The international chemical weapons watchdog, has confirmed that a nerve agent ( Novichok ) that killed a woman in southern England was the same substance used to attack the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
However the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it was unable to confirm whether the exact same batch of the deadly agent novichok was responsible for the death of Dawn Sturgess in July — four months after the Skripals fell critically ill just miles away in Salisbury.
Six months on from that initial attack, officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terror Command continue to investigate who might have been responsible. The UK government says Russia was behind the attempted assassination of the former MI6 informant.
Two Informants Named Over Novichok Poison Attack
The men, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are thought to be officers from Russia’s military intelligence service, the PM said.
Scotland Yard and the CPS say there is enough evidence to charge the men.
Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in March.
Speaking in the Commons, Prime Minister Theresa May said the government had concluded, from intelligence provided by UK agencies, that the men were part of the GRU intelligence service.
The poisoning was “not a rogue operation” and was “almost certainly” approved at a senior level of the Russian state.
The two men, believed to have been using aliases, travelled on Russian passports and are thought to be about 40.
The CPS is not applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men, as Russia does not have extradition agreements with the UK.
But a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained in case they travel to the EU.
In response, the Russian foreign ministry has said the names and photographs of the men “do not mean anything to Moscow”.
The Kremlin denied any involvement and in a statement on Tuesday repeated calls for a “genuinely transparent investigation in co-operation with Russian experts”.
Suspects Arrived UK In March
The Metropolitan Police said the two men had arrived at Gatwick Airport from Moscow on 2 March and stayed at the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, east London.
From there, they travelled to Salisbury on 4 March where Mr Skripal’s front door was contaminated with Novichok.
Officers believe a modified perfume bottle was used to spray the door.
While traces of Novichok were found in the London hotel room, there is no risk to other guests who were staying at the hotel at the time, police said.
They now want to hear from anyone who was a guest there from 4 March to 4 May.
Police said Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley were later exposed to Novichok after handling a contaminated container, labelled as Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume.
Mr Rowley has told police he found the box containing the small bottle and an applicator – all later found to be counterfeit – in a charity bin.
He tried to put the two parts together and got some of the contents on himself. His partner Ms Sturgess applied some of the contents to her wrists and became unwell.
The bottle, with a modified nozzle, had contained a “significant amount” of Novichok, Scotland Yard said.
Mr Basu said: “We don’t yet know where the suspects disposed of the Novichok they used to attack the door, where Dawn and Charlie got the bottle that poisoned them, or if it is the same bottle used in both poisonings.”
But he added that “the manner in which the bottle and packaging has been adapted makes it a perfect cover for smuggling the weapon into the country, and a perfect delivery method for the attack against the Skripal’s front door”.
Mr Basu confirmed that the two cases were related, saying: “We have now linked the attack on the Skripals and the events in Amesbury which affected Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley.
“It now forms one investigation. We do not believe Dawn and Charlie were deliberately targeted, but became victims as a result of the recklessness in which such a toxic nerve agent was disposed of.”
The OPCW’s report could now pave the way for the UK to step up international pressure on Russia through sanctions and further diplomatic expulsions. Scientists from the OPCW visited the UK twice in late July and early August to collect blood samples from Ms Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley, who also fell critically ill after coming into contact with the nerve agent. He later made a recovery having been exposed to a smaller quantity of the substance than Ms Sturgess.
The OPCW also collected samples from a bottle found at Mr Rowley’s house in Amesbury that police suspect may have been the source of the novichok.
In a statement, the UK’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the OPCW findings were a “reminder” of the importance of the international community standing together to “uphold the global ban on all use of chemical weapons.” “The recklessness of the Russian state in bringing a nerve agent in to the UK, and total disregard for the safety of the public, is appalling and irresponsible,” Mr Hunt added.
In its report, the OPCW said: “The toxic chemical compound, which displays the toxic properties of a nerve agent, is the same toxic chemical that was found in the biomedical and environmental samples relating to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.” However, it added that due to “unknown storage conditions of the small bottle found in the house of Mr Rowley” and the fact that earlier samples from the Skripals had been exposed to the environment and moisture, the OPCW could not “draw conclusions as to whether the samples are from the same synthesis batch.”