Alexander Litvinenko murder: Government accused of cover-up

 

The British government was accused of colluding with the Russians to cover up vital evidence into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko at a pre-inquest hearing into the former KGB agent's death today.

Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mr Litvinenko's widow Marina, suggested that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary were more interested in lucrative trade deals with Russia than justice and were attempting to close down the inquest by the back door.

The claims came as Neil Sheldon, for the Government, attempted to have an array of documents kept secret under Public Interest Immunity (PII)

“Given that we know that there have been many occasions in the past when PII has been improperly claimed, and given the public interest in transparency, it is crucial, absolutely crucial, that the outcome of this hearing is to scotch once and for all any possible suggestion that it is because David Cameron is promoting trade with Russia that he has tried to close down this inquest,” said Mr Emmerson.

Mr Sheldon argued that Foreign Secretary William Hague had signed the PII certificate because he had a duty to ensure that nothing emerged that posed a “real risk of serious harm to the public interest”.

While the extent or content of these documents, thought to be largely from the intelligence services, were not revealed to anyone else, a selection are to be put before Sir Robert Owen, assistant deputy coroner, who will make a decision tomorrow as to whether they will be made public.

Mr Litvinenko, 43, died of polonium-210 poisoning in November 2006 after meeting two former KGB contacts - Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun - at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square.

Prosecutors named Mr Lugovoy as the main suspect in the case but Russia has refused to extradite him to the UK for questioning. At a previous pre-hearing into his death Mr Emmerson said there was clear evidence that Mr Litvinenko was an MI6 agent and that Mr Lugovoy was acting under instruction from the Kremlin.

Today Mr Emmerson said that, if this evidence was now being withheld from the inquest under PII that the coroner could be placed in an impossible position.

“It could be that you issue a judgement that exonerates them even though you have been shown material that proves they are guilty. That is a staggering situation,” said the barrister, adding: “This is beginning to look like you are being steam-rollered by two states acting in collaboration with each other.”

The inquest was due to start in May but may now have to be delayed, the hearing was told.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent