Family challenge secret evidence in Litvinenko inquest

Mr Litvinenko died in London in November 2006. It is alleged that he was poisoned with a lethal dose of a highly radioactive material known as Polonium 210. A police investigation was conducted into Mr Litvinenko's death, and in 2007 the then Director of Public Prosecutions, announced that there was sufficient evidence to charge to charge Andrei Lugovoy, a former member of the FSB, with Mr Litvinenko's murder. However the Russian state has refused to extradite Mr Lugovoy to the UK for trial. Dmitry Kovtun is also implicated in Mr Litvinenko's death. It is alleged that he and Mr Lugovoy slipped the Polonium into Mr Litvinenko's tea during a meeting at the Pine Bar of London's Millennium Hotel.


A High Court judge, Sir Robert Owen, has been appointed to conduct the inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death, which is due to start on 1 May 2013.


In late 2012, a pre-inquest review heard that Mr Litvinenko was working alongside Spanish spies for MI6 in the days before his death. The British government has refused to confirm or deny whether he was working for MI6.


The government has provided the Coroner with a substantial amount of material which it is said is relevant to the issues in the inquest. Counsel to the inquest has confirmed that this material raises a prima facie case that the Russian state was behind Mr Litvinenko's death. , However none of this material is currently being disclosed to the Litvinenko family or any of the other interested persons in the inquest. The Foreign Secretary has invited the Coroner to uphold a claim of public interest immunity in relation to all the material. If such a claim is upheld, it would mean that the Coroner could not disclose the material, and could not consider it in determining the cause of Mr Litvinenko's death.


At a hearing on 26 February 2013, Ben Emmerson QC, Henrietta Hill and Adam Straw, representing Mr Litvinenko's family, argued that the Foreign Secretary's public interest immunity certificate had been too widely drawn, and that if there is to be a closed hearing to consider the material special counsel should be appointed to represent the family's interests. They argued that the Coroner should make sure he is not steamrollered into protecting British and Russian state interests at the expense of uncovering the truth. Mr Emmerson said that attempts to withhold evidence pointed towards a conspiracy at the highest levels of government. "The British government, like the Russian government, is conspiring to get this inquest closed down in exchange for substantial trade interests which we know [Prime Minister David] Cameron is pursuing".


On 27 February 2013 the Coroner ruled that he would press on to consider the secret files, but would be mindful of his obligations to carry out a full and fearless investigation into Mr Litvinenko's death. For more details please click here

For media coverage of the case see The Guardian; The Guardian; BBC; Financial Times

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