Novichok poisoning survivor Charlie Rowley has told how he feels responsible for the death of his partner, who was exposed to the nerve agent by opening a “cosmetic bottle” he gave to her as a gift.
Speaking publicly for the first time since leaving hospital earlier this month, the 45-year-old said he was unsure if he would ever be able to come to terms with the loss of Dawn Sturgess, who was due to move closer to his home in Amesbury.
“I felt to blame. I still do,” he told ITV.
“I think it was very irresponsible for people to leave the poison for anybody to pick up. It could have been children. It was just so unfortunate. I’m very angry at the whole incident.”
Rowley went on to explain how Sturgess fell ill moments after spraying the liquid on her wrists at his home on 30 June.
“I do have a memory of her spraying it on her wrists and rubbing them together,” he said.
Sturgess, 44, died in hospital eight days later, prompting a murder investigation amid fears her death was linked to the Salisbury poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on 4 March.
“Within 15 minutes, I believe Dawn said she felt she had a headache and asked me if I had any headache tablets. I had a look around the flat and within that time she said she felt peculiar and needed to lie down in the bath, which at the time I thought was a bit strange,” Rowley said.
“I went into the bathroom and found her in the bath, fully clothed, in a very ill state.”
Rowley, who was rushed to hospital himself the same day in a critical condition, also came in contact with the substance.
“I guess how I got in contact with it is when I put the spray part to the bottle and I ended tipping some on my hands, but I washed it off under the tap. It had an oily substance and I smelled it and it didn’t smell of perfume. I washed it off and I didn’t think anything of it”
Rowley told the broadcaster that he found a sealed 3x3inch box in a cellophane wrapper days before the pair fell ill, but can’t recall exactly where. He often picks things up, he admitted: “You find things of value, yes, some treasures here or there.”
The package contained a glass bottle and a plastic dispenser you had to attach and looked like it had not been used, “which made me think it was quite safe”, he said.
Sturgess appeared to “recognise the brand as a product that was quite out there and known”, Rowley said, adding: “It’s very strange. It’s quite scary to think that something can be disguised in that manner and left to be found in public.”
When Sturgess fell ill, Rowley initially thought she was exaggerating.
“My first reaction was maybe she’s just overreacting or something. But I could tell it was more than that. Within a minute I could tell she wasn’t faking anything. She was having a proper attack of some sort,” he told the broadcaster.
Rowley learned of Sturgess’ passing and his own exposure to the deadly substance after waking up in hospital and is now piecing together his memories like a “jigsaw”.
He said: “When I came round, weeks after, the police were talking to me and they mentioned a bottle they found in the flat. They ran tests on it and I could pretty much guarantee the contents of the bottle was perfume and it was nothing to worry about. They ran tests on it and I was in complete shock when they told me it was Novichok.”
“It looked expensive, unfortunately it turned out to be a bad find,” he added.
Asked if he felt lucky to be alive, Rowley said “they say I’m lucky but I don’t feel lucky...I’ve lost my partner”.
Sturgess, he said, “was a loving, caring mother”.
“She had so much time for her daughter and her two boys. She was a very caring, loving woman.”
An inquest into Sturgess’ death was opened and adjourned last week.