Sometimes, life is stranger than fiction. In a tale that would give Le Carre a run for his money, there have been a string of poisonings in sleepy Wiltshire – the last place one would imagine the use of Soviet-era military-grade nerve agents to be deployed.
However, that’s exactly what’s happened this year. It started in March, when an ex-Russian spy and his daughter living in Salisbury, United Kingdom, were poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
The father and daughter were found slumped on a bench in the town, with spectators assuming they were on illegal drugs. Since the poisoning, Sergi and Julia Skripal have recovered, but only after spending extended periods of time in a coma, and being held in intensive care.
The incident in March sparked a diplomatic row between Russia and the United Kingdom, resulting in the UK expelling a number of Russian diplomats.
Now, two more people have been poisoned with the same nerve agent in the town of Amesbury in Wiltshire, which is only 20 minutes' drive from Sailsbury, using the same military-grade nerve agent Novichok.
44-year-old Dawn Sturgess and her boyfriend 45-year-old Charlie Crowley, were rushed to hospital on Saturday after reports of them acting in a ‘zombie-like’ way.
The couple still remain in a critical condition, and are being treated in the Sailsbury District Hospital, the exact same location that the Skripals were treated.
Despite a number of poignant similarities between the cases, police still haven’t got to the bottom of either of them. In an attempt to untangle truth from fiction, we’ve compiled a useful list of what we do and don’t know about the cases.
What we do know.
- The poisoned couple have been identified as 45-year-old Charlie Rowley and his 44-year-old girlfriend Dawn Sturgess.
- Dawn was rushed to hospital 10:15am Saturday after she collapsed at her home on Muggleton Road. Later on the same day, paramedics called back at the same location when a man, now known to be Rowley, was also taken ill.
- The couple are being treated in the same hospital that the Skripals were treated in, Sailsbury District Hospital, where they remain in a critical condition.
- The pair were poisoned with the exact same nerve agent as the Skripals - Novichok, a Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent.
- Police know the couple's movements on Saturday, and have cordoned off all the locations that they visited: Amesbury Baptist Church; a Boots pharmacy in Amesbury; Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury; the John Baker House in Salisbury, a supported living facility; and the property on Muggleton Road.
- The Kremlin 'categorically denies' any involvement in the poisoning of the two British citizens in Amesbury.
- People in Sailsbury have been warned not to pick up discarded objects in the street.
- Sajid Javid says that a suspected link to the Skripal case is currently the main line of enquiry in the case.
What we don't know.
- We don’t know exactly where the couple came into contact with the nerve agent. Police have cordoned off all the locations that the couple visited on the day, but they’re yet to pinpoint the location.
- Police don’t know the exact time the couple came into contact with the poison.
- It is still unknown whether the March poisoning of the Skripals and this latest poisoning are linked.
- It is unknown whether Rowley and Sturgess were purposefully targeted, or whether they’ve come into contact with the nerve agent accidentally.
- We don’t know if the nerve agent that the couple have been exposed to is the same batch as that which poisoned the Skripals.