U.K. Opens Murder Probe After Woman Exposed to Nerve Agent Dies



LONDON—British police said they opened a murder investigation Sunday into the death of a woman who had been poisoned by the Novichok nerve agent.

The woman, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, died Sunday in a Salisbury hospital in western England, after collapsing just over a week ago on June 30.

Her death comes four months after the poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer

Sergei Skripal

and his daughter, Yulia. Mr. Skripal, who had been living in Britain after a spy swap with Moscow, was poisoned along with his daughter in Salisbury by the same type of Soviet-developed nerve agent.

Britain blamed that earlier incident on Russia, an accusation Moscow denied, plunging relations between the two countries to the lowest point since the Cold War. Other Western countries backed Britain’s claim that Russia was responsible.

The development is likely to heighten tensions between Britain and Russia a week before a planned summit between U.S. President

Donald Trump

and Russian President

Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Trump, who is scheduled to meet Mr. Putin in Helsinki in a week’s time, will visit the U.K. later this week, when he will meet Prime Minister

Theresa May

and Queen Elizabeth.

In a statement, Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “appalled and shocked” by the death of Ms. Sturgess, a mother of three.

A 45-year-old male friend, who also was admitted to the hospital on the same day as Ms. Sturgess, remains critically ill.

Britain’s Porton Down defense-research laboratory confirmed on Wednesday that the pair had been poisoned by Novichok, and further tests carried out there showed they had touched a contaminated item with their hands, police said.

About 100 counterterrorism detectives are involved in the investigation alongside local police.

Neil Basu,

the head of Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism unit, described the poisoning death as “an outrageous, reckless and barbaric act.”

He said police so far had been unable to identify the source of the contamination, and it wasn’t possible to say whether the later victims had been poisoned by the same batch of Novichok as the Skripals. No one else had become ill with the same symptoms, he said.

Mr. Skripal and his daughter survived and are living in an undisclosed location under British government protection.

England’s soccer team is in Russia, where it is competing in the World Cup. After the Skripal poisoning, London said there would be no U.K. official representation at the competition.

Write to Stephen Fidler at stephen.fidler@wsj.com



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