Secrecy battle forces new delay in Alexander Litvinenko case

 

Procrastination, attempts to keep evidence secret and shield the identity of witnesses has led to yet another long delay before the inquiry into Alexander Litvinenko's death can start.

More than six years after the former KGB agent was poisoned to death, a pre-inquest hearing was told that it would be postponed from May until October this year.

Addressing his widow Marina, who has patiently endured each delay without complaint, Sir Robert Owen, assistant deputy coroner, said: “I am acutely conscious that it will come as a great disappointed to you for this matter to be deferred for a further five months. I hope you will understand it is motivated solely by my determination to carry out the fullest investigation into the circumstances of your husband's death.”

After the hearing, Mrs Litvinenko said she was unsurprised, adding: “I still believe in British justice.”

The hearing was told by counsel to the inquest, Robin Tam QC, that it would be unrealistic to start in two months as a host of evidence had yet to be disclosed.

He said it was a source of frustration that some Government departments, despite being asked for documents last January, only began searching ten months later. As a consequence that evidence, with further requests anticipated, would not be ready until the end of July.

Furthermore, the inquiry team has yet to receive all the documentation from the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, which only asked to take part in the proceedings at the last minute.

Matters are complicated further by the fact the Government has attempted to have an array of documents kept secret from the inquest under Public Interest Immunity (PII), claiming the details pose a “real risk of serious harm to the public interest”, a matter that is being considered in private by Sir Robert.

Furthermore both Scotland Yard and the Atomic Weapons Establishment have yet to finalise lists of witnesses to whom they wish to be granted anonymity.

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.

British 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 Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mrs Litvinenko, said there was clear evidence that her late husband was a MI6 agent and that Mr Lugovoy was acting under instruction from the Kremlin.

The hearing was told that Mr Lugovoy announced at a press conference on Monday that he was pulling out as an “interested party” to the inquest because he had no faith in its impartiality and could not defend himself against evidence heard in secret.

Sir Robert, pointing out that any evidence excluded under PII would be dismissed altogether and not considered in secret, said the Russian was “labouring under a misapprehension”.

He added: “It appears he does not understand the independence of the judiciary is a concept fundamental to the rule of law in the UK”

Outside court Mr Litvinenko's friend Alexander Goldfarb, added: “People should not forget Mr Lugovoy is not just a regular party to this inquest. He is the man who has been accused of murder. He has not only been accused of murder but he has refused to come here and face justice.”

He continued: “He has familiarised himself with the contents of the (Metropolitan) police file (though inquest disclosure). As an interested party he has actually seen the evidence against him so his decision to pull out might be seen in this context.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there