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Novichok poisoning probe spreads to Swindon as police seize car

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Novichok victim Charlie Rowley is now conscious but 'not out of the woods' say doctors after poison probe spreads to Swindon where army seize paramedic's car

  • Charlie Rowley has regained consciousness but is 'not out of the woods yet'  
  • People in Salisbury and Amesbury warned not to pick up 'foreign objects' 
  • Police have seized white Audi in Swindon in the Novichok investigation
  • Believed to belong to paramedic Keith Mills who treated poisoning victim   
  • Dawn Sturgess and partner Mr Rowley were 'exposed to high dose' of Novichok
  • Ms Sturgess, 44, died on Sunday and family paid tribute to 'gentle soul'

By Joseph Curtis and Jake Wallis Simons Associate Global Editor and James Fielding and Martin Robinson, Uk Chief Reporter For Mailonline

Published: 02:59 EDT, 10 July 2018 | Updated: 04:24 EDT, 11 July 2018

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There has been a 'small but significant' improvement in the condition of Amesbury Novichok victim Charlie Rowley, who is now conscious, Salisbury District Hospital said. 

But Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing and midwifery at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, warned he is 'not out of the woods yet'. 

'Charlie is still very unwell and will continue to require specialist, round-the-clock care,' she said.

'We have seen a small but significant improvement in the condition of [Charlie]. He is in a critical but stable condition, and is now conscious.' 

People in Amesbury and Salisbury were earlier warned not to pick up 'any foreign object which could contain liquid or gel, in the interests of their own safety'.

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies issued the alert today as the investigation into the fatal poisoning of mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess moved into Swindon when a white Audi was removed by police.

Fighting for his life: Charlie Rowley, 45, is still critically ill
Fighting for his life: Charlie Rowley, 45, is still critically ill
Dawn Sturgess, 44, died of heart failure last night - eight days after she picked up a syringe or vial of the nerve agent dumped by the assassins sent to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Dawn Sturgess, 44, died of heart failure last night - eight days after she picked up a syringe or vial of the nerve agent dumped by the assassins sent to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, 44, right, died after being poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok while partner Charlie Rowley, 45, left, is said to be improving

A white Audi was seized by a forensic team in camouflage gear in Swindon yesterday as the Novichok investigation spreads across Wiltshire
A white Audi was seized by a forensic team in camouflage gear in Swindon yesterday as the Novichok investigation spreads across Wiltshire

A white Audi was seized by a forensic team in camouflage gear in Swindon yesterday as the Novichok investigation spreads across Wiltshire

The car was wrapped in a cling film-like substance and towed away and is the latest vehicle to be removed, with police telling the public not to be alarmed
The car was wrapped in a cling film-like substance and towed away and is the latest vehicle to be removed, with police telling the public not to be alarmed

The car was wrapped in a cling film-like substance and towed away and is the latest vehicle to be removed, with police telling the public not to be alarmed

Ms Sturgess, 44, of Salisbury, died on Sunday night after falling seriously ill along with partner Mr Rowley at his flat near Amesbury last week after being exposed to a 'high dose' of the poison.

The couple, who were heavy drinkers and drug takers, are believed to have picked up a syringe or vial of the nerve agent dumped by the assassins sent to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.  

Her devastated family also released a statement today paying tribute to the 'gentle soul' while Mr Rowley remains in critical condition in hospital.

Locals say the Audi belonged to former RAF serviceman Keith Mills, a paramedic who treated Ms Sturgess before her death and was once honoured in the House of Commons for treating a wounded soldier while under fire during a tour of Afghanistan. 

In her warning, Dame Sally said: 'I want to emphasise to everyone in the Salisbury and Amesbury area that nobody, adult or child, should pick up any foreign object which could contain liquid or gel, in the interests of their own safety. 

The Audi was loaded onto a flatbed trailer and then towed away by a large vehicle, pictured
The Audi was loaded onto a flatbed trailer and then towed away by a large vehicle, pictured

The Audi was loaded onto a flatbed trailer and then towed away by a large vehicle, pictured

The incident caused a stir on social media as locals speculated as to what was going on
The incident caused a stir on social media as locals speculated as to what was going on

The incident caused a stir on social media as locals speculated as to what was going on

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, pictured, today warned people in Amesbury and Salisbury to avoid picking up any items containing liquid or gel 'for their own safety'
Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, pictured, today warned people in Amesbury and Salisbury to avoid picking up any items containing liquid or gel 'for their own safety'

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, pictured, today warned people in Amesbury and Salisbury to avoid picking up any items containing liquid or gel 'for their own safety'

