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British coroner appoints new hearing in Litvinenko case for March 25

February 17, 2014, 20:51 UTC+3 LONDON
The Home Office is studying the Divisional Court’s judgment, which required it to review its own position on the format of the inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko
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The wife of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, Marina Litvinenko, leaves the High Court in London, Britain

The wife of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, Marina Litvinenko, leaves the High Court in London, Britain


LONDON, February 17. /ITAR-TASS/. Assistant Coroner for the Inner North London District of Greater London, Robert Owen, who is conducting the inquest into the death of former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Alexander Litvinenko poisoned in London in 2006, will hold a pre-inquest review hearing on March 25, 2014.

“The purpose of the 25 March hearing is to enable Sir Robert to discuss next steps with Interested Persons following the Divisional Court’s 11 February judgment and related developments. Until the Home Secretary’s decision is known in relation to the Divisional Court’s judgment, Sir Robert continues to work towards an Inquest hearing,” the operational note posted on the inquest’s official website said on Monday, February 17.

The Home Office is studying the Divisional Court’s judgment, which required it to review its own position on the format of the inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Home Secretary Theresa May said last summer that the government should wait until the end of the inquest before making a decision on whether to hold a public investigation or not. In the early autumn of 2013, Litvinenko’s widow filed a supervisory complaint against this decision and it was granted in February of this year.

Owen said earlier that Russia’s responsