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Novichok victim recalls 'oily' substance in perfume bottle

File photo. Photograph:( Facebook )

AFP London, UK Jul 25, 2018, 07.23 AM (IST)

A British man poisoned with Novichok said in interviews released Tuesday that he was lucky to be alive after giving a perfume bottle that contained the nerve agent to his girlfriend, who later died.

Charlie Rowley, 45, said he was amazed he survived after handling the "oily" substance himself, but was still struggling with the death of his partner Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother of three.

Both fell ill in Amesbury, near the southwestern English city of Salisbury where a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok in March, but survived.

In an interview with ITV News television, Rowley said he could not remember where he picked up the glass perfume bottle, but said it was still in its box and plastic packaging.

When he offered it as a gift to Sturgess, "she recognised the bottle and product as a known brand" and sprayed it on her wrists.

"Within 15 mins Dawn said she had a headache," and she went to lie down in the bath, fully clothed.

Rowley also got some of it on his hands but washed it off. "It had an oily substance and I smelled it and it didn't smell of perfume," he said.

Both of them fell ill and were hospitalised later that day, June 30. 

A few days later authorities confirmed their exposure to Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Sturgess died on July 9, but after two weeks in an induced coma, Rowley was discharged from hospital on Friday.

In a telephone interview with The Sun, he said: "It's awful and shocking. I was still on medication when they told me she passed away. I don't think I will ever be able to get over it.

"My heart goes out to Dawn's family. It's amazing that I'm alive. In a way I feel lucky I survived but I've also lost so much."

Police are treating Sturgess' death as murder and say a link with the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4 is a major line of inquiry.

Britain and its allies blamed Russia for trying to kill Skripal, a former military intelligence colonel who was jailed for betraying Russian agents to Britain and moved here in a 2010 spy swap.

Russia has strongly denied involvement, sparking a major diplomatic row.

Rowley said he was "very angry at the whole incident".

"It was very irresponsible for people to leave the poison for anybody to pick up. It could have been children," he told ITV.

Rowley said he and Sturgess had been together for almost two years, and she was a "very caring, loving woman".

His home remains guarded by police but The Sun said he was living nearby and was still occasionally being interviewed by detectives.

The cordon around the hostel in Salisbury where Sturgess lived was to be lifted Tuesday.