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

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora