Four months after a former Russian spy and his daughter were allegedly poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok sprayed on the door handle of their home in Salisbury in Wiltshire, England, a couple in their forties living 10 kilometres away in Amesbury are in critical condition in hospital after being poisoned by the same Soviet-era chemical, agencies report citing police.
Like in the case of Sergie Skripal and daughter Yulia, the UK government is pointing its finger at Russia after Charles Rowley, 45, and girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, 44, fell ill after exposure to the substance. Tests carried out at the Porton Down defence laboratory have confirmed the presence of Novichok in the blood samples of the couple, the Metropolitan Police said in London late on Wednesday.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said Britain will consult with its allies on a possible response to Russia over the latest poisonings, adding that Moscow must explain everything.
While blaming Russia, Security Minister Ben Wallace has sought its help by giving London more information to keep its citizens safe.
Describing the news as disturbing, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it triggers profound concern in connection with similar incidents in the UK, adding that Moscow has nothing to do with it.
Peskov said Kremlin wished the affected couple a speedy recovery.
Britain had rejected Russia’s offer of help in the investigation when the Skripals were poisoned. Besides, it expelled 23 Russian diplomats prompting the US and its European allies to follow suit.
In the Skripals case, the Porton Down defence laboratory corrected UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson by clarifying that despite carrying out several tests, they were clueless about the origins of the nerve agent.
Later, the analysis conducted by the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW — headquarters pictured) at their designated labs could only say that it was highly concentrated chemical made by professionals.
Wiltshire Police are viewing the latest case as a major incident.
According to police, an ambulance was called to a residential address in Amesbury on Saturday morning after Dawn Sturgess collapsed. She was taken to hospital.
Hours later, an ambulance arrived again at the Amesbury home after Charles Rowley fell ill.
Police initially thought the couple must have taken contaminated drugs. When the couple’s condition did not improve even on Monday, their blood samples were sent for analysis at the Porton Down defence laboratory in Salisbury. The tests confirmed that the couple has been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok.
The second poisoning incident comes soon after the UK initiated a move to allow OPCW to apportion blame for illegal attacks. Late last month, member nations of the global chemical weapons watchdog voted for it with a two-thirds majority.
Britain and its Western allies are having a bitter feud with Russia and Syria over the Skripals case and the alleged chemical attacks on the besieged town of Douma respectively.
Russia and India had vehemently opposed the UK move to grant OPCW unlimited powers which could be used for partisan purposes.