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U.K. woman dies from nerve agent

Reuters LONDON (Reuters) — A British woman died on Sunday after she was poisoned by the same nerve agent that struck a former Russian spy in March and triggered a crisis in relations between Western capitals and Moscow.

Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after she was exposed to Novichok on June 30 in western England, just a few kilometers from where Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were attacked with the same poison four months ago.

The death of Sturgess was being investigated as a murder, police said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was appalled and shocked by the death.

Police said they were investigating how Sturgess and a 45-year-old man, named by media as Charlie Rowley, came across an item contaminated with Novichok, which was developed by the Soviet military during the Cold War.

The March attack on the Skripals prompted the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War as allies sided with Britain’s view that Moscow was either responsible or had lost control of the nerve agent.

Moscow hit back by expelling Western diplomats.

After Sturgess’ death on Sunday, Britain’s interior minister, Sajid Javid, said the “desperately sad news only strengthens our resolve to find out exactly what has happened.”

The head of British Counter Terrorism policing, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, said Sturgess, a mother of three, died as the result of “an outrageous, reckless and barbaric act.”

The 45-year-old man remained critically ill in hospital.

The poisoning in March of the Skripals with Novichok was the first known offensive use of such a chemical weapon on European soil since World War II.

Russia, which is currently hosting the soccer World Cup, has denied any involvement in the Skripal case and suggested the British security services had carried out the attack to stoke anti-Moscow hysteria.

The two Britons were taken ill on June 30 in Amesbury, a town in southwest England, 11 kilometers from Salisbury, where Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked.

The Britons were initially thought to have taken an overdose of heroin or crack cocaine.

But tests by the Porton Down military research center showed they had been exposed to Novichok. Britain has notified the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

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