scorecardNerve agent victim describes 'oily substance' disguised as perfume that killed his girlfriend when he unwittingly gave it to her as a gift
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Nerve agent victim describes 'oily substance' disguised as perfume that killed his girlfriend when he unwittingly gave it to her as a gift

Nerve agent victim describes 'oily substance' disguised as perfume that killed his girlfriend when he unwittingly gave it to her as a gift
DefenseDefense4 min read

charlie rowley amesbury novichok victim

ITV News

  • Charlie Rowley, one of the victims in the latest nerve agent attack in England, said that the poison came from what he thought was an unused perfume bottle.
  • He told ITV News the perfume bottle was put inside a cellophane-wrapped box from a well-known brand. He didn't say which one.
  • He had given the bottle to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, who sprayed the liquid on her wrists and later died.
  • Rowley described seeing her in a "strange" state, complaining of a headache and then going into the bath fully clothed.
  • This account squares with a theory that the couple were collateral damage from the assassination attempt on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
  • The London Metropolitan Police told Business Insider it was still investigating whether the couple and the Skripals were poisoned from the same batch of novichok.

The man who survived being poisoned by the nerve agent novichok  has described the poison as an "oily substance," which he found disguised in an expensive-looking perfume bottle.

Charlie Rowley unwittingly picked up the wrapped perfume bottle and gave it to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, who then sprayed the liquid onto her wrists.

Shortly after she collapsed in her home in Amesbury, southern England. Despite the best efforts of doctors, she died in hospital eight days later.

Rowley, who was discharged from hospital last week, told ITV News on Tuesday that the poison came in the form of a glass perfume bottle, inside a sealed box wrapped in cellophane.

He said he couldn't remember where he found the box, but because the bottle appeared unused and packaged in a well-known brand, it "made me think it was quite safe."

Salisbury MP John Glen told BBC radio earlier this month that the couple had a "habit of looking into bins."

Rowley said: "It looked expensive, unfortunately it turned out to be a bad find."

London's Metropolitan Police, which is leading the investigation, told Business Insider in a statement that more than 400 items had been extracted from the surrounding area as part of the Amesbury investigation, "of which a significant number are potentially contaminated."

The "oily substance"

Rowley also revealed that he had handled the "oily substance" himself before giving it to Sturgess, but washed it off immediately.

He said:

"I guess how I got in contact with it is when I put the spray part to the bottle. I ended tipping some on my hands, but I washed it off under the tap.

"It had an oily substance and I smelt it and it didn't smell of perfume. It felt oily, so I washed it off really quick but I didn't think anything of it. It all happened so quick."

Washing his hands immediately after touching the substance may have been what saved his life, ITV News said.

amesbury poisoning stretcher

ITV News/Twitter

Paramedics carrying Rowley into an ambulance on a stretcher after he was found critically ill.

"Found her in the bath, fully clothed"

Rowley also provided a glimpse into what it's like to fall ill from novichok poisoning. Upon spraying the liquid onto her wrists, Sturgess complained of a headache and said she needed to lie down in the bath, Rowley said.

He told ITV News: "Within 15 minutes, I believe Dawn said she felt she had a headache and asked me if I had any headache tablets. I had a look around the flat and within that time she said she felt peculiar and needed to lie down in the bath, which at the time I thought was a bit strange.

"I went into the bathroom and found her in the bath, fully clothed, in a very ill state."

He added that he doesn't remember falling ill, but was told by friends that he was "stumbling" and "foaming" at the mouth before he was taken into hospital.



A composite photo of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who were also poisoned by novichok earlier this year.

Collateral damage from Russian spy attack?

Rowley's story conforms to a theory that he and his girlfriend were collateral damage from an assassination attempt on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia earlier this year.

The Skripals collapsed in Salisbury, a town near Amesbury, in March and were immediately taken critically ill. Both father and daughter lived, and have since been discharged.

Investigators are currently trying to find out whether the novichok that poisoned Sturgess and Rowley were from the same batch from the Skripal attack, the Met told Business Insider. They said "we cannot guarantee that there isn't any more of the substance left."

Britain has accused Russia of being behind the Skripal attack, but the Kremlin has repeatedly denied it.

Rowley told ITV News: "I think it was very irresponsible for people to leave the poison for anybody to pick up. It could have been children. It was just so unfortunate. I'm very angry at the whole incident."

The Met said: "The search process linked with both the Amesbury and the Salisbury investigation has been one of the most complex and difficult that UK policing has ever faced but it is crucial that police do not make assumptions, and that we follow the evidence."