Former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko: William Hague wins secrecy fight over inquest

High Court judges counter coroner's call to reveal details of protected documents

Foreign Secretary William Hague today won a ruling to keep documents relating to the death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko out of the public domain ahead of a proposed inquest.

Sir Robert Owen, the coroner presiding over the inquest into Mr Litvinenko's murder, ruled earlier this year that a cache of Government papers concerning matters of relating to the death could not be withheld on grounds of national security.

But the High Court yesterday overturned Sir Robert's ruling that the documents should not be the subject of a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate and said the coroner had failed to give sufficient weighting to the decision by the Foreign Office to keep the information secret.

The inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death by poisoning with radioactive polonium in a London hotel in November 2006 is the subject of an ongoing wrangle over whether it will be able to fully consider any role played by the Russian state in the killing.

The Government earlier this year ruled out a full public inquiry into the death after Sir Robert ruled that his inquest had been granted insufficient access to information to explore the full circumstances of Mr Litvinenko's poisoning. Ministers said the inquest could still provide a satisfactory inquiry.

Sir Robert has subsequently argued that the secret material held by the Foreign Office is necessary for a "fair and meaningful" inquest.

But lawyers acting on behalf of Mr Hague used judicial review proceedings to argue that the documents are "sensitive to the highest degree" and public disclosure would damage the national interest.

Lord Justice Goldring, sitting with two other judges, yesterday sided with the Foreign Office and declared the material must remain secret.

Quashing the coroner's decision to reveal it, the judge said: "I am driven to the conclusion that the weight the coroner gave to the views of the Secretary of State was insufficient and amounted to an error of law."

The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Treacy and Mr Justice Mitting, said the issues raised by the case "concerned the risk of significant damage to national security" and added: "Nothing we have decided reduces the importance of open justice."

The coroner is considering whether to appeal.

Mr Litvinenko, 43, a Russian dissident and former KGB agent, was poisoned polonium-210 while drinking tea during a meeting with former Russian security service colleagues at the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square, London. He died three weeks later.

Mr Litvinenko's widow Marina and his son Anatoly have alleged that he was killed by the Russian state and was also an agent with Britain's MI6 at the time of his death. Russia has denied any involvement in the killing.

Mrs Litvinenko said through her lawyers that she was "disappointed but not surprised" by today's ruling and she was "gathering her strength" for what might be her last attempt "to see the truth emerge about the Russian state's responsibility" for her husband's death.

This will take the form of another application for judicial review - this time brought by her, challenging the Government's refusal to grant the coroner powers "to take account of secret closed material and convert the inquest into a public inquiry".

Ben Emmerson QC, for Mrs Litvinenko, told the judges that every stage of the legal process so far had left her "with increasing concern that the truth of the position about the Russian state's responsibility may not in due course be established by these proceedings".

The widow took "considerable comfort" from the fact that the closed material had been considered "by three senior judges wholly independent of the Government" who had put their conclusions in an open judgment for all to see.

A spokesman for the coroner said Sir Robert would now "reflect carefully" on the court's PII decision.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape