Unsolved Murders

Dawn Sturgess

Age: 44

Sex: female

Date: 11 Jul 2018

Place: Muggleton Road, Amesbury, Wiltshire

Dawn Sturgess died from a nerve agent.

She had been exposed to the nerve agent in Amesbury on 30 June 2018 and later died on the evening of 8 July 2018 at Salisbury District Hospital.

It was thought that her partner had found a discarded perfume bottle in a charity bin that had contained the nerve agent Novichok and that she had later sprayed it directly on to her body.

Dawn Sturgess had been with her partner at the time when she sprayed it on herself and he also became ill but later recovered.

They were initially found unconscious in Muggleton Road in Amesbury on 30 June 2018 and taken to hospital.

It was not initially known how they had come across the Novichok or what it had been contained in and the police warned people in the area not to pick up discarded bottles. However, the police later found a perfume bottle containing traces of Novichok at the man's house and the police first said that they thought that Dawn Sturgess had found it and taken it home. The police said, 'There is a possibility they found it on March 5 and only opened it in the past 10 days'.

However, it was later determined that Dawn Sturgess's partner had found it in the bin on 27 June 2018 and taken it home and that after he assembled the bottle, getting some on him that Dawn Sturgess sprayed some directly onto her wrists.

The initial search for the bottle focussed on:

  • Dawn Sturgess's house address at John Baker House, Salisbury.
  • Her partners address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury.
  • Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury.
  • Boots the Chemist, Stonehenge Walk, Amesbury.
  • The Baptist church on Raleigh Crescent, Amesbury.

After the bottle was discovered the police cordoned off the road that Dawn Sturgess's partner had lived in along with several other places.

The perfume bottle was labelled, 'Premier Jour Nina Ricci' and had a long nozzle. The police said that they contacted Nina Ricci who confirmed that the bottle, box and nozzle were not genuine. The police said, 'It is in fact a counterfeit box, bottle and nozzle that have been especially adapted'.

People in Wiltshire were also advised not to pick up strange things, running with the slogan, 'If you didn't drop it, don't pick it up'. They further advised people to avoid three types of items in particular:

  • Needles.
  • Syringes.
  • Unusual containers.

The advice recommended anyone finding such items, particularly in the Amesbury and Salisbury areas, to contact the police.

Other guidance advised against picking up metal, plastic or glass containers.

Around 100 detectives from the Counter Terrorism Policing Network were involved in the investigation along with officers from the Wiltshire Police.

The nerve agent was said to have been Russian and to have been used by Russian secret agents in an attempted murder in Salisbury in March 2018. The attack had also effected a ex-police officer who had been in the area.

The target of the attempted murder in Salisbury had been a former Russian spy and his daughter had also been effected, however, they both survived. It was thought that the nerve agent had been sprayed on the door handle of the home of the former Russian spy.

It was heard that Dawn Sturgess had been exposed to at least 10 times the amount of nerve agent that the former Russian spy and his daughter had been exposed to.

After Dawn Sturgess's partner recovered he said that it was him that found the perfume box, saying that he found it in a charity bin on Wednesday 27 June 2018, adding that the box contained the bottle and applicator. An Assistant Commissioner said, 'He tried to put the two parts together at his home address on Saturday, 30 June, and in doing so got some of the contents on himself. He said Dawn had applied some of the substance to her wrists before feeling unwell. After he told police where he found the box, cordons were put in place and two bins behind shops in Catherine Street, Salisbury, were removed.

Previously, during a search of his home address in Muggleton Road on 10 July the small box labelled as 'Nina Ricci Premier Jour' was recovered from a rubbish bag in the kitchen. On 11 July the small glass bottle with a modified nozzle was found on a kitchen worktop. Tests later undertaken at the DSTL established that the bottle contained a significant amount of Novichok'.

The man later said that the nerve agent took 15 minutes to take effect.

A timeline of the events surrounding the movements of Dawn Sturgess and her partner were detailed as:

  • 12.20pm, Friday 29 June 2018: They were together at John Baker House in Salisbury and later went in to Salisbury and later in the afternoon to the Queen Elizabeth Gardens.
  • 4.20pm, Friday 29 June 2018: They returned to John Baker House.
  • 10pm, Friday 29 June 2018: They got a bus and went to Amesbury where it was thought they stayed the night at Muggleton Road.
  • 10.15am, Saturday 30 June 2018: An ambulance was called to Muggleton Road after Dawn Sturgess became ill and she was taken to hospital.
  • 12pm, Saturday 30 June 2018: Dawn Sturgess's partner went to Boots the Chemists in Stonehenge Walk, returning half an hour later.
  • 1.45pm, Saturday 30 June 2018: Dawn Sturgess's partner went to the Amesbury Baptist Centre on Butterfield Drive.
  • 3pm, Saturday 30 June 2018: Dawn Sturgess's partner returned to Muggleton Road.
  • 6.20pm, Saturday 30 June 2018: Dawn Sturgess's partner also becomes ill and an ambulance is called for him.

