Novichok victim out of critical condition and speaking to police

A Wiltshire man poisoned by novichok has begun talking to detectives who are racing to find the source of the nerve agent as public health officials prepared to visit schools to warn children about the crisis.

Charlie Rowley spent days in a coma after being taken seriously ill on 30 June at his home in Amesbury, Wiltshire. It is not known if he has been told that his partner, Dawn Sturgess, has died after being exposed to novichok.

Rowley is under guard in hospital and may have information with significant implications for public safety, national security and UK relations with Russia, which has been blamed for the use of novichok on British soil.

Detectives from Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command believe they may have to wait days for Rowley to regain his memory and the ability to focus on the questions he is being asked.

The crucial question is when and where he came across a container containing novichok. Rowley and Sturgess handled the small container, made of glass, plastic or metal, which led to them falling ill on Saturday.

Rowley was described as very tired and groggy due to the effects of the nerve agent.

Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command said: “Officers from the investigation team have spoken briefly to Charlie and will be looking to further speak with him in the coming days as they continue to try to establish how he and Dawn came to be contaminated with the nerve agent.

“Any contact officers have with Charlie will be done in close consultation with the hospital and his doctors. We will not be providing further commentary around our contact with Charlie.”

Salisbury district hospital’s nursing director, Lorna Wilkinson, said: “He is no longer in a critical condition. His condition is now serious but stable. Our staff will continue to work hard to provide the care that Charlie needs. Charlie still has some way to go to recover but the progress we’ve seen so far gives us cause for optimism.”

Four months ago novichok was used to try to kill a Russian former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, at their Salisbury home. Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer, Neil Basu, said no forensic link between the two incidents had yet been found but added it was implausible there was no connection.

Basu, an assistant commissioner with the Metropolitan police who leads the police counter-terrorism network, said that if it was in a container, the novichok could remain active for half a century.

Until the source of the poisoning is found, people in Salisbury and Amesbury are being told not to pick up anything they have not dropped themselves.

The message is to be repeated in local schools. The leader of Wiltshire council, Baroness Jane Scott, said: “We are going out to schools this week offering advice and support.” She said local public health officials would visit schools to warn them about the dangers of handling discarded objects. “We need to make sure all those children understand,” she said.

Meanwhile, the government has announced extra funding totalling more than £5m to help south Wiltshire recover after the poisonings. The funding includes money to revive tourism and make up for income lost by local businesses as a result of the novichok attack.

The prime minister, Theresa May, said: “The people of Salisbury and Amesbury have shown incredible resilience, both since March and in light of last week’s tragic events.

“The government will stand in full support of the local community and this funding package will ensure ongoing response and recovery needs are met.

“We will continue to work closely with local partners in south Wiltshire on the long-term recovery from these terrible incidents.”

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