Did Russian agents kill Alexander Litvinenko? Widow wins fight for new inquest

British coroner grants open investigation into international links to ex-KGB man's death

Alexander Litvinenko's widow won her battle yesterday for an open investigation to establish whether her husband was killed by Russian agents.

Mr Litvinenko, 43, fell ill after a meeting with fellow former KGB contacts in what was established as a case of poisoning by radioactive polonium-210. The Russian, who had been granted asylum in Britain, died three weeks later, on 23 November 2006.

British attempts to extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy for questioning in relation to the murder have so far been frustrated. During a meeting last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Prime Minister David Cameron that Mr Lugovoy, now a MP, would never be sent to the UK.

Yesterday St Pancras coroner Dr Andrew Reid said he would be writing to MI5, MI6 and the police to request that they prepare for further investigations.

"This was a very important day for me," Marina Litvinenko said after the hearing. "I have been waiting for this almost five years since my husband died. Today I actually received a very important decision. The coroner has said there will be a wide-ranging inquest into my husband's death. It will, therefore, include an investigation into the Russian state's involvement in his murder, which is exactly what I want."

In an extraordinary turn of events yesterday, barristers for Ms Litvinenko and Mr Lugovoy agreed during a pre-inquest hearing that the inquiry should have a broad scope and involve a senior judge and jury while representatives for the British Government argued that such a wide remit was unnecessary.

"Did Russia murder Mr Litvinenko is a question that this inquest has got to be in a position to answer," the widow's barrister, Ben Emmerson QC, said. "Did MI5 and MI6 have information in their possession but fail to save him and, therefore, fail in their responsibility is also a question this inquest has got to answer. Finally, it must dispel insulting alternative suggestions – such as suicide or British intelligence murder that are being raised by Mr Lugovoy as a smokescreen to hide his guilt."

The Russian MP has publicly accused the British authorities of being complicit in the killing.

Jessica Simor, representing Mr Lugovoy, said her client was also calling for a full inquiry, though she said the inquest should not presume it was an unlawful killing and consider possible verdicts of suicide or death by misadventure.

"He wishes to fully co-operate with this inquest, which he sees as an opportunity to clear his name," she said. "He refutes the allegations against him. He was not in any way involved in the death of Mr Litvinenko."

Mr Emmerson said that Ms Litvinenko did not believe that British intelligence services were involved in her husband's death, but there should be an investigation into whether they failed to protect him as well as the wider public-health implications of radioactive material on the streets of Britain.

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