Nerve agent victim released from UK hospital after poisoning

Police conduct fingertip searches of Queen Elizabeth Gardens, in Salisbury, which British woman Dawn Sturgess visited before she fell ill after being exposed to nerve agent Novichok, Thursday, July 19, 2018. Senior coroner David Ridley opened an inquest into the poisoning death of Sturgess Thursday, but said the cause of Sturgess' death won't be given until further tests are completed. (Ben Birchall/PA via AP)

LONDON — Nerve agent victim Charlie Rowley has been released from the hospital after three weeks of treatment since being poisoned, U.K. officials said Friday.

Lorna Wilkinson, the director of nursing at Salisbury District Hospital, said Rowley, 45, had been discharged after making substantial progress in recent days.

"Charlie has been through an appalling experience most of us could never imagine," she said. "Today is a very welcome milestone in his recovery."

Officials say Rowley and his partner Dawn Sturgess fell ill June 30 after being exposed to the nerve agent Novichok when they handled a small bottle containing the nerve agent. Officials believe the substance was from the same batch used in the March nerve agent attack on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Sturgess, 44, died in the hospital on July 8, eight days after she became violently ill at Rowley's home in Amesbury in southwestern England. Rowley became ill several hours later with similar symptoms. Police initially thought the two had taken contaminated heroin or crack cocaine but tests indicated they were poisoned by Novichok.

Novichok was produced by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Britain has blamed Russia for poisoning the spy and his daughter, who both recovered after lengthy hospitalizations, as well as accidently poisoning Rowley, Sturgess and a police officer who aided the Skripals.

Russia has strongly denied the charges. The poisoning of the spy ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled from Russia and Western nations.

The second round of nerve agent poisonings put the towns of Amesbury and Salisbury, where Sturgess lived, on edge as more than 100 counterterrorism officers searched for the source of the Novichok.

Nursing director Wilkinson said "many people" had come to the hospital concerned about possible exposure to Novichok but that only the five victims already identified had been exposed to the lethal nerve agent.

She said Public Health England has determined that Rowley "poses no risk to the public" now that he is out of the hospital.

Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said police will work with local agencies to make sure Rowley gets the support he needs as he continues to recover.

British officials have taken the Skripals to a secret location for their own protection.

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