The Audi is believed to belong to paramedic Keith Mills who treated Ms Sturgess
The Audi is believed to belong to paramedic Keith Mills who treated Ms Sturgess
Mr Mills is a former RAF medic who was honoured in the House of Commons for treating a wounded soldier while under heavy fire in Afghanistan
Mr Mills is a former RAF medic who was honoured in the House of Commons for treating a wounded soldier while under heavy fire in Afghanistan

The car is believed to belong to former RAF serviceman Keith Mills, pictured left and right, a paramedic who treated Ms Sturgess after she fell ill

Keith Mills pictured at his home today
Keith Mills pictured at his home today
Mr Mills looked in good health as he carried shopping home today
Mr Mills looked in good health as he carried shopping home today

Mr Mills looked in good spirits as he was pictured at his home today, left and right

Pictured: The property in Swindon where the car was seized from. It is believed to be home to a paramedic who treated victim Dawn Sturgess
Pictured: The property in Swindon where the car was seized from. It is believed to be home to a paramedic who treated victim Dawn Sturgess

Pictured: The property in Swindon where the car was seized from. It is believed to be home to a paramedic who treated victim Dawn Sturgess

'This in practice means do not pick up containers, syringes, needles, cosmetics or similar objects, made of materials such as metal, plastic or glass.

'This is particularly important as families are starting to prepare for their children's summer holidays and so I am asking that people are extra vigilant. To be clear: do not pick up anything that you haven't dropped yourself.'

She went on: 'Life continues in Salisbury and Amesbury and I want to be clear that the overall threat to the public is unchanged and remains low. I also want to highlight that those areas that have been cleaned and released to the public over the past few weeks are safe, and should be used normally.

'You do not need to seek advice from a health professional unless you are experiencing symptoms. If you are concerned, you should call NHS 111 and Wilshire Police has also established a helpline to offer further advice: 0800 092 0410.

'As before, you should continue to follow the advice of the police and that of Public Health England.' 

Professor Paul Cosford, Director of Health Protection and Medical Director for PHE, added: 'We would like to offer our sincere condolences to the family of Dawn Sturgess at this very sad time.

'We fully recognise that this news will cause great concern among residents of Salisbury and Amesbury. However, our assessment remains that the overall risk to the general public remains low.

'As a precaution we still advise the public not to pick up any strange items such as needles, syringes or unusual containers and we would ask that you continue to follow our advice if you were in any of the locations identified by the police from 10pm on Friday 29 June. 

'This is to wash your clothes in a washing machine and to keep your items double-bagged and securely fastened if they are dry-clean only.'

Meanwhile in a statement released today, Ms Sturgess's family said: 'Dawn's death has been devastating for us. Dawn will always be remembered by us as a gentle soul who was generous to a fault. 

'She would do anything for anybody and those who knew Dawn would know that she would gladly give her last penny to somebody in need. 

'She had the biggest of hearts and she will be dreadfully missed by both her immediate and wider family. 

'Our thoughts and prayers also go out to Charlie and his family and we wish Charlie a speedy recovery.

'We would like to take this opportunity to pass on our sincerest thanks to all of the NHS staff involved in Dawn's care, especially the wonderful doctors and nurses at Salisbury District Hospital who we know afforded Dawn every possible chance of survival and treated her with the utmost care and dignity. 

'We would also like to pass on our thanks to the police and the local community for their support. 

'Finally, we would respectfully request that the media allow us the privacy to come to terms with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. 

'We now need time and space to grieve and would also ask that people stop speculating about Dawn and what has happened.' 

Ms Sturgess is seen on CCTV inside Charlie's Store at Old George Mall in Salisbury at around 2pm on the Friday. Friends say she may have been exposed to Novichok via her sunglasses which she 'found in the park in Salisbury'
Ms Sturgess is seen on CCTV inside Charlie's Store at Old George Mall in Salisbury at around 2pm on the Friday. Friends say she may have been exposed to Novichok via her sunglasses which she 'found in the park in Salisbury'

Ms Sturgess is seen on CCTV inside Charlie's Store at Old George Mall in Salisbury at around 2pm on the Friday. Friends say she may have been exposed to Novichok via her sunglasses which she 'found in the park in Salisbury'

This map shows where in Wiltshire the police investigation has covered so far
This map shows where in Wiltshire the police investigation has covered so far

This map shows where in Wiltshire the police investigation has covered so far

In Swindown, neighbour Steve Morgan, 48, said the white Audi belonged to ex-RAF serviceman Mr Mills, who is not ill.

He said: 'The car belongs to a paramedic who treated the woman who died.

