Amesbury, Wiltshire, couple Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were found unconscious in their home on Saturday after being poisoned by a nerve agent, according to BBC News. After running tests on the substance, determined to be Novichok, it was discovered that the pair, who are both in critical condition, were poisoned by the same nerve agent (military-grade Novichok) that was used against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. Skripal and his daughter were unconscious when they were found at a Salisbury mall.
After determining the substance and noting it was the same nerve agent used in the Skripal attack, Amesbury immediately tightened its security precautions. Police cordoned off areas in the Amesbury and Salisbury areas. The town is nearly eight miles away from Salisbury, where Skripal was poisoned. Skripal’s poisoning garnered worldwide attention, with the British government believing it was “highly likely” that he and his daughter were poisoned by Russia. According to NBC News, the Russian government said that accusations of their involvement in the incident were “propaganda designed to damage its relations in the West.”
Given the proximity of the poisonings and the use of Novichok in both cases, Wiltshire police are aware that this case will garner a lot of attention and speculation. Though police know it is the same nerve agent, London Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner of Special Operations Neil Basu is hesitant to say “whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skripals were exposed to.” However, Basu notes that “The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of inquiry for us.”
Rowley and Sturgess were both found unconscious but at different times, according to NBC News. While it was first suspected that the couple may have overdosed on cocaine or heroin, police decided to take samples of the substance after observing their symptoms, though police have not disclosed what those symptoms were. There are no other reported victims of the Amesbury poisoning at this time.
Novichok is a name used to describe a number of “advanced chemical agents” created in the 1970s by the Soviet Union. When ingested, it “causes a slowing of the heart and restriction of airways, leading to death by asphyxiation.” They are designed to be resistant to common nerve agent antidotes, and often cause lasting effects on the victims. Novichok is thought to be more deadly than VX, the chemical weapon used to kill Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother in 2017. VX is listed as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.