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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Product Support Specialists

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in the design...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant - Part Time

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Following a sustained growth, t...

Recruitment Genius: IT Network Technician

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run IT service busi...

Recruitment Genius: Network Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run IT service busi...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works