Charlie Rowley found a sealed box of perfume and gave it to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess. She sprayed some on her wrists, and within 15 minutes, was complaining of a headache. Just moments after that, "she said she felt peculiar and needed to lie down in the bath, which at the time I thought was a bit strange," Rowley recalls in a new interview with ITV News. "I went into the bathroom and found her in the bath, fully clothed, in a very ill state." Soon he, too, was critically ill; the UK couple had unknowingly come in contact with Novichok, the nerve agent used to poison Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, via the perfume. Sturgess died eight days later. Rowley says he found the perfume—a well-known brand—in a public place, though he doesn't remember where; his memory of the whole incident is hazy. He says he often picked up items he found if he thought they would be useful.
After opening the package with a knife, he put the pump dispenser in the bottle and some of the liquid got on his own hands. "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 recalled in the first interview he's given since leaving the hospital. "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." He was unconscious for weeks after the incident and has been left with difficulties thinking and concentrating. When he woke up and police asked him about the bottle of perfume, he was convinced it couldn't have been the culprit; when tests showed that it was, he says he was "in complete shock." "It looked expensive, unfortunately it turned out to be a bad find," he says, adding that he blames himself for the death of Sturgess, a mother of three. Click to watch his interview. (Read more Novichok stories.)