The couple left fighting for their lives after being exposed to a mystery substance in Wiltshire have been named and pictured.
Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were identified by their friends on Wednesday as the pair at the centre of the “major incident” in Amesbury that counter terrorism police are now investigating.
The couple, who are both in their 40s, fell critically ill after being exposed to a unknown substance that is now being tested at Porton Down research facility.
They were found unconscious at a property in Muggleton Road on Saturday, with one friend describing how Charlie was “garbling” and acting like a “zombie”, the Mirror reported.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed on Wednesday that counter terrorism officers were working jointly with Wiltshire Police given “recent events” in Salisbury.
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a military nerve agent in Salisbury, which is around eight miles from Amesbury, on March 4.
“As Wiltshire Police have stated, they are keeping an open mind as to the circumstances surrounding the incident and will update the public as soon and as regularly as possible,” the Met said in a statement.
Officers initially thought the pair collapsed because they had taken drugs, but have since said they are “open-minded” as to the cause and that further tests on the substance involved are being carried out to identify it.
It is understood the tests are being done at the government chemical weapons research laboratory at Porton Down where the nerve agent used in the Skripal attack was identified.
A meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee took place at official level in the Cabinet Office on Wednesday morning to discuss the incident.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “This is an incident which understandably is being treated with the utmost seriousness.
“Ministers and the Prime Minister are being kept updated and there was a meeting this morning of officials to receive updates on the facts of the situation.”
The police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, Angus Macpherson, said there is nothing to suggest the incident is “in any way connected to Skripal case at this moment in time”.
He told the BBC: “I haven’t seen anything in this incident yet that I would consider to be an overreaction, it all seems fairly textbook.”
The address where the pair were found is on a new housing development on the southern edge of the town, which lies close to Stonehenge.
Police and emergency services initially believed the pair may have taken heroin or crack cocaine “from a contaminated batch of drugs”, however further tests are now being carried out.
A number of places in the Amesbury and Salisbury area have been cordoned off as a precaution, and the force said it was not yet clear if the pair were the victims of a crime.
A Boots store in the town has been closed with people attempting to get their prescriptions being turned away.
Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, which includes a children’s playground and adjacent car park, was also sealed off, with police officers guarding the area, the Guardian reported. A nearby GP surgery, Harcourt medical centre, was closed to the public on Wednesday morning. It later reopened but police officers were readjusting the cordon to the perimeter of the gardens.
It was not confirmed that the sites were connected to the incident in Amesbury, the newspaper said.
Public Health England (PHE) advised that it did not believe there to be a “significant health risk” to the wider public, although its advice was being reviewed.
It is believed one of the last places the couple were seen in public was a family fun day at Amesbury Baptist Church on Saturday afternoon.
The church was cordoned off by police at 6am on Wednesday, the church’s secretary, Roy Collins, said.
“Last weekend we held a community fundraiser and we understand this may well be the last event this couple went to in public,” he said.
“We are all quite puzzled and shocked – naturally the connection with Salisbury and recent events there mean there is a heightened public interest.
“We are praying for the couple, one of our members knows them and clearly there are concerns for them and any others in the community.
“They are not church members or regulars.”
Collins said around 200 people attended the event, including many families and children, but “nobody else has suffered any ill effects”.
College student Chloe Edwards, 17, described seeing police cars, fire engines and people in “green suits” on Muggleton Road on Saturday night.
“They were putting on these green suits and we thought it was the gas as our electricity was turned off as well.”
Edwards said the vehicles arrived at about 7pm and she and her family were told to stay inside their home until about 10pm.
“We wanted to know what happened and with the Russian attack happening not long ago, and we just assumed the worst,” she said.
Skripal, 67, and his 33-year-old daughter were left in a critical condition after they were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre.
They spent weeks in Salisbury District Hospital where they underwent treatment for exposure to the Russian-created nerve agent Novichok.
The British Government has accused Russia of being behind the attack on Skripal, who settled in the UK after a spy swap.