The Government has ordered the withholding from an inquest of potentially vital information about whether a former Russian spy murdered in London had links to British intelligence services.
Scotland Yard investigated claims that Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium 210 in 2006, was in regular contact with MI6 or MI5 prior to his death. The inquiry led to murder charges being brought against two Russian citizens – both former KGB agents.
But a preliminary hearing for the long-delayed inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death, due to start in the new year, was told that Whitehall officials had asked for the findings relating to the intelligence agencies to be removed from the information due to be made public during the hearings.
The attempt to shroud any dealings with the former Russian agent in secrecy was disclosed as Mr Litvinenko's widow, Marina, said she wanted the inquest to establish once and for all whether her husband was the victim of a "targeted assassination" on British soil by a foreign state.
Mr Litvinenko, 43, pictured, was poisoned at a Mayfair hotel. The case soured relations between Britain and Russia, and the inquest is likely to renew tensions. Moscow refuses to extradite prime suspect Andrei Lugovoi, another ex-KGB agent-turned-businessman who is now a Russian MP. Mr Lugovoi, who is represented in the inquest proceedings, denies all involvement in Mr Litvinenko's death.
Lawyers for Mrs Litvinenko, who attended yesterday's hearing with the couple's son, Anatoly, said she and others believed the Russian state was responsible for her husband's death. Ben Emmerson, QC, said: "If that hypothesis were to be evidentially substantiated, this would be an act of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism on the streets of London."
A report by Scotland Yard into its investigations, including the question of whether Mr Litvinenko was assisting British intelligence, is due to be submitted to the inquest and interested parties within a fortnight.
Police concluded that Mr Litvinenko drank tea poisoned with polonium at a meeting in the Millennium Hotel, Mayfair, with Mr Lugovoi and another former KGB agent, Dmitry Kovtun.