Sunday 25 September 2016

Police probe 'poisoning' of British player at Wimbledon

Martin Evans

Published 12/08/2016 | 02:30

Gabriella Taylor. Photo: PA
Gabriella Taylor. Photo: PA

Scotland Yard is investigating allegations that a female tennis player was deliberately poisoned while competing at last month's Wimbledon Championships.

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Gabriella Taylor, 18, was forced to withdraw from the girl's tournament midway through her quarter-final match, after being struck down with a mystery illness.

It was initially thought that she had contracted a virus while playing overseas, but after spending four days in intensive care, doctors eventually diagnosed a rare strain of Leptospirosis, a disease caused by a bacterium that can be transmitted through rat urine.

Police launched a criminal investigation last week amid fears that she had been deliberately poisoned in an attempt to wreck her tournament chances.

One theory being explored is that Miss Taylor may have been targeted by an organised crime betting syndicate.

But the police investigation will also raise questions over whether she could have been the subject of a malicious plot by a rival player or coach from the fiercely competitive junior circuit.

Last night Miss Taylor's devastated parents, Paul and Milena, were struggling to come to terms with what had happened to their daughter after discovering that she could have died.

Mrs Taylor said: "Before the tournament she was in very good shape physically. She was totally healthy and playing very well.

"She was full of confidence and was looking forward to getting the title; that was her dream. Everything was going well. She got to the quarter-final, but then the next thing she is lying in intensive care close to death. When the infection team explained what it was we could not believe it."

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by a bacterium which is usually spread by animals and in the most cases only causes mild flu-like symptoms.

But some strains, including the one Miss Taylor is thought to have contracted, can be much more serious and in rare cases can cause fatal organ failure.

Impossible

Miss Taylor's mother said the athlete had been staying at the National Tennis Centre during the tournament and had only being travelling between there and The All England Club at Wimbledon.

Mrs Taylor said: "She was staying in a completely healthy environment. For her to get ill in these circumstances, with rat urine, was just impossible.

"The bacteria the infection team found is so rare in Britain that we feel this could not have been an accident.

"Her bags with her drinks in were often left unattended in the players' lounge and someone could have taken the opportunity to contaminate her drink."

But Professor Elizabeth Wellington, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Warwick, said: "If she has the disease then it's a case of bad luck, she has most likely become infected by water.

"Spiking a drink is not going to work; it is much more likely she has got it from natural sources rather than biological espionage."

Irish Independent

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