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Scotland Yard probing ‘poisoning’ of Wimbledon player

world Updated: Aug 12, 2016 08:22 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar

File photo of rising British tennis star Gabriella Taylor in action at Wimbledon. British police are investigating allegations that Taylor was poisoned while playing in the junior tournament, after she fell ill with a bacterial infection that can be spread through rat urine. (AP)

In a rare incident in Wimbledon’s hoary history, Scotland Yard is investigating claims that British teenager Gabriella Taylor, who withdrew during her quarter-final match due to a mystery illness, was poisoned and almost died in hospital.

Taylor, 18 and ranked 381 in the world, spent four days in the ICU. She has recovered after being diagnosed with a rare strain of leptospirosis, a bacteria transmitted through rat urine. Her mother believes Taylor had been “close to death” after the incident on July 6.

As some medical experts have ruled out leptospirosis as the cause of poisoning, one theory being explored is that Taylor may have been targeted by an organised crime betting syndicate, The Daily Telegraph reported in its lead story on Thursday. But bookmakers denied it.

Rupert Adams, a spokesman for bookmaker William Hill, said: “No high street bookmakers opened a book on junior Wimbledon and it would be incredibly difficult to do because of limited knowledge of the market. Even if there were such a market, it would be so small that a bet of £25 would be out of the ordinary. It just wouldn’t pay enough for a punter to make a betting coup.”

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “Merton police are investigating an allegation of poisoning with intent to endanger life or cause GBH (grievous bodily harm). The allegation was received by officers on August 5 with the incident alleged to have taken place at an address in Wimbledon between July 1-10.

“The victim was taken ill on July 6. 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.”

Her mother, Milena 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.”

Taylor told BBC last week: "It was such an awful experience, probably the worst time of my life. It started the day before as a stomach bug and I managed to overcome it by winning my match that day.

"But, the day of the quarter-final, I woke up and felt 10 times worse. I couldn't believe it was happening to me in one of the most important tournaments of my life.”