Dawn Sturgess – the woman who died as a result of the 2018 Novichok poisoning in Salisbury – has been unfairly disparaged, according to a new BBC dramatisation.
The intended target of the Cold War-style political assassination was ex-Russian military officer Sergei Skripal. He and his daughter Yulia were lucky to escape with their lives.
Sturgess died from exposure to Novichok in July that year. Her partner Charlie Rowley, who had picked up a sealed bottle of perfume containing the poison, continues to suffer from the physical and emotional effects.
As they fell ill, both were also caught up in the stigma around homelessness and addiction.
“Dawn Sturgess was the only victim to actually have died from Novichok – an innocent woman caught up in geo-political games,” said MyAnna Buring, who plays Sturgess in The Salisbury Poisoning, due to be screened next week on BBC One.
“Yet so often in the press she was reduced to a tagline of ‘homeless addict’. That was absolutely not the case.
“But the phrase seemed to be used to suggest that she died as a result of her lifestyle choices. She did not. She died because she was poisoned by a nerve agent that she should never have come into contact with. It was important to bring her story back.”
Despite their reluctance to re-open old wounds, Sturgess’s family and friends were involved in the programme.
“Dawn’s family were incredibly generous, particularly her parents, in allowing us to speak to them,” Buring added.
“They were very clear that they didn’t really want this story told. However, if the story was going to be told, they said they wanted to be a part of it and make sure it didn’t spiral into something that felt uncomfortable or unreal for them.”
Johnny Harris, best known for his role in This Is England, plays Rowley. He told The Big Issue that Rowley’s “treatment at the hands of some sections of the press was atrocious”.
He added: “Storytelling can be so important in helping us to not forget. We should pay attention.”
Read the full story behind The Salisbury Poisoning in this week’s edition of The Big Issue.