Investigators hunting a mystery vessel containing a deadly nerve agent are hoping to glean vital information from poisoning victim Charlie Rowley.
The 45-year-old may be the only person who can help detectives narrow down their search for “a needle in a haystack”.
Mr Rowley was left seriously ill and his partner, Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after they collapsed in Amesbury, Wiltshire, on June 30, having been exposed to Novichok.
It is believed that the couple handled a vessel containing the chemical weapon, but police have admitted they have “no idea” what it might look like.
Advice from Public Health England is that the overall risk is low, but Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies has warned everyone in the area not to pick up “any foreign object which could contain liquid or gel, in the interests of their own safety”.
Mr Rowley regained consciousness on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Scotland Yard confirmed that officers had been able to speak to him.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: “Officers from the investigation team have spoken briefly to Charlie and will be looking to further speak with him in the coming days as they continue to try and establish how he and Dawn came to be contaminated with the nerve agent.
“Any contact officers have with Charlie will be done in close consultation with the hospital and his doctors.
“We will not be providing further commentary around our contact with Charlie.”
Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing at Salisbury District Hospital, said that, while Mr Rowley is no longer in a critical condition, he remains seriously ill.
She said: “Charlie Rowley has made further progress overnight. He is no longer in a critical condition.
“His condition is now serious, but stable.
“Our staff will continue to work hard to provide the care that Charlie needs.
“Charlie still has some way to go to recover, but the progress we’ve seen so far gives us cause for optimism.”
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said it is likely the latest poisoning is linked to the attempted murders of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March with the same substance.
Speaking at a packed public meeting in Amesbury on Tuesday night, Mr Basu conceded that the authorities had not been looking for anything containing Novichok until the latest incident.
Novichok can remain active for 50 years if left undisturbed in a sealed container.
Mr Basu, who leads the UK’s counter-terrorism policing, admitted that investigators have “no idea” what the container looks like.
One member of the public suggested police are “looking for a needle in a haystack”.
“Yes, that’s why we need to be intelligence-led, which is why we need witnesses that tell us where it might be,” Mr Basu replied.
“The brutal fact is we don’t know where they found it. I am hoping Charlie recovers, and when he recovers he will be able to tell us and perhaps shed some light on it, which will narrow our search dramatically.”