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Novichok victim Charlie Rowley says poison could still kill him

Novichok victim Charlie Rowley fears the poison will eventually kill him and believes he could be dead within a decade. He said he was “terrified” about the future, and has been struggling with his eyesight and mobility.

The 45-year-old was exposed to the same nerve agent used in Salisbury to attack ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

Rowley and his partner Dawn Sturgess, 44, fell ill in Amesbury months after the Skripal incident, and Sturgess died in hospital in July. Britain has accused Russia of carrying out the poisoning of the Skripals, which the pair survived. Russia has also been blamed for the death of Sturgess and the poisoning of Rowley, who were believed to have come into contact with novichok discarded by the Skripals’ attackers.

Rowley, who was in hospital being treated for meningitis, told the Sunday Mirror: “I may be out of hospital but I don’t feel safe. I’m terrified about the future.

“Doctors simply don’t know what the long-term effects could be. The worst thing has been the fear over my sight. I’m struggling to see properly and to walk. I’m one of only a handful in the world to have survived novichok, so it’s untrod territory. I feel like a guinea pig.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next.”

novichok victim charlie rowley says poison could still kill him - Novichok victim Charlie Rowley says poison could still kill him

Novichok refers to a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s to elude international restrictions on chemical weapons. Like other nerve agents, they are organophosphate compounds, but the chemicals used to make them, and their final structures, are considered classified in the UK, the US and other countries.

The most potent of the novichok substances are considered to be more lethal than VX, the most deadly of the familiar nerve agents, which include sarin, tabun and soman.

While the novichok agents work in a similar way, by massively over-stimulating muscles and glands, one chemical weapons expert said the agents did not degrade fast in the environment and had ‘an additional toxicity that was not well understood. Treatment for novichok exposure would be the same as for other nerve agents, namely with atropine, diazepam and potentially drugs called oximes.

The chemical structures of novichok agents were made public in 2008 by Vil Mirzayanov, a former Russian scientist living in the US, but the structures have never been publicly confirmed. It is thought they can be made in different forms, including as a dust aerosol.

The novichoks are known as binary agents because they only become lethal  after mixing two otherwise harmless components. According to Mirzayanov, they are 10 to 100 times more toxic than conventional nerve agents.

While laboratories that are used to police chemical weapons incidents have databases of nerve agents, few outside Russia are believed to have full details of the novichok compounds and the chemicals needed to make them.


Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images Europe

He added: “I’m still worried the novichok could kill me if I get any sort of virus again – it’s on my mind all the time. I’m dreading getting a cold. When I got out of hospital the first time I was pleased. But it may have been too soon because a few weeks later I was back – blind and unable to use my left arm with meningitis.

“I remember losing all balance and suffering tunnel vision. Doctors told me I’d suffered numerous strokes and I needed heart treatment and a pacemaker. It’s all to do with the novichok.”

Rowley told the newspaper he has felt suicidal, and said he has had no support. “The system is flawed. I need counselling. If the authorities offered me help I would take it. I feel let down,” he said.

Rowley added: “I don’t think I’ll be alive in 10 years. It has been horrendous.”

Police have said they do not believe that Rowley or his partner were deliberately targeted, rather that they were affected because of the “recklessness in which such a toxic nerve agent was disposed of”.

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