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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid