UK police say bottle was source of pair’s Novichok poisoning

Dawn Sturgess, who has died as a result of Novichok poisoning, is pictured in Salisbury, Britain June 27, 2016, in this photo obtained from social media. (REUTERS)
Updated 14 July 2018
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UK police say bottle was source of pair’s Novichok poisoning

  • The bottle was found during searches of Rowley’s house Wednesday and scientists confirmed the substance in the bottle was Novichok
  • The Novichok saga began in March when the Skripals mysteriously fell ill on a park bench in Salisbury

LONDON: British detectives investigating the poisoning of two people with a military grade nerve agent said Friday that a small bottle found in the home of one of the victims tested positive for Novichok, a lethal substance produced in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Dawn Sturgess, 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45, were sickened on June 30 in a southwestern England town not far from Salisbury, where British authorities say a Russian ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok in March.
Sturgess died in a hospital on Sunday. Rowley was in critical condition for more than a week, but has regained consciousness.
The Metropolitan Police said the bottle was found during searches of Rowley’s house Wednesday and scientists confirmed the substance in the bottle was Novichok. Police have interviewed Rowley since he became conscious.
Police are still looking into where the bottle came from and how it got into Rowley’s house. They said further tests would be done to try to establish if the nerve agent was from the same batch that was used to poison Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
More than 100 police officers had been searching for the source of Rowley and Sturgess’ exposure in the town of Amesbury, where they lived, and Salisbury, where the Skripals were poisoned.
The Skripals survived and were released from the Salisbury hospital before Rowley and Sturgess were poisoned and taken there. British authorities took the father and daughter to a secret protected location.
British police said earlier they suspected the new victims had handled a container contaminated with Novichok and had no reason to think Rowley and Sturgess were targeted deliberately.
Assistant Police Commissioner Neil Basu, Britain’s top counterterrorism officer, told local residents this week that Novichok could remain active for 50 years if it kept in a sealed container. He said he could not guarantee there were no more traces of the lethal poison in the area.
Basu said Friday that cordons would remain in place in some locations to protect the public despite the apparent breakthrough in the case. He would not provide more information about the bottle found in Rowley’s home.
“This is clearly a significant and positive development. However, we cannot guarantee that there isn’t any more of the substance left,” Basu said. The continued blocking off of areas would “allow thorough searches to continue as a precautionary measure for public safety and to assist the investigation team.”
Britain’s Foreign Office said Friday that the UK has asked the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to collect samples for analysis at its labs. The organization has the power to assign blame for chemical weapons use.
The Novichok saga began in March when the Skripals mysteriously fell ill on a park bench in Salisbury. They were found to have been poisoned with Novichok.
Prime Minister Theresa May blamed the Russian government for the attack, which the Kremlin has vehemently denied. The case led the United States and other countries to expel a large number of Russian diplomats.
Public health officials said the risk of exposure to the public is low, but advised people not to pick up any strange items.


Video emerges of Macron bodyguard beating protester in Paris

Updated 41 min 39 sec ago
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Video emerges of Macron bodyguard beating protester in Paris

PARIS: A video showing one of French President Emmanuel Macron’s security chiefs beating a student demonstrator, until now cloaked in secrecy, is drawing a fierce public backlash over what is seen as mild punishment and a possible cover-up.
The video of the May 1 event in Paris, revealed by Le Monde on Wednesday evening, shows Alexandre Benalla in a helmet with police markings, and surrounded by riot police, brutally dragging off a woman from a demonstration and then repeatedly beating a young man on the ground. The man is heard begging him to stop. Another man in civilian clothing pulled the young man to the ground.
Police, who had hauled the man from the crowd before Benalla took over, didn’t intervene. Benalla then left the scene. The second man was apparently a gendarme who Le Monde said had worked with Benalla in the past.
The uproar over Benalla’s punishment — a two-week suspension and a change in responsibilities — forced top French officials to address the issue Thursday. But Macron has remained silent. Benalla, who hasn’t commented on the matter, handled Macron’s security during the presidential campaign.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, responding to questions in the Senate, called the event “shocking,” but stumbled to respond to questions, notably whether all French are equal before the law.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said that the two men “obviously had no legitimate (reason) to intervene.” He said he has demanded that a police unit which investigates suspected criminal behavior by officers explain the rules for observers and verify whether they were respected.
Condemning the “unacceptable behavior,” Macron spokesman Bruno Roger-Petit said that Benalla was also removed from his responsibilities of organizing security for presidential trips — though he maintains his office at the Elysee Palace.
In addition, authorities launched a preliminary investigation that could lead to charges against Benalla, a judicial official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss an ongoing case.
Despite this, Benalla has been seen this month on the ground with police at several high-profile events, including the return home Monday of France’s champion World Cup team, an event attended by hundreds of thousands.
Macron, in the Dordogne region to officially launch a new postage stamp, didn’t respond to questions about the scandal. The upstart centrist elected last year had promised an exemplary presidency during his term to break with unending cases of corruption in French politics.
Roger-Petit said the punishment dealt out to Benalla was the “most serious” ever given to a top aide at the presidential Elysee Palace and served as a “last warning before dismissal.”
Opposition politicians expressed shock, with some denouncing a climate of impunity at the top of the French political hierarchy and asking Macron to personally address the issue.
The head of France’s main conservative party The Republicans, Laurent Wauquiez, asked on Europe 1 radio if the government was trying to “hush the affair.”
Roger-Petit stressed that Benalla had requested authorization to use his day off “to observe” security forces’ operations on May Day when marches are traditionally held. It was granted.
It was unclear why the young man under attack, who wasn’t detained, was singled out by police before Benalla intervened.
“An observer doesn’t act like that,” said the spokesman for the UNSA-Police union. They are typically equipped and briefed in advance, and the framework is “completely clear,” Philippe Capon told BFM-TV.
He couldn’t say why police didn’t stop Benalla.
The context was “special,” he said. “He was an observer from the Elysee. When police officials hear the word ‘Elysee’ there is a particular apprehension.”