'There was concern that clothes might have been contaminated and the car was taken to Porton Down to be destroyed.

'He is absolutely fine. There was a fear that bodily fluids might have transferred. It was all a bit of excitement for an hour, it gave us something to look at.'

RAF Cpl Sarah Jones returned home from walking her dog to find a massive military operation on her doorstep.

She said: 'I saw them shrink wrapping the car but they said there wasn't anything to worry about.It was quite worrying.

'The police weren't dressed in protective suits. I found out what was happening through Facebook.

'It does worry me, I have two small children and one of them plays out. I won't let her do that any more. It worries me because of my children.'

Mr Mills has been a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) paramedic with Wiltshire Air Ambulance for three years.

Writing previously about his role, he said: 'We fly up to 19 hours a day and attend, on average, 3 potentially lifesaving missions in that time.'

Before that he was a paramedic with South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust for nearly 11 years.

A forensic style tent has been erected outside the property as investigations continue
A forensic style tent has been erected outside the property as investigations continue

A forensic style tent has been erected outside the property as investigations continue

A team was seen hard at work unloading the tent earlier today as examinations got under way
A team was seen hard at work unloading the tent earlier today as examinations got under way

A team was seen hard at work unloading the tent earlier today as examinations got under way

Officers wearing special gloves administered the wrapping of the vehicle 
Officers wearing special gloves administered the wrapping of the vehicle 

Officers wearing special gloves administered the wrapping of the vehicle 

He was a Royal Air Force paramedic for 22 years until 2012, working as a member of the Defence Medical Services, doing operational tours in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2008, while based at RAF Lyneham, he was honoured in the House of Commons for helping treat a badly wounded soldier while under enemy fire in Afghanistan.

He administered treatment inside a Chinook helicopter while it was under fire from the Taliban, and was awarded the coveted Ambulance Service Institute's Military prize.

It was during his fourth tour in two years, and the citation for the award said he had to 'administer life-saving fluids [...] despite the noise, vibration and violent helicopter movements, necessary to avoid ground fire'.

Speaking at the time, he said: 'I would like to dedicate the award to my fellow medical personnel and wish those deployed a deserved speedy return to family and loved ones.'

Speaking a few years ago about his job, he said: ''I love being part of an incredible team who strive for excellence.

''Every single person aims to deliver the best possible clinical care and it's an honour to be a member of my new surrogate family.''

When asked for an an interesting fact about himself, he said:. ''I was lucky enough to have a two hour flight in a Harrier Jump Jet and the pilot did his best to make me sick....He was successful!!''

Police believe Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley were exposed to the nerve agent in Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury while drinking.  

Friends Craig Pattenden, 38, and Sam Hobson, 29, who were with them when they got the bus from Salisbury to Amesbury on that evening, said Ms Sturgess was wearing a new pair of sunglasses she 'found in the park'.

Mr Hobson told the Sun: 'She [Ms Sturgess] found some sunglasses on Friday and started wearing them.

'On the bus back she was saying to me and Craig, 'Do you like my new sunglasses? I found them'. I think it was in the park.' 

This red Transit van, travelled in by Charlie with three others before he fell ill, has been sent to Porton Down for testing, it emerged today
This red Transit van, travelled in by Charlie with three others before he fell ill, has been sent to Porton Down for testing, it emerged today

This red Transit van, travelled in by Charlie with three others before he fell ill, has been sent to Porton Down for testing, it emerged today

Mr Rowley, 45, remains in critical condition in hospital and a red Transit van he travelled in before falling ill has been taken away to Porton Down for testing.

The van's driver, Ben Milson, told the Sun he is terrified Novichok could be in his house.

He told The Sun: 'It wasn't until the police got in touch and said they wanted to test the van that I started worrying. And after what happened to Dawn I just started freaking out.

'I've been on the phone to the police and they said they would test the van first and if there was any traces of Novichok then they would come and take it away.'

Regarding the Audi, a police statement said: 'We have arranged the transportation of a car from an address in Swindon this evening in relation to the on-going incident in #Amesbury. 

This is Novichok victim Charlie Rowley laughing and joking just hours before he collapsed and began foaming at the mouth eight days ago
This is Novichok victim Charlie Rowley laughing and joking just hours before he collapsed and began foaming at the mouth eight days ago
This is Novichok victim Charlie Rowley laughing and joking just hours before he collapsed and began foaming at the mouth eight days ago
This is Novichok victim Charlie Rowley laughing and joking just hours before he collapsed and began foaming at the mouth eight days ago

This is Novichok victim Charlie Rowley laughing and joking just hours before he collapsed and began foaming at the mouth eight days ago

A police cordon blocking off Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury is pictured where a neighbour claims the latest victims were exposed to nerve agent

Neil Basu has called Dawn's murder a 'barbaric act' and said that they are trying to find the vial
Neil Basu has called Dawn's murder a 'barbaric act' and said that they are trying to find the vial

Neil Basu has called Dawn's murder a 'barbaric act' and said that they are trying to find the vial

'The public should not be alarmed by this. Those involved have the training & expertise to safely remove the vehicle.

