‘I didn’t mean to, but I killed my girlfriend… how do you ever get over that?’

Builder Charlie, 44, critically ill and his partner Dawn Sturgess died after exposure to the deadly nerve agent Novichok at his home in Amesbury, Wiltshire.

In March 2018, three months earlier, ex-Soviet spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia had been found unconscious on a Salisbury park bench, seven miles away…

I didn’t mean to, but I killed my girlfriend. How do you ever get over that? I can’t. But that is the surreal heartbreak that happened when my partner Dawn and I became unwittingly dragged into the news story that rocked the world.

Salisbury is idyllic, the most unlikely place you’d imagine a Russian spy to be poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent. People were scared, but we were told repeatedly that the nerve agent areas had been identified and made safe.

In the cruelest way possible, I would learn this wasn’t the case.

Dawn Sturgess had three children


AFP/Getty Images)

Dawn and I had been together for 18 months when she died. We’d met when she was staying in a supported housing scheme, for people who were homeless. She was a mum-of-three, rebuilding her life from her. I was in a similar situation. We supported each other.

We loved the same music and lived close to Stonehenge, where we celebrated the solstice. A natural hippie, she was kind and spiritual. She was Dawny, my soul mate.

I was lucky enough to be rehomed a few months after meeting her. I was so excited – my own proper flat in Amesbury, seven miles north of Salisbury. Dawn was pleased for me. She was a generous, lovely person. My life was finally falling into place.

With little cash, I furnished the flat with items that would’ve been thrown away. I scouted charity shops and bins, getting electrical equipment and stuff. I found all sorts – gold necklaces, earrings, treasures for Dawn. She said she wanted a sapphire engagement ring – but she’d happily settle for a Haribo ring. That said it all.

Going through one bin, I found a perfume box. “Wahey, winner!” I thought. It was sealed in plastic, expensive-looking, so I pocketed it.

Unwittingly, I’d done something the police hadn’t managed in three months since the Skripal attack – I’d found the Novichok bottle.

Dawn died following exposure to the nerve agent Novichok


AFP/Getty Images)

Foaming at the mouth

I gave it to Dawn on the morning of Saturday, June 30. “Oooh, it’s a good one,” she grinned. It was tightly closed so I needed a sharp knife to open it, and the nozzle needed attaching, which seemed strange. I put it together and Dawn happily sprayed it on her wrists and rubbed them together. I’d got spray on my hand so I went to wash it off.

When I came back from the bathroom, Dawn was staring at nothing and foaming at the mouth. “Dawn!” I shook her. No response.

I rang for help – and after that it’s a blur. My friend Sam came while the ambulance was outside my house and saw Dawn being stretched out while I was in bits, an emotional wreck. Then I started acting paranoid and began attacking Sam. I had him by the neck, trying to strangle him. I thought he was trying to kill me and Dawn.

Luckily, Sam stuck by me. “I’m your friend,” he said. “I’m not going to leave you even though you’re attacking me. I’m staying with you.”

Apparently I was frothing at the mouth and sweating, my eyes were glazed, red and milky colored. I started rocking backwards and forwards and muttering some weird language, like something out of a zombie film. Sam rang 999 – I would be dead if he hadn’t.

I was taken to the same hospital as Dawn. While I was unconscious, Wiltshire Police declared a major incident, stating we’d had potential exposure to an unknown substance. Tragically, Dawn died that day.

Once it was confirmed as Novichok, the police liaison officers found my brother, Matthew, and organized a hospital visit. Seeing me surrounded by machines, I thought that was it.

I was in the hospital for three weeks. When I woke up and came off the ventilator a doctor explained that Dawn had died. I couldn’t take it in. The police explained the perfume contained Novichok. Confused, I said, “No, it was perfume.”

It hurts too much to remember. I’d lost my girlfriend, my partner, my soulmate.

Because of nerve damage I couldn’t see properly and had problems with my heart and lungs too. There was talk of a pacemaker. I was terrified, feeling like a guinea pig while they tried to help me.

Somehow, in July, I got through Dawn’s funeral in a complete blur. But it was her heartfelt and her family gave me such a warm welcome, which really touched me. I have a good relationship with her dad.

Because of contamination, builders had to demolish my flat. Dawn’s dad came with me to the site, which was painful. I’d lost everything.

Luckily, a friend shared pictures of Dawn, which I’ve made into a collage on my wall. It’s all I have of her, apart from memories of her.

While I was consumed by grief and health woes, investigations were ongoing.

In April 2019, my brother Matthew and I were invited to see the Russian ambassador in London. He was friendly but he was very much trying to pass the buck. It was denial. I asked him if his country had killed my girlfriend. He said, “No.”

I have since learned that the perfume bottle sat in my flat could have wiped out thousands of people with the amount of nerve agent it contained.

I was given a temporary home, but after living there for six months I was burgled. Perhaps someone thought I’d come into money. But I’d received no payment for anything. Upset, I moved closer to my brother in Wiltshire. I tried to pick up the pieces of my life and began a new relationship but it didn’t work out. What happened dominates my life.

Once, I was out walking and heard men talking in Russian accents. I felt paranoid and thought they were coming to get me. I don’t feel comfortable outside home.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned in Salisbury in March 2018



Justice for Dawn

I was offered counselling, but I’m not a person for talking about things. Healthwise, my balance is totally off and I get double vision, so crossing the road can feel very dangerous.

I can’t make sense of what happened. I believe that it wasn’t the same bottle that poisoned the Skripals because the perfume bottle turned up three months after the initial attack and the box was totally sealed.

I want justice for Dawn. I want people to be caught, but I don’t expect that to happen. I carry a lot of guilt. I literally poisoned my girlfriend. Unknowingly, but I still did it. It’s not a good thing to live with.

Yulia Skripal was poisoned in Salisbury along with her father


AFP/Getty Images)

What’s happened since?

Two Russian intelligence officers, Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, were accused of smearing Novichok on Sergei Skripal’s front door handle. Security sources believe a senior Russian agent, Denis Sergeev, was also involved.

Boris Johnson said all three “should be handed over for justice”, but they cannot be formally charged unless they are arrested.

Chepiga, Mishkin and Sergeev are all thought to be in Russia. The Russian government continues to deny any involvement.

Sergei has not been seen since his discharge from hospital. His daughter Yulia has been resettled by the British government in a secret location.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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