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expert reaction to news that Wiltshire woman Dawn Sturgess has died eight days after becoming critically ill following poisoning by Novichok nerve agent

A women who was exposed to the Novichok nerve agent in Amesbury, Wiltshire, has died in hospital.


Dr Michelle Carlin, Senior lecturer in forensic & analytical chemistry, Northumbria University, said:

“The news of the death of Ms Sturgess is very sad.  As with all cases of poisonings, there are many factors that can affect the medical outcome of an individual.  Factors such as the amount administered, the route of administration, i.e. how the agent entered the body, and the state of health of the individual.

“The main organ in the body that breaks down toxins is the liver but it has been reported that Ms Sturgess had suffered from problems related to alcoholism.  Alcoholism can affect many aspects of a person’s general health and one of the body organs that can be affected is the liver.  If Ms Sturgess’ liver was not functioning normally, this could have had an impact on how quickly the agent could be cleared from her body and could have played a role in her eventual demise.  Further information will be revealed from a postmortem examination.”


Prof Alastair Hay, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Toxicology, University of Leeds, said:

“I am really saddened to learn of the death of Dawn Sturgess, an absolutely tragic outcome.  Her death illustrates just how dangerous the Novichok-type nerve agent is and the importance of the decontamination measures being undertaken by the authorities.

“It is not yet clear how Dawn and her companion came into contact with the nerve agent and solving this will be a priority for the investigation as it has now become a murder enquiry.

“Dawn’s death also illustrates just how difficult it is for the doctors treating her.  Even though they are now the most experienced team in the world for dealing with this nerve agent there are still limits to how much they are able to do.

“Because the nerve agents compromise nerve and muscle function their effects are widespread and where deaths occur these are usually do to either respiratory or circulatory failure, or both.  An individual’s prior health status will also have a bearing on any outcome and this may have been a factor in Dawn’s death, but is unknown at this stage.

“This truly regrettable outcome reinforces the need for the public to follow the advice issued by the chief medical officer which will help to minimise any possible contact with the nerve agent.”


Prof Andrea Sella, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, UCL, said:

“This is a tragedy, and an outrage.  For Ms Sturgess’ family and friends this must be the most brutal of shocks and I offer them my deepest sympathy and condolences.  Her death is a reminder that, in spite of all the nay-saying on social media, nerve agents are very poisonous substances indeed; it shows how close to death the Skripals and DS Nick Bailey may have come, and that they are not ‘out of the woods’.  It is worth remembering that they are likely have long term life-changing injuries; hundreds of victims of the Tokyo underground attacks have had to live with such issues ever since.

“Her death heightens further the pressure on the police to locate the object at the source of this poisoning as the material on or inside it is of critical forensic importance.  We can only hope that Mr Rowley recovers, not only for the sake of his family and friends, but also because he is a key witness who may be in a position to describe how he and Ms Sturgess came to be poisoned.

“All of this said, the risk to local residents and visitors remains low, though they should take care not to pick up unknown objects.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

Dr Michelle Carlin: “I have no interests to declare.”

Prof Andrea Sella: “I do not have any competing interests.”

None others received.


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