'The current advice from Public Health England is that the risk to the public remains low. 

'A dedicated phone line is up and running for anyone who has any concerns or information relating to this incident. 

'The number is Freephone 0800 092 0410 or 0207 158 0124.'

It is unclear whether the car is also being taken to Porton Down, the government's specialist chemicals laboratory.

A bus that Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley used the night before they collapsed has also tested negative for the deadly agent. 

The Ministry of Defence is working with the police on the investigation and the clear-up effort, with 175 armed forces personnel involved. 

It comes after footage was unveiled of Mr Rowley laughing and joking in an off licence just hours before he collapsed and began foaming at the mouth due to the poison.

Ms Sturgess lived just 300 yards from Zizzi's restaurant (pictured) where the Skripals ate on the day they were poisoned
Ms Sturgess lived just 300 yards from Zizzi's restaurant (pictured) where the Skripals ate on the day they were poisoned

Ms Sturgess lived just 300 yards from Zizzi's restaurant (pictured) where the Skripals ate on the day they were poisoned

Police have sealed off Rollestone Street in the centre of Salisbury to allow the Army and other specialists to search her room for the vial 
Police have sealed off Rollestone Street in the centre of Salisbury to allow the Army and other specialists to search her room for the vial 

Police have sealed off Rollestone Street in the centre of Salisbury to allow the Army and other specialists to search her room for the vial 

John Baker House where Dawn Sturgess lived in Salisbury is pictured with a police tent
John Baker House where Dawn Sturgess lived in Salisbury is pictured with a police tent

John Baker House where Dawn Sturgess lived in Salisbury is pictured with a police tent

Mr Rowley, who had the highest concentrations of the nerve agent on his hands, is seen buying cans of super-strong lager in Salisbury and sharing a laugh with the cashier, who takes his money and packs up the alcohol for him. 

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the head of Britain's counter-terror police, said that Miss Sturgess' death is being treated as murder but admitted they still haven't found the vessel containing one of the world's deadliest poisons.

Yesterday the Kremlin said it would be 'absurd' to suggest Russia was involved in Dawn's death in Wiltshire. 

Wearing jeans, a cheque shirt and cream coloured baseball cap, 45-year-old Mr Rowley buys four cans of 9 per cent Karpackie Polish lager from Best 1 Local in Salisbury city centre at 10.06am on June 29, CCTV obtained by MailOnline shows.

The next day he would be fighting for life after being exposed to the deadly nerve agent with partner Dawn.

Shop assistant Kamal Goodall, 55, said: 'He didn't like to say much when he came in.

How could the new Novichok victims have been poisoned 4 months after attack?

The syringe

A friend of Dawn Sturgess and Charles Rowley said she believes the couple found a vial and needle and believed it was heroin.

In fact the syringe could have been used by the assassins sent to kill the Skripals and used it because it was small and easy to spray on Sergei's front door. 

The cigarette

A former neighbour of Dawn Sturgess said she would pick up discarded cigarettes to bolster her own tobacco tin. 

He said: 'If she's been collecting fag ends up to build up a stash of tobacco, she could have smoked the poison. Lots of people collect half smoked cigarettes - if that's what got the spy and he's chucked it down somewhere - Dawn could have picked it up.'

The bag  

Police are also likely to be investigating claims that the couple may have found a bag and taken it away. 

Inside that bag may have been the vial or syringe containing the Novichok. 

The sunglasses 

Friends say Ms Sturgess picked up a pair of sunglasses in the park where she is said to have been exposed to the Novichok.

They said she claimed she had found them and may have come into contact with the nerve agent via the eyewear. 

'That particular morning was no different, I think he may have made a comment about the hot weather.

'Physically he looked OK, he was always quite slow, thin and fragile-looking.

'He paid for his lager and left and that was the last time we saw him as he collapsed the following day.

'Dawn usually came in to the shop more often and would buy Charlie stuff. He'd come in now and again.

'She seemed more healthier than him. It's really sad that she has passed away. We're hoping Charlie pulls through'.

Floral tributes for Ms Sturgess have begun to be left at the cordon outside John Baker House in Salisbury city centre.

