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

Arab League Delays Forming Joint Force

Delay grows out of one of original obstacles facing pan-Arab force, analysts say: 'They may agree on the principle, but they continue to argue about how to implement the project' More

Pakistan Demands Afghanistan Protect Its Kabul Mission, Staff

Officials in Islamabad say Afghan agents are harassing Pakistani embassy personnel, particularly those living outside of mission’s compound More

US Survey: Trump Lead Grows in Republican Presidential Contest

Quinnipiac University poll shows brash billionaire real estate mogul with 28 percent support among Republican voters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs