LONDON: British police launched a murder inquiry Sunday after a woman died following exposure to the nerve agent Novichok in southwest England, four months after the same type of chemical was used against a former Russian spy in an attack blamed on Moscow.
Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “appalled and shocked” by the death of Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother of three, and offered her condolences to the family.
Sturgess and a man named locally as Charlie Rowley, 45, fell ill last weekend in Amesbury, near the town of Salisbury where former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked with Novichok in March and have since recovered.
Novichok is a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Britain and its allies accused Russia of trying to kill the Skripals, prompting angry denials and sparking an international diplomatic crisis.
Police said they would be led by the evidence but confirmed a link between the Amesbury case and the Salisbury attack was a main line of inquiry.
Interior minister Sajid Javid last week demanded answers from Moscow, saying he would not accept Britain becoming a “dumping ground for poison”.
The British couple were believed to have become exposed to Novichok by handling a “contaminated item”, with speculation that it could have been the container used to administer the nerve agent to the Skripals.
However, police and public health officials insist the risk to the wider public remains low.
A police officer was tested for possible exposure to the deadly nerve agent over the weekend but was given the all-clear.
The prime minister said: “Police and security officials are working urgently to establish the facts of this incident, which is now being investigated as a murder.”