One card read: 'RIP Dawn, You were the innocent one in this. Heart goes out to your family and children. Good night sweetheart xxxxxx.'

Another said: 'Dawn, Always in our thoughts. Love from the people of Salisbury.'

Her mother Caroline said: 'Her body just shut down. With her drink and drug addiction, her body wasn't strong enough to deal with this.' 

Ms Sturgess has three children - sons Aidan, 23, and Ewan, 19, and daughter Grace, 10, who is said to be 'beside herself' with grief and 'doesn't really understand what has happened'.

The couple were exposed to the agent at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury - just a four-minute walk away from the bench outside The Maltings shopping centre where the Skripals were found poisoned earlier this year.

A police officer was also treated for symptoms there, but has since been given the all clear by medics.

The possibility that the two investigations might be linked is 'clearly a key line of inquiry for police', the Met said.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: 'I am appalled and shocked by the death of Dawn Sturgess, and my thoughts and condolences go to her family and loved ones.

'Police and security officials are working urgently to establish the facts of this incident, which is now being investigated as a murder.

'The Government is committed to providing full support to the local community as it deals with this tragedy.' 

Police are tracing the couple's movements in the days before they fell ill in yet another Novichok poisoning on British soil
Police are tracing the couple's movements in the days before they fell ill in yet another Novichok poisoning on British soil

Police are tracing the couple's movements in the days before they fell ill in yet another Novichok poisoning on British soil

Salisbury residents 'worried and angry' after new poisonings and accuse police of 'not being on top' of the Novichok investigation

Charlie's Store was visited by Dawn Burgess who bought alcohol but the owner says he is not worried about it not being decontaminated
Charlie's Store was visited by Dawn Burgess who bought alcohol but the owner says he is not worried about it not being decontaminated

Charlie's Store was visited by Dawn Burgess who bought alcohol but the owner says he is not worried about it not being decontaminated

Salisbury residents have told MailOnline they are frightened they will be poisoned.

Residents around Salisbury's Queen Elizabeth Gardens - which has been completely cordoned off - spoke of their worry after many of them had walked through the park since the Novichok attack back in March.

The gardens were cordoned off after it was suspected Dawn Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley came into contact with the deadly nerve agent. 

Wiltshire Police officers stood guard at each of the many entrances and a specialist team from the Unmanned Aviation Surveillance Group surveyed the area using police drones.

A police officer at the scene said the drone was being used to survey the gardens and to gather pictures for police briefings. 

Georgia Wright, 19, the mother of her three month-year-old daughter, Phoebe, said that she can't believe it's happened all over again.

She said: 'I'm just worried about it all. On Monday I was walking through the gardens with my three-month-old baby and the same spot is now cordoned off.

'I have really bad anxiety and this is just making it so much worse, especially when we're not really being told everything.

'All of a sudden loads of police just turned up to my block of flats and it's scary, you don't know whats going on.

'What I'm most annoyed about is the police haven't come and told us anything.

'Then I found it's Novichok and the pair had come into contact with it in Queen Elizabeth Gardens, where I take my daughter for walks. 

'Anyone could have picked it up, a child might have. It feels like the police aren't on top of it as much as they were when it happened to the Skripals'. 

John Walker, 83, who lives adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Gardens, said he and his wife have been walking their dog there ever since the first attack.  

He said: 'I think the people who came in to contact with the Novichok are lucky they're not dead.

'No-one is telling us anything, even if they did know what happened, they wouldn't tell us'. 

Local shop workers in Salisbury city centre said they were concerned that after all the cleanup efforts the deadly nerve agent was still present and able to kill.

Ella Xuereb, 23, who also works at a hairdresser's, said she had gone into Charlie's convenience store the same day as Dawn bought some alcohol - and every day since. 

She said: 'I'm a little bit worried about it all. I went in the same day as her and she's now in hospital after just touching a little bit of it. 

'Everywhere they have been should be closed to make sure its safe for the public - they did the same when the Skripals were poisoned.

'Whoever attacked the Skripals must have just chucked it away somewhere nearby which was accessible to the public'. 

Carole Gray, 61, who runs The Sailors' Society charity shop in the city centre, said it was scary to think that anyone could have just picked up the Novichok.

She said: 'I've heard that they may have found it by dump diving in charity shop donation bins.

'We have bins out the back, and they are gone through daily - anyone could have just walked by and put something in there.

'And someone could just walk past and rifle through them.

'It's concerning because we then have to go through those bags.'

The owner of Charlie's convenience store, where Sturgess bought drink, refused to comment other than to say he is not worried.

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