Salisbury park where Novichok victim may have been poisoned reopens

Park in Salisbury where Novichok victims may have picked up deadly perfume bottle that killed mother of three reopens to the public after almost two months as Government pledges extra £2.5million to help police cover cost of investigation

  • The Queen Elizabeth Gardens were cordoned off after Ms Sturgess was taken ill
  • She and Charlie Rowley visited the gardens where they may have been poisoned
  • It is thought they were poisoned by a bottle discarded by the Skripals’ attackers 

The gardens at the centre of Salisbury’s second Novichok poisonings reopened today seven weeks after a mother-of-three who visited them was killed by the nerve agent.

The Queen Elizabeth Gardens were cordoned off on July 5 after Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley had visited the park and fallen ill at Mr Rowley’s home in Amesbury. Ms Sturgess died in hospital eight days later having never regained consciousness.   

It is believed they were exposed to the military-grade nerve agent from a perfume bottle discarded after the March attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Wiltshire Police, who launched a murder investigation and painstakingly searched the gardens, today hailed a ‘milestone’ as the park was opened to the public again.

It came as the Government today pledged an extra £2.5million to help the force pay for its response to the poisonings.

A police officer at the cordon in Queen Elizabeth Gardens in July. The park has now reopened to the public in what Wiltshire Police called a ‘milestone’ 

The Queen Elizabeth Gardens were cordoned off on July 5 after Dawn Sturgess (left) and Charlie Rowley (right) had visited the park and fallen ill at Mr Rowley’s home in Amesbury

Queen Elizabeth Gardens was closed off to allow counter-terrorism officers to carry out their inquiries, while a larger section of the park was closed as a highly precautionary measure, with meticulous and methodical fingertip searches being conducted.

A police water search team also conducted a thorough search of the shallow stream adjacent to the children’s play park and were able to remove a lot of broken glass and other discarded items.

They also conducted searches along the banks of the River Nadder and River Avon that flow through the gardens within the cordon, collecting discarded objects and litter from the river bank. 

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Earlier this month, The Mill pub, where the Skripals had a drink before falling ill, was handed back to its owners after being thoroughly decontaminated.  

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills said: ‘Today marks a milestone in terms of our ongoing response to the incident.

‘Alongside the counter-terrorism policing network, we have worked methodically and meticulously to assess if there was anything of relevance in the park to the investigation and ensure that there was no wider risk to the public.

A police cordon was in place at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury as officers carried out meticulous searches of the park after Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess had been poisoned

Earlier this month The Mill pub (pictured), where the Skripals had a drink before falling ill, was handed back to its owners after being thoroughly decontaminated

‘Queen Elizabeth Gardens has been searched by specially trained officers and the results reviewed.

‘Decontamination activity was conducted, is now complete and the site is safe and can be returned to public use.

‘Further to that process, and further to the thorough searches that have taken place, we are satisfied that the park and gardens pose no risk to the public and can now be fully reopened for the public to once again enjoy.’  

Alistair Cunningham, chair of the South Wiltshire Recovery Coordinating Group, said: ‘I am really pleased Queen Elizabeth Gardens, which is a really popular open space in the city centre, has been reopened for community use.

‘Its closure has had an impact on footfall into the city and its reopening is an important and positive step for the city moving forward and getting back to normal.’     

Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury city centre after they were poisoned in March. They have since been released from hospital.

Police carry out fingertip searches in Queen Elizabeth Gardens after the second poisonings 

Yulia Skripal and her father Sergei Skripal (pictured together) were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4

Wiltshire Police has said it was expected to spend more than £10 million dealing with the Novichok poisonings, but there is confidence that the whole bill will be footed by Westminster. 

Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire, Angus MacPherson aid: ‘These exceptional major incidents have meant that Wiltshire Police resources have been stretched more than ever and we have required the support of officers from 40 forces around the country and I’m grateful that the Policing Minister has recognised this.

‘The money reimbursed to us so far matches our outgoings in regards to the operations so the Force is not operating at a deficit.

‘I have been in frequent contact with the Policing Minister, and those conversations remain an absolute priority for me, to ensure that policing in Wiltshire and Swindon is not affected by the financial implications of these high profile and complex major incidents.’ 

The attacks on the Skripals caused an international diplomatic incident, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid accusing the Russian state of using Britain as a ‘dumping ground for poison’.  

Officers from 40 other forces were called in after two major incidents were declared in Salisbury and Amesbury in the space of four months.  

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