News / Europe

Britain Rejects Public Inquiry into Ex-KGB Spy's Poisoning

Marina Litvinenko, widow of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko, addresses media following pre-inquest review, London, Dec. 13, 2012.
Marina Litvinenko, widow of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko, addresses media following pre-inquest review, London, Dec. 13, 2012.
Reuters
— The British government has turned down a request for a public inquiry into the murder of a former Russian spy in London which could have revealed whether Moscow was behind the killing, a coroner announced on Friday.
 
Coroner Robert Owen had asked ministers to hold an inquiry, declaring his own investigation flawed after bowing to ministers' requests for some material to be kept secret which could have shed light on Russia's suspected involvement.
 
Alexander Litvinenko, 43, died in 2006 after drinking tea poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope, polonium-210, in a plush London hotel. From his deathbed he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, a charge Russia has repeatedly denied.
 
Anglo-Russian relations deteriorated to a post-Cold War low after British police and prosecutors said there was enough evidence to charge two former KGB agents, Andrei Lugovoy, who denies any involvement, and Dmitry Kovtun, with murder.
 
Prime Minister David Cameron has made a concerted attempt to mend diplomatic and business ties since coming to power, and Litvinenko's family have accused Britain of wanting to cover up embarrassing information to protect lucrative trade deals.
 
"It is a political decision of the British government," Litvinenko's widow Marina told reporters after the news was broken at a pre-inquest hearing at London's High Court. Her lawyers are now seeking a judicial review.
 
Under British law, inquests conducted by coroners are held when a person dies unexpectedly to determine the cause of death.
 
The former KGB agent had been granted British citizenship and become a vocal critic of Putin. Previous pre-inquest hearings have heard he had worked for Britain's MI6 intelligence service, and that the government held evidence which established a "prima facie case" Russia was behind his murder.
 
Owen, a senior judge acting as coroner, agreed in May to keep secret material which, if aired at an inquest, could undermine trust in the British government or "cause real harm to the UK's international relations." He concluded the only way to learn the truth was through a public inquiry which could examine such information in private if needed.
 
But looking visibly shocked and angry, Owen said he had been given just 45 minutes notice prior to Friday's hearing that the government had rejected his inquiry request.
 
'Russian state responsibility'

"For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that I regard investigation of the 'preventability' and 'Russian State responsibility' issues as being of central importance in this case," he told the court.
 
"It is a highly exceptional situation when the victim of what appears to have been a murder is interviewed by police before he dies and makes a public statement in which he names those whom he suspects of being responsible for his death."
 
He said there was now no chance his inquest could start on Oct. 2 as planned due to numerous legal hurdles, not least an application from Litvinenko's lawyers for a judicial review.
 
Neil Garnham, the lawyer for the Home Office [interior ministry], said the decision had been made after "careful consideration" and the reasons would be disclosed next week.
 
He said the possibility of an inquiry would be "kept under close and careful review" as the inquest progressed.
 
But Ben Emmerson, lawyer for Litvinenko's widow Marina, described the government's treatment of his client and her family as "shabby" and showing "utter contempt" and said he was confident senior high court judges would overturn the decision.
 
Marina Litvinenko said she was shocked and disappointed but would fight on.
 
"I still have a very long way to get justice," she told reporters. "I believe again ... we will get justice."

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid