English City, Stunned, Tries to Make Sense of New Poisonings

The mystery has captured the attention of much of the country. In the days after March 4, when Sergei V. Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter were poisoned, British officials declared confidently that Russia was at fault, but tight-lipped investigators have shared little of the evidence they have gathered. The poisoning of two more people, apparently by accident, may provide a new data point about how the assassin worked.

A fuller picture emerged on Thursday of the two victims, who are in critical condition. Ms. Sturgess lived at the John Baker House, a supported-living center that houses people struggling with addiction. Peter Cook, 58, described her as “Dawnie,” a motherly figure who drank several bottles of wine a day, but typically stayed away from hard drugs. Mr. Rowley, according to The Salisbury Journal, was jailed for possession of heroin in 2015.

Mr. Harris, a mechanic who also lives in the John Baker House, has watched for days as the police pored through Ms. Sturgess’s possessions. A trash bin had been sealed off. So had Mr. Rowley’s apartment. So had a beloved riverside park, known here as “Lizzy Gardens.”

“They’re looking for something, I don’t know what,” Mr. Harris said.

One of the other residents, Kyesha Guest, 29, thought the same thing. “If Charlie had been skip diving, and touched it, rummaging through the rubbish, and then touched Dawn, maybe that’s what happened,” she ventured. “I don’t think they would have picked up something if they didn’t know what it was.”

The unexpected poisonings have revived tension between Britain and Russia, which the British have blamed for the attack. Russia on Thursday denied any involvement in the poisoning of the couple, as it did in the case of the Skripals, and suggested alternative theories, including one that says the British could have planted the nerve agent. Sergei Zheleznyak, deputy speaker of the lower house of Parliament, said that the British authorities might have concocted the case to sully Russia’s image while the country was hosting the World Cup soccer tournament.

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