In 2018, a series of events unfolded in Salisbury that sounded like something straight out of a TV drama. And now the real life happenings have been turned into a TV drama, in the form of the BBC's The Salisbury Poisonings. The three-part series, showing this week, details how nerve agent called Novichok was used to poison a former Russian spy.
In the reimagining of The Salisbury Poisonings, actor Wayne Swann takes on the role of primary victim Sergei Skripal, the former Russian agent at the centre of it all. But Skripal didn't end up being the only casualty of the toxic substance. Here's what we know about all four real life victims; Sergei Skripal, Yulia Skripal, Dawn Sturgess, and Charlie Rowley.
Sergei Skripal was a former Russian military officer who became a double agent when he was recruited by the UK's intelligence service, MI6, in the mid-1990s. In 2004, he was arrested outside his house in Moscow sentenced to 13 years in prison for 'high treason in the form of espionage'. In 2010, however, as part of a 'spy swap' between the two countries, Skripal was released and relocated to the UK where he settled in Salisbury, Wiltshire with his family. The family bought a house there in 2011, but the following year Sergei Skripal's wife, Liudmila, died (reportedly of cancer), and his son, Alexander, passed away five years after that, in 2017. The pair are both buried in Salisbury's cemetery.
On the afternoon of Sunday, 4 March 2018, 66-year-old Skripal was having lunch with his daughter, Yulia, who had recently arrived from Moscow. Later that day, however, both Sergei and Yulia were discovered slipping in and out of consciousness on a park bench. While it first looked to outsiders like the pair had overdosed, it soon became apparent that there was something more underhand at play.
Where is Sergei Skripal now?
According to a recent article in The Times, Sergei Skripal is now living a new life in New Zealand. The information, apparently shared by senior government sources, reveals the former spy lived in an MI6 safe house for more than a year after he was released from hospital. Skripal spent 10 weeks in hospital as a result of the poisoning, but made a recovery.
The Skripals have reportedly been given new identities as well as material support to help them start a new life abroad.
Yulia Skripal was living in Moscow in March 2018, but flew in to London Heathrow on Saturday 3 March to visit her father, Sergei. Yulia, who was 33 at the time of the poisoning, travelled to Salisbury and proceeded to have lunch with her dad at Zizzi in the city. At around 4.15pm that afternoon, emergency services were called to attend to the father and daughter, who were discovered very unwell on a bench. Witnesses recalled Yulia's eyes being open, and said she was "foaming at the mouth".
Yulia was admitted to hospital along with her father, where she was treated for poisoning after it emerged the deadly nerve agent Novichok had been wiped on the door handle of Sergei Skripal's home.
Where is Yulia Skripal now?
Yulia spent less time in hospital than her dad, being released on April 10, 2018, just over five weeks after the poisoning occurred. She remained in a critical condition for the first three weeks of her hospital stay, but ended up making a full recovery.
It is now reported by The Times that Yulia has also been given a new identity and a new life in New Zealand with her father. A Home Office source said on the case: "We do not comment on intelligence matters."
Despite a mass clean-up operation having been activated following the initial poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal, three months later two others were contaminated by the toxic substance. Dawn Sturgess was a 44-year-old mother-of-three who was just about to move into a new flat at the time she came into contact with Novichok.
Described by her parents in an interview with the Guardian as "a gentle hippy" who was "bubbly, intelligent, witty and very upbeat", Dawn had previously worked as a flower picker in Cornwall and also in a pub. While acknowledging their daughter had suffered issues with alcohol in the past, they felt she "was really turning a corner" just before she died.
Dawn was in a relationship with her partner, Charlie Rowley, who gave her what looked to be a bottle of Nina Ricci perfume, after finding it in a charity bin on 27 June. Three days later, on Saturday 30 June, emergency services were called to a flat in Amesbury, a nearby town to Salisbury, with reports that Dawn had collapsed. According to a friend of the couple, Dawn looked to be having a fit and was "foaming at the mouth". She had sprayed the substance on her wrist.
After initially believing Dawn's ill-health to have been caused by a drug overdose, police announced that she, too, had been exposed to an "unknown substance" - later confirmed as Novichok.
Following just over a week in hospital, Dawn sadly died from the poisoning on 8 July. In the years after her death, Dawn's parents Stan and Caroline have spoken of their devastation that their daughter was unfairly portrayed as a homeless drug user.
45-year-old Charlie Rowley was in a relationship with Dawn Sturgess after the pair met at the start of 2018 while both living in hostels. He became the fourth victim of Novichok poisoning when he got some of the contents of the counterfeit 'perfume' bottle on himself while accessing it to give to his girlfriend.
In an interview with the Guardian, he explained he had been rummaging in a charity shop bin in Salisbury a few days before, where he had previously found a television. "It was a proper honey hole. On that day there was nothing to my eye other than this perfume. I picked it up, put it my pocket and forgot about it for a little while. It stayed in my coat pocket," he said.
Charlie said the bottle was sealed in hard plastic, and that he had to use a kitchen knife to gain access to it three days later, on June 30, when he gifted it to his girlfriend.
Both Dawn and Charlie were admitted to hospital after displayed concerning symptoms, and it was confirmed on Wednesday 4 July that the pair had been exposed to the same nerve agent that had been used in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
After 10 days in a coma, on 10 July 2018 Charlie Rowley regained consciousness, only to find his partner had died of the poison. He was released from hospital 10 days after that.
Where is Charlie Rowley now?
Charlie, while having made a recovery from the poisoning, has spoken about the mental and physical suffering he's experienced in the months and years following the incident.
"My eyes and balance started playing tricks on me," he told the Guardian. "My right eye is still playing up. I can’t focus on things." Charlie also believes his immune system has been compromised as a result of the nerve agent, and says he suffers from severe headaches. While he's had a number of jobs following the incident, at the time of his Guardian interview in June 2019 he said he was not in regular work. He describes being haunted by guilt over the events, constantly reliving the moment he tried to save Dawn when she first took ill.
The Salisbury Poisonings continues on BBC One tonight at 9pm.
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