, and the Baptist church on Raleigh Crescent, Amesbury.

Julian King, a British diplomat and the European Commissioner who is responsible for the EU's security union, said: "Those behind this are murderers." 

The Met Police has said that a possibility of the two crimes being linked is "clearly a key line of inquiry for police". Prime Minister Theresa May also expressed her shock and condolences on Dawn's death and assured that the government was committed to providing full support to the community to deal with the tragedy. Home Secretary Sajid Javid visited the area affected by the nerve agent on the night of July 8, he too expressed condolences and said that Dawn's death was now being seen as a murder investigation. 

The Sturgess' family has been kept in the loop about the situation and the police have offered their support. A post-mortem on the body is due to be conducted over the next few days. The Counter-Terrorism Policing Network detectives are the ones who have taken over the investigation and it is reported that around 100 detectives are working with the Wiltshire police on the case. He further visited Amesbury and some other surrounding areas. 

Neil Basu, the Head of UK Counter Terrorism Policing, said: "This 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. The 45-year-old man who fell ill with Dawn remains critically ill in hospital and our thoughts are with him and his family as well. This terrible news 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. Dawn's family has asked the media to kindly respect their privacy at this difficult time."

Kier Pritchard, the Wiltshire Police Chief Constable, said: "Today is the day we hoped would never come. It is with great sadness that we have learned of the tragic death of 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, as reported by AC Neil Basu and the Prime Minister. On behalf of all officers, staff and volunteers working for Wiltshire Police I wish to pass on our condolences to the family and friends of Dawn at this terrible time. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering they must be feeling, coupled with all the questions they need answers to."

The Public Health England (PHE) has said that their assessment "remains that the overall risk to the general public remains low". The PHE director Paul Cosford said: " As a precaution, we still advise the public not to pick up any strange items such as needles, syringes or unusual containers." 

British Home Secretary Javid told the Parliament that it’s time for Russia to explain “exactly what has gone on.” “It is completely unacceptable for our people to be either deliberate or accidental targets, or for our streets, our parks, our towns to be dumping grounds for poison,” he said.