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British Man Poisoned By Novichok Has Regained Consciousness And Talked With Police

A British man who police believe was poisoned by the deadly nerve agent Novichok nearly two weeks ago, has regained consciousness and spoken with police.

Charlie Rowley became seriously ill on June 30 after he and his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess, were mysteriously exposed to Novichok. Sturgess, who was hospitalized hours before Rowley, died on Sunday.

Rowley awoke from a 10-day coma on Tuesday, Salisbury District Hospital officials said in a statement, and after making some progress overnight, he was sufficiently alert to have a brief conversation with investigators.

"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 and establish how he and Dawn came to be contaminated with the nerve agent," Scotland Yard wrote in an emailed statement.

As the 45-year-old continues to recuperate, authorities said, "Any contact officers have with Charlie will be done in close consultation with the hospital and his doctors."

Lorna Wilkinson, Director of Nursing at Salisbury District Hospital, announced in a statementthat Rowley "is no longer in critical condition."

She described his condition as serious, but stable. "Charlie still has some way to go to recover, but the progress we've seen so far gives us cause for optimism," Wilkinson added.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, who is the national lead for counterterrorism policing, confirmed that Novichok, the nerve agent used to poison Rowley and Sturgess in Amesbury, is the same type of lethal toxin that was used just a few miles away in Salisbury, in a March attack on former Russian spy and British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal.

The British government accused Russia — which developedthe lethal chemical weapon — of sponsoring the attack on the Skripals. Weeks later, U.S. and NATO member countries expelled dozens of Russian diplomats. Moscow then ordered some Western representatives to leave.

Russia has denied any involvement in either incident calling the suggestion "quite absurd." On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, "We continue to be deeply worried by the continuing presence of these poisonous substances on British territory. We consider that it is a danger not only for the British, but for other Europeans."

At this stage, Basu said, more forensic evidence is necessary to link the two incidents, but he added, "This is a very rare substance banned by the international community and for there to be two separate, distinct incidents in one small English county is implausible to say the least."

Police suspect that Rowley and Sturgess were poisoned after handling a container with Novichok. About a 100 counterterrorism detectives are working around the clock to locate it, according to Basu. He said scientists "will work hard to establish if the nerve agents from the two incidents are from the same batch."

So far, police said there is no evidence that Rowley or Sturgess visited any of the sites that underwent decontamination following the attack on the Skripals in March.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.