British woman dies after nerve agent poisoning

LONDON (Reuters) - A 44-year-old British woman died on Sunday after being exposed to the Novichok nerve agent in western England just a few miles from where Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were struck down by the same agent four months ago.

Police said they were continuing to investigate how Dawn Sturgess and a 45-year-old man, named by media as Charlie Rowley, came across an item contaminated with Novichok, which was developed by the Soviet military during the Cold War.

The March attack on the Skripals prompted the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War as allies sided with Britain's view that Moscow was either responsible or had lost control of the nerve agent.

Moscow hit back by expelling Western diplomats.

The death of Sturgess was being investigated as a murder, police said in a statement.

SEE ALSO: UK demands Russia explain nerve attack after two more people struck down

 

Prime Minister Theresa May said she was appalled and shocked by the death.

The poisoning of the Skripals with Novichok was the first known offensive use of such a chemical weapon on European soil since World War Two.

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Two Britons poisoned with Novichok nerve agent near where Russian spy was struck down
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Two Britons poisoned with Novichok nerve agent near where Russian spy was struck down
Forensic investigators, wearing protective suits, emerge from the rear of John Baker House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Deputy Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police Paul Mills addresses the media outside the Bowman Centre community hall, after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Deputy Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police Paul Mills addresses the media outside the Bowman Centre community hall, after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers guard outside a branch of Boots pharmacy, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers stand next to a section of playing field near Amesbury Baptist Church, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Sam Hobson, aged 29, talks to television crews outside Amesbury Baptist Church, after describing himself as a friend of the two people who were hospitalised, and as a result, police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A police officer stands in front of Amesbury Baptist Church, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Fire and Rescue Service safety equipment lies on the ground at the site of a housing estate on Muggleton Road, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers stand in front of a housing development on Muggleton Road, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A police officer stands in front of Amesbury Baptist Church, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard speaks at a news conference at Antrobus House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers stand in front of Amesbury Baptist Church, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers guard the entrance to a housing estate on Muggleton Road, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A police officer stands in front of a housing development on Muggleton Road, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A police officer stands in front of a housing development on Muggleton Road, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Police officers stand at a cordon around a public litter bin next to a supported housing project, thought to be connected to a man and woman from Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: A police officer stands at a cordon around a public litter bin next to a supported housing project in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman from Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: A police officer stands at a cordon around a public litter bin next to a supported housing project in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman from Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills give a statement to the media outside the Bowman Centre in Amesbury, north of Salisbury, southern England, on July 4, 2018. - Two people have been hospitalised in a critical condition for exposure to an 'unknown substance' in the same British city where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent earlier this year. British police declared a 'major incident' after the couple, a man and a woman in their 40s, were discovered unconscious at a house in a quiet, newly-built area in Amesbury. (Photo by Geoff CADDICK / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
AMESBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Police officers stand at a cordon around an area of grass near to Amesbury Baptist Centre as Wiltshire Police declare a major incident after a man and woman were exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Amesbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
AMESBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Police on the scene outside an Amesbury branch of Boots pharmacy as Wiltshire Police declare a major incident after a man and woman were exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Amesbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Police officers on the scene outside Harcourt Medical Centre by Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman in Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
A police officer stands guard behind a housing estate on Muggleton Road, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: A police cordon is in place at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman in Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: A police officer stands at a cordon at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman in Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Forensic investigators wearing protective suits enter the rear of John Baker House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police cordon around Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, Wiltshire, near to Amesbury where a major incident has been declared after it was suspected that two people might have been exposed to an unknown substance. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
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Russia, which is currently hosting the soccer World Cup, has denied any involvement in the March incident and suggested the British security services had carried out the attack to stoke anti-Moscow hysteria.

The two Britons were taken ill on June 30 in Amesbury, a town in southwest England, 11 km (7 miles) from Salisbury, where Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked in March.

Police said the 45-year-old man remained critically ill in hospital.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the head of UK Counter Terrorism policing, said Sturgess' death was "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," he said.

The two Britons were initially thought to have taken an overdose of heroin or crack cocaine.

But tests by the Porton Down military research center showed they had been exposed to Novichok. Britain has notified the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Britain's interior minister Sajid Javid said earlier on Sunday that police were still working to discover how the two individuals were exposed to the nerve agent.

They had a working hypothesis that the two poisoning incidents were connected, he said, although he added that there were no current plans for further sanctions against Russia.

The investigation is being led by detectives from Britain's Counter Terrorism Policing Network and around 100 detectives are working round the clock alongside colleagues from Wiltshire police.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle, writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Keith Weir and James Dalgleish)

 

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