Exclusive: Novichok poisoning victim Charlie Rowley reveals perfume gift he gave to partner contained deadly nerve agent

Charlie Rowley has since been discharged from hospital after being exposed to Novichok. Credit: ITV News

Novichok poisoning victim Charlie Rowley has revealed a sealed box of perfume which he found and later gave to his girlfriend contained a deadly nerve agent which killed her.

In an exclusive interview with ITV News, the 45-year-old explained how his partner Dawn Sturgess fell ill moments after spraying the liquid on her wrists.

He said: "Within 15 minutes, I believe Dawn said she felt she had a headache and asked me if I had any headache tablets. I had a look around the flat and within that time she said she felt peculiar and needed to lie down in the bath, which at the time I thought was a bit strange.

"I went into the bathroom and found her in the bath, fully clothed, in a very ill state."

Mr Rowley later fell critically ill himself. Dawn died eight days later.

  • Charlie on how he and Dawn became exposed to the nerve agent

He told ITV News he had found a sealed box in a cellophane wrapper containing a perfume bottle some days earlier, and had kept it at his Amesbury home, before handing it to his partner of two years as a gift.

He explained how he struggled to remember where he had originally found the item but was convinced it was legitimate, as it looked like it hadn't been used, "Which made me think it was quite safe," he said.

"The fact that it was a product Dawn recognised, as a product that was quite out there and known. It's very strange. It's quite scary to think that something can be disguised in that manner and left to be found in public."

Before handing the perfume over to Dawn, Mr Rowley explained how some of the deadly liquid spilt over his hands, as he attempted to place the pump dispenser inside the bottle.

"It had an oily substance and I smelt it and it didn't smell of perfume. It felt oily, so I washed it off really quick but I didn't think anything of it. It all happened so quick," he said.

Mr Rowley says he doesn't remember falling ill but has been told by friends he was "stumbling and "foaming" at the mouth. He remained unconscious for weeks.

  • Charlie Rowley on learning he had been exposed to Novichok

He woke up to learn his partner Dawn had died after both of them had been exposed to Novichok.

He said: "When I came round, weeks after, the police were talking to me and they mentioned a bottle they found in the flat. They ran tests on it and I could pretty much guarantee the contents of the bottle was perfume and it was nothing to worry about. They ran tests on it and I was in complete shock when they told me it was Novichok."

"It looked expensive, unfortunately it turned out to be a bad find," he added.

He went on to warn others of picking up items they come across in public place.

"All I can say it to the public be very careful of what you pick up. Whether it be cosmetics or sealed. Do not pick up anything. That’s my message to the public. Do not pick up anything."

  • Charlie Rowley pays tribute to his partner Dawn Sturgess

Speaking about the loss of his partner Dawn, Mr Rowley paid tribute to the 44-year-old mother-of-three.

"Dawn was a loving, caring mother," he said. "She had so much time for her daughter and her two boys. She was a very caring, loving woman."

He explained speaking to Dawn's family was "reassuring" as he holds himself responsible for her death.

"I felt I was to blame and I still do."

Asked if he felt lucky to be alive, Mr Rowley said: "They say I'm lucky but I don't feel lucky...I've lost my partner.

  • Dawn Sturgess on CCTV the day before she fell ill

  • Charlie Rowley's anger at those responsible

Mr Rowley spoke of his anger at those responsible for discarding the bottle containing the deadly nerve agent.

"I think it was very irresponsible for people to leave the poison for anybody to pick up. It could have been children. It was just so unfortunate. I’m very angry at the whole incident."

He added it "would mean a great deal" to him to discover who was responsible for dumping Novichok in a public place.

  • The impact on Mr Rowley's health

Mr Rowley was unconscious for weeks and as a result, he says the muscles in his legs need "rebuilding and strengthening".

Following the exposure to the nerve agent, he added that thought processes "are a lot harder" and it is more difficult "to think and concentrate," which he says is to be expected.

Asked if he would ever return to his Amesbury home, Mr Rowley added: "The word is it’s on lockdown. Decontamination. The truth is I wouldn’t like to go back. Too many bad memories."

  • Latest revelations 'raise several questions'

The latest development as to how Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess came into contact with Novichok "raises questions" as to whether Salisbury is now free of the nerve agent, according to ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn.

He said: "We are not privy to a lot of the details that police have as part of the investigation, but what Charlie Rowley said today was interesting in terms of the perfume bottle.

"He said it was unopened, the box it was in was sealed, and that they had to use a knife in order to cut through it.

"That raises the question: if it wasn't used, is this the only Novichok that exists in this city? And was it the same Novichok used to attack Sergei and Yulia Skripal?"