A ruling that smacks of contempt

Alexander Litvinenko's widow would be forgiven for concluding that, on the moral plane at least, there is nothing to separate the secret services of Russia and Britain

Share

It is one of the key tropes of John Le Carré’s novels that the secret services of Russia and its Western adversaries, while bitter enemies, also mirror each other. They watch each other closely. They work doggedly to counter the other’s every cunning move. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, when British spymaster George Smiley and his KGB counterpart Karla finally meet in India, it seems as if they already know each other intimately.

And today Marina Litvinenko, the widow of the murdered former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, would be forgiven for concluding that there is nothing between them on the moral plane either, for all Britain’s claims to the contrary.

Mr Litvinenko, a British citizen, was murdered with radioactive polonium-210 in 2006 after taking tea at a hotel in central London with two Russians, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. Suspicion quickly fell on the Kremlin. Russia refused requests to extradite Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun to face trial. Mrs Litvinenko’s hopes to discover just how and why her husband died then switched to the coroner’s inquest which, nearly seven years after his death, is now under way. But Sir Robert Owen, the coroner, agreed not to investigate whether the Russian state was involved because it could damage national security.

Sir Robert then requested a public inquiry into the death, which would be able to hear sensitive evidence in private. A senior judge, Lord Justice Goldring, endorsed the request. But yesterday, the Government turned it down flat.

Mrs Litvinenko, who believes that her husband was secretly working for MI6 when he was killed, has been frustrated at every turn in her efforts to learn the truth about her husband’s hideous end. It is debatable whether a public inquiry in which the key evidence was heard in secret would have addressed the problem, but its refusal shows, as the Litvinenko family said yesterday, utter contempt for its suffering.

Britain is the injured party in this affair: if relations between the UK and Russia are to be improved, it is up to President Vladimir Putin to take the initiative. Refusing Mrs Litvinenko’s legitimate demands for clarity can only worsen the public’s cynical view of politicians and their priorities.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
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
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'