The police later said, 'We cannot account for the whereabouts of the bottle, nozzle or box between the attack in Salisbury on March 4 and when Charlie Rowley said he found it on June 27' and appealed for anyone who saw the pink box or glass bottle during that time to come forward.

Novichok was described as a military-grade nerve agent. Effects on the body are:

  • Loss of consciousness through the brain being starved of oxygen.
  • Convulsions due to the nerve agent triggering muscles into overdrive.
  • Breathing failure due to the lungs not functioning normally.
  • Cardiovascular problems through abnormal blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Paralysis due to nerve agent interfering with enzymes that relax muscles.
  • Digestion problems such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
  • Excessive sweating.

Symptoms were also listed as:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Disordered mental state.
  • Blurred/painful vision.
  • Involuntary faecal incontinence.

The police investigation into the case was described as one of the toughest tasks in the history of policing. It was said that over 400 exhibits were seized and that in conducting the investigation the police were putting themselves at risk of coming into contact with the nerve agent themselves.

An Assistant Commissioner said, 'It is not an exaggeration to say that the search process linked with both this and the Salisbury investigation [into the attempted murder of the former Russian spy with Novichok] has been one of the most complex and difficult that UK policing has ever faced. It is painstaking and vital work, which unfortunately takes a very long time to complete, but I am sure that the public understands why it is absolutely necessary. The scientists and forensic officers have all volunteered to be a part of the search teams, knowing that they are risking themselves to exposure to a deadly nerve agent. This shouldn’t be taken for granted and their bravery and dedication is remarkable'.

It was further noted that the whole investigation process was very slow due to the safety considerations with each search location requiring considerable planning, access in and out of the search areas requiring contamination risks to be managed, the safe handling of swabs and samples and their subsequent analysis, the requirement for medical staff to be on standby in case someone became ill, the time required to put on and take off protective clothing and equipment, all combined with the additional burden of working during a heatwave at the time.

Senior politicians said that Russia was to blame for either losing control of a quantity of Novichok, which was a Russian made nerve agent, or having directly ordered the attack on British soil.

A Conservative member of parliament said, 'The poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and her partner is very likely the result of picking up a discarded container from the original attack, at a site not previously connected to the Salisbury case. The only way the current poisoning could likely have been averted would have been to conduct a fingertip search of every square inch of South Wiltshire, a logistical impossibility, especially when there was no way for the police to know that an object from the original incident had been discarded like this'. He later said, 'There is always a temptation in these circumstances to look to blame the government, or the police, or the local authority. But we must not lose sight of the fact that responsibility for the fact that a military-grade nerve agent was used in Salisbury and South Wiltshire, rests with Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin alone'.

Scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down were trying to determine whether the Novichok from the two incidents were from the same batch. It was said that if the bottle was the same one that had been used in Salisbury that it was not known how it had come to be eight miles away in Amesbury or where it had been in the intervening three months.

The inquest into Dawn Sturgess's death was later converted into a public enquiry, to be carried out in 2022, so as to better examine any possible Russian involvement.

Three suspects were identified, with both the names they had used in the United Kingdom and their real Russian names being discovered. However, they had returned to Russia and it was said that there was little chance of having them brought back to the United Kingdom for questioning or legal processing. Two of the men were later shown on Russian television explaining that they had been normal tourists and had gone to Salisbury to look at the cathedral.

However, the charges against two of the suspected Russian agents did not include the murder of Dawn Sturgess. It was said that the charges against them, as set out by the Crown Prosecution Service in September 2018 were:

  1. Conspiracy to murder the former Russian spy.
  2. Attempted murder of the former Russian spy, his daughter and the ex-policeman.
  3. Use and possession of Novichok contrary to the Chemical Weapons Act.
  4. Causing grievous bodily harm with intent to the former Russian spy's daughter and the ex-policeman.

Dawn Sturgess had had three children.

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