Novichok victim appeals for justice as Salisbury declared ‘safe’ after poisoning

Novichok victim Charlie Rowley has appealed for justice to be served almost a year after he and his partner were caught up in the Salisbury nerve agent attacks.

Police repeated pleas for information over the Novichok poisoning as the Wiltshire city was declared decontaminated after an extensive military clean-up.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal’s house and 11 other potentially infected sites were ruled safe on Friday after the 355-day operation.

Military teams have spent 13,000 hours making Salisbury safe after Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia were targeted with the nerve agent on March 4 2018 and left seriously ill.

Mr Rowley and his partner Dawn Sturgess, 44, fell ill in nearby Amesbury months after the Skripal incident, and Ms Sturgess died in hospital in July.

She had come into contact with a perfume bottle believed to have been used in the attack on the Skripals and then discarded.

Speaking to ITV News, Mr Rowley, 45, said: “I want justice really, I want justice to be served and someone to pay for what they’ve done.

“I think that would probably put my mind at rest and get over what’s happened.

“It’s the fact it’s an open book still and nothing really has changed. It’s been a year, and six or seven months since my partner’s passed away.

“Nothing’s changed. I’d like there to be answers rather than questions all the time.”

Mr Rowley said his health has suffered and it is a “struggle to remember things” as he continues to deal with the long-term effects of Novichok exposure.

Wiltshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills said: “Whilst today marks an important landmark in relation to the decontamination process it does not however mark the end to the police investigation.”

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>The roof of the home and garage of Sergei Skripal was dismantled amid the decontamination operation (Andrew Matthews/PA)</figcaption>
The roof of the home and garage of Sergei Skripal was dismantled amid the decontamination operation (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Some 250 detectives have worked on the investigation, collecting 11,000 hours of CCTV footage, seizing 3,700 exhibits and taking 1,702 statements.

Police are asking anyone who may have seen a counterfeit pink Nina Ricci perfume box or glass bottle in between the two incidents to come forward.

Counter-Terrorism Policing senior national co-ordinator, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, said officers were “determined to bring to justice” those responsible.

He said one year on there were still parts of the picture being pieced together, adding: “We cannot account for the whereabouts of the bottle, nozzle or box between the attack on the Skripals and Detective Sergeant (Nick) Bailey on 4 March and when Charlie Rowley said he found it on Wednesday, 27 June.”

The Skripals’ house, in Christie Miller Road, was handed from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) back to Wiltshire Council on Friday.

Army Lieutenant General Ty Urch, who oversaw military involvement in the clean-up, said the announcement declared “all of those 12 sites safe”.

A Defra spokesman said: “The completion of clean-up work at Christie Miller Road, Salisbury, marks a significant milestone in south Wiltshire’s return to normality following the sickening Novichok nerve agent attack last year.

“The property was declared safe following extensive cleaning and testing by specialist teams. Wiltshire Council will shortly begin to co-ordinate work to refurbish the property, with residents of Christie Miller Road consulted on its future use.”

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>The Prezzo restaurant in Salisbury was one of the sites decontaminated (Ben Mitchell/PA)</figcaption>
The Prezzo restaurant in Salisbury was one of the sites decontaminated (Ben Mitchell/PA)

Alistair Cunningham, chairman of the south Wiltshire recovery co-ordinating group, said this was a “significant moment” for the area which can now “look to the future”.

He added: “Work will begin shortly to reconstruct and refurbish the house so it can return to being a home again. We are continuing to talk to the residents on the future of the property as it is important their views are taken into account on how it is used in the future.

Environment minister Therese Coffey said the “professionalism” of all those involved in the clean-up had been “exemplary”.

Along with the house, the sites include the park bench where the Skripals were found collapsed, the Zizzi restaurant where they had dined beforehand, and the home of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who was exposed to the agent.

Lt Gen Urch, commander home command and standing joint commander, said it had been “the longest running” operation of its kind on British soil.

He said: “Novichok is probably one of the most dangerous and most challenging chemicals in existence today and you don’t need very much of it and it’s highly spreadable.”

An estimated 600-800 specially trained military personnel, including the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment, were involved in the clean-up, named Operation Morlop.

About 190 worked at any one time and there were 250 “deliberate operations” to cross into and decontaminate danger areas.

PA Graphic

A senior military source said the Skripal house was the “most complex” but each decontamination effort was “bespoke” to the site.

Other sites were Salisbury and Amesbury ambulance stations, Bourne Hill police station, Ashley Wood vehicle recovery yard and The Mill pub.

Mr Rowley’s home, a Boots pharmacy branch and Amesbury Baptist Church were also among the 12 sites.

Lt Gen Urch said ambulances used in the initial response also had to be decontaminated during the “slow, deliberate and detailed operation”.

Special dressing zones were set up near the Novichok “hotspots” where teams changed into special respirator suits which included equipment not normally used by the military, the general said.

“I think our military personnel have demonstrated genuine courage,” he said.

“This is something which young girls and boys crossing the hot zone have never done before in their lives and it’s been an amazing demonstration of physical and mental courage.”

He said the attack, believed to have been orchestrated by Russia’s secret service, was a “despicable act”, repeating a comment made by the Prime Minister Theresa May in the aftermath.

Teams involved in the clean-up will be “recognised in due course for their courage”, Lt Gen Urch added.

- Press Association