Police investigate player poisoning at Wimbledon Championships
Martin Evans, crime correspondent Sam Dean Nazrin Wilkinson 10 AUGUST 2016 • 10:00PM Scotland Yard is investigating allegations that a female tennis player was deliberately poisoned while competing at last month’s Wimbledon Championships. Gabriella Taylor, 18, was
Scotland Yard is investigating allegations that a female tennis player was deliberately poisoned while competing at last month’s Wimbledon Championships.
It was initially thought she had contracted a virus while playing overseas, but after spending four days in intensive care, doctors eventually diagnosed a rare strain of Leptospirois, a bacteria 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 probe 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 bacteria 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.
She said Miss Taylor had been staying at the National Tennis Centre during the tournament and had only being going 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.”
Mrs Taylor said as a professional athlete her daughter was conscious of what she ate and a Wimbledon spokesman confirmed that the teenager had not dined at the players’ facilities during the tournament.
The spokesman said: “The All England Lawn Tennis Club has not been approached about the investigation which is a police matter. There is no record of Miss Taylor using her catering pass to eat on side at the Championships in 2016.”
Asked who she thought might have wanted to harm her daughter, Mrs Taylor said: “That is not for me to say. I just want the police to investigate it fully and it will be up to them how to proceed.”
Met detectives have already been to visit the family at their home in Southampton and have taken away some of Miss Taylor’s water bottles for further forensic analysis.
But with the bacteria having an incubation period of up to a fortnight, it is feared any potential evidence will have long gone.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “Merton police are investigating an allegation of poisoning with intent to endanger life or cause GBH.
“The allegation was received by officers on 5 August with the incident alleged to have taken place at an address in Wimbledon between 1-10 July.
“The victim was taken ill on 6 July. It is unknown where or when the poison was ingested. The victim, an 18 year-old woman, received hospital treatment and is still recovering.
“There have been no arrests and enquiries continue.”
Miss Taylor has now returned to her training camp in Marbella where she is tentatively getting back her strength before resuming her promising career.
Currently ranked 381 in the world, she had been making rapid improvement and was hopeful of lifting the Wimbledon Girls Singles’ title when she was struck down.
Her mother said: “What happened to Gabriella has opened our eyes to a world we did not know existed. In the past we have been very naïve but from now on we will be extra careful and make sure we know exactly what she eats and drinks when she is on the tour.”
She added: “Gabriella is very, very disappointed. It is going to take her a very long time to recover from this physically and mentally. She almost died.”