They’ve found the Novichok
Bottle of nerve agent discovered by the police at home of one of latest victims
DETECTIVES have found a bottle of deadly Novichok nerve agent in the home of one of the poisoning victims, it emerged last night.
The major breakthrough means investigators now have vital forensic evidence which may help identify those behind the attack.
It was found in the home of Charlie Rowley, 45, on Wednesday – the day after he regained consciousness in hospital.
His partner, Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after the pair collapsed in Amesbury, Wiltshire, southern England, on June 30, having been exposed to the nerve agent.
It is not clear how the bottle came to be in Mr Rowley’s home, but it is possible he or his partner picked it up after finding it in Salisbury.
The bottle was sent to Britain’s Porton Down laboratory in Wiltshire for tests, which confirmed that it contained the deadly nerve agent.
The pair suddenly fell ill four months after the attempted assassination of Russian former doubleagent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia – who were also poisoned by Novichok in nearby Salisbury.
One or both of the couple could have found the container at the time of the Skripal attack in March and only opened it recently. Mr Rowley, who is still in Salisbury District Hospital in a serious but stable condition, may also be able to tell police where the bottle was found – opening up new CCTV leads which could help identify the would-be assassin or assassins.
Further tests will now be carried out to establish whether the Novichok found in his home is from the same batch that contaminated the Skripals.
The bottle will also be dusted for fingerprints and checked for lingering DNA evidence.
Investigators will also examine it to see if it has any distinctive qualities which link it back to Russia or laboratories there.
Last night, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, Britain’s antiterror chief, warned that there could still be more Novichok on the streets.
He said: ‘This is clearly a significant and positive development. However, we cannot guarantee that there isn’t any more of the substance left, and cordons will remain in place for some considerable time.
‘This is to allow thorough searches to continue as a precautionary measure for public safety and to assist the investigation team. I also appreciate there is a lot of interest in this; however, we are not in a position to disclose any further details regarding the bottle at this stage.’
Britain’s Foreign Office has invited international chemical weapons experts to assist in the investigation. Staff from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will travel to Britain next week to independently confirm the substance is the nerve agent. Peter Wilson, the UK permanent representative to the OPCW, has written to its director general inviting them to assist in accordance with Article VIII 38(e) of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘During their visit they will be able to collect samples to inform this work.
‘These samples will be analysed at highly reputable international laboratories designated by the OPCW.’
Around 100 counter-terror officers continue to work on the investigation, alongside Wiltshire Police.
Authorities have said the risk to the public in Salisbury and Amesbury remains low and that no-one else has fallen ill as a result of the nerve agent.
But Public Health England has advised people not to pick up any strange items including syringes, needles, cosmetics or similar objects made from metal, plastic or glass.
The news came after Assistant Commissioner Basu told a packed public meeting in Amesbury on Tuesday that detectives had no idea how the nerve agent was stored or where it was.
He also admitted investigators were looking for ‘a needle in a haystack’ as they tried to find the source of the nerve agent which could last for up to 50 years if stored in a sealed container.
Sergei and Yulia Skripal were hospitalised after being found unconscious on a public bench in Salisbury in March.
They were both initially said to have been in a critical condition; however, they have since left hospital.
Yulia was discharged in April, and her father was then released the following month.
The Kremlin has firmly denied any role in their poisoning.
The nerve agent could last 50 years
Killed: Victim Dawn Sturgess died due to agent