A man and woman left critically ill in Wiltshire were exposed to novichok – the nerve agent used to poison ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Police were called to a home in Amesbury on Saturday when Dawn Sturgess, 44, collapsed and were called back later that day when 45-year-old Charlie Rowley also fell ill.
The incident took place just eight miles (13km) from Salisbury, where Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia were targeted with novichok in March.
Confirming that Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley fell ill after exposure to the same nerve agent, Met Police Assistant Commissioner for Counter-Terrorism, Neil Basu, said there had been a “significant development” after officers declared a “major incident” earlier in the day.
Police initially believed the pair became unwell after using heroin or crack cocaine from a contaminated batch of drugs.
“This evening we have received test results from Porton Down that show the two people have been exposed to the nerve agent novichok,” said Mr Basu.
Due to concerns over Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess’s symptoms, samples from the pair were sent to the government’s chemical weapons facility in Porton Down on Monday.
“Following the detailed analysis of these samples, 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 the police chief, who has 100 Scotland Yard detectives working with officers in Wiltshire.
“The latest update we have from the hospital is that both patients remain in a critical condition. Both are British nationals and are local to the area. Officers are still working to identify their next of kin.”
Mr Basu warned of an “increased police presence” and officers wearing protective clothing as a “precaution” at several cordoned off sites in Amesbury and Salisbury.
He added: “I must say that we are not in a position to say whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skripals were exposed to. The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of enquiry for us.
“It is important, however, that the investigation is led by the evidence available and the facts alone and we don’t make any assumptions.”
When asked if the pair were deliberately targeted, Mr Basu said: “That is a theory but it’s speculation at the moment. We don’t have any intelligence or evidence that they were targeted in any way. There is nothing in their background to suggest that at all.”
Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said that risk to the public “remains low” and said anyone exposed at the same time would have by now witnessed symptoms.
She issued “highly precautionary” advice to those concerned and said: “As before, my advice is to wash your clothes and wipe down any personal items, shoes and bags, with cleansing or baby wipes before disposing of them in the usual way.
“You do not need to seek advice from a health professional unless you are experiencing symptoms, as any individual who had been significantly exposed at the same time would by now have symptoms.”
In a statement Wiltshire’s Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said: “We cannot underestimate the impact the shocking news of a second major incident in this part of our county in such a short space of time will have.
“The communities in Salisbury and Amesbury have shown extraordinary resilience and spirit since the events of March 4 and I have no doubt they will rise to this latest challenge in the same way.”
He added: “I would urge anyone with concerns to speak to our officers on the cordons or to contact the dedicated phone number which has now been set up.
“The numbers for this service are Freephone 0800 092 0410 or 0207 158 0124 if you are unable to access Freephone numbers.”
Downing Street has since confirmed Home Secretary Sajid Javid will chair a Cobra meeting on Thursday.
The developments come as video obtained by Sky News showed the paramedics who took Mr Rowley away on Saturday were wearing hazardous material protective suits.
In the footage, the paramedics are wearing breathing masks over their mouths and noses, with visors covering their faces.
Mr Rowley is strapped to a stretcher wearing a breathing mask and with breathing apparatus on his chest.
Sam Hobson, a friend of the pair, said he visited them on Saturday and said Mr Rowley was “in another world” and “hallucinating” after Ms Sturgess was taken away by paramedics.
He told Sky News: “I came around Charlie’s house in the morning and there was loads of ambulances outside and his girlfriend was getting taken away and he said she was complaining of a headache in the morning.
“She went into the bathroom to have a bath and he heard a thump and she was in there having a fit, foam coming out of her mouth.”
He added: “He [Mr Rowley] was sweating loads dribbling and you couldn’t speak to him. He was making funny noises and he was rocking backwards and forwards. There was no response for me, he didn’t even know I was there, he was in another world – he was hallucinating.”
From – SkyNews