The parents of a woman who died after being exposed to the deadly Novichok nerve have slammed the British government for sending ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal to live in Salisbury – claiming it put residents at risk.
Stan and Caroline Sturgess are speaking out as the anniversary of the first attack approaches, in which Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were targeted in Salisbury.
The pair were found slumped on a park bench in the town on March 4 last year, after being exposed to the nerve agent when it was sprayed on their front door handle.
Both eventually recovered, and the British authorities have highlighted two men – Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, thought to serve in the Russian military intelligence service – as responsible for the attack.
Just months later, on June 30, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess was exposed to the nerve agent after her boyfriend Charlie Rowley found a perfume bottle containing the deadly poison.
Dawn Sturgess sprayed her wrists with a perfume bottle that contained the poison, and later died in hospital
Dawn Sturgess, left, who died following exposure to the nerve agent, and her partner Charlie Rowley, right
Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by the chemical agent novichok in Salisbury in March
Mr Rowley recovered from the exposure, but Ms Sturgess sadly died in hospital due to the effects of the nerve agent – which starved her of oxygen and led to her suffering a bleed on the brain.
Now her parents have expressed anger at the British authorities for settling former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury – and have criticised how their daughter was portrayed as a homeless drug user in the weeks after the incident.
In an interview with The Guardian, Dawn’s father Stan said: ‘I want justice from our own government. What are they hiding? I don’t think they have given us all the facts. If anyone, I blame the government for putting Skripal in Salisbury.’
Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence, was considered by the Kremlin to be one of the most damaging spies of his generation.
He was responsible for unmasking dozens of secret agents threatening Western interests by operating undercover in Europe.
He found his way to Salisbury after a spy swap in 2010 – and was one of two agents who came to Britain where he kept a low profile for the past eight years.
But Stan and Caroline Sturgess, from Durrington in Wiltshire, believe his being in Salisbury exposed residents to risk – arguing that he ‘took risks’ and ‘must have known there was a chance people were still after him.’
The flat at Muggleton Road in Amesbury, Wiltshire, where Charlie Rowley lived – and where he and Ms Sturgess became ill after exposure to Novichok
A specially made model of the counterfeit ‘Nina Ricci’ perfume bottle that carried enough the novichok to kill 4,000
The parents also criticised how their daughter was portrayed in the wake of the attack, with Caroline saying: ‘They were trying to get out the message that ‘this couldn’t happen to you, don’t worry, it’s because of their lifestyle’.’
Both also noted how they believed Rowley’s account that the perfume bottle had been in a sealed box – and therefore could be one of a number brought into the country. As the bottle used in the attack would not have been sealed – due to its having been accessed once already.
Asked how Charlie found the bottle, Caroline suggested: ‘I think he stumbled on it. I believe he had only just found it. If Charlie had found it in a bin in March he would have given it to Dawn straight away.’
Noting there could be more out there, Caroline said: ‘This could happen again. There could be another package out there.’
Both Stan and Caroline shared a heartbreaking last goodbye with their daughter, before she eventually passed away on July 8.
Told they could touch her – but not brush their hands against their own skin afterwards – the couple had to endure the sight of their daughter hooked up to machines.
Caroline said: ”I keep picturing myself stroking her hair thinking she was going to die.’ Before saying her final words: ‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.’
She is now thankful that Dawn was exposed to the bottle and not schoolchildren living in the area – and has also praised the hospital staff who helped look after her daughter.
She said: ‘I feel thankful that Dawn took a bullet for many other people. I’m sorry we lost our daughter. I’m thankful it wasn’t children.’
The news comes soon after a third suspect in the Salisbury novichok attack was unmasked as a high-ranking Russian spy.
Denis Sergeev is a graduate of an elite military academy in Moscow that churns out top intelligence officers.
The 45-year-old is thought to have left the UK on the same day as the nerve agent attack on former double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.
Revealed: How ‘assassins’ faked a Nina Ricci perfume bottle full of toxic nerve agent then ‘recklessly threw it away’, leading to the death of British woman
Russian agents suspected of carrying out the novichok attack used a glass container made to look like a perfume bottle.
Charlie Rowley, 48, told police he found a box he thought contained perfume in a charity bin on Wednesday June 27.
The box and bottle were labelled as Premier Jour by Nina Ricci – but Scotland Yard has confirmed that they were counterfeits and had been specially adapted.
Inside the box was a bottle and applicator, and police said Mr Rowley tried to put the two parts together at his home address in Amesbury on Saturday June 30. In doing so, he got some of the contents on himself.
He said his partner, Dawn Sturgess, 44, had applied some of the substance to her wrists before feeling unwell.
After he told police where he found the box, cordons were put in place and two bins behind shops in Catherine Street, Salisbury, were removed.
Previously, during a search of Mr Rowley’s home in Muggleton Road, Amesbury, on July 10, a small box labelled as Nina Ricci Premier Jour was recovered from a rubbish bag in the kitchen.
On July 11, a small glass bottle with a modified nozzle was found on a kitchen worktop.
Tests undertaken at the Government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory established that the bottle contained a ‘significant amount of novichok’, Scotland Yard said.
The novichok container was designed to look like a bottle of Premier Jour by Nina Ricci. File photo
Ms Sturgess died in hospital in July, just over a week after she and Mr Rowley fell ill.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said the manner in which the bottle and packaging was adapted made it a ‘perfect cover’ for smuggling the weapon into the country.
He added: ‘We have carried out numerous inquiries in relation to the bottle and are now able to release an image of it with the nozzle attached.
‘We are also releasing an image of the box that the bottle and nozzle were in.
‘We have spoken to Nina Ricci and undertaken further inquiries. Nina Ricci and our inquiries have confirmed that it is not a genuine Nina Ricci perfume bottle, box or nozzle.
‘It is in fact a counterfeit box, bottle and nozzle that have been especially adapted.
‘I’d like to reassure anyone who has bought Nina Ricci perfume from a legitimate source that they should not be concerned. It is safe.
‘We cannot account for the whereabouts of the bottle, nozzle or box between the attack on the Skripals on March 4 and when Charlie Rowley said he found it on Wednesday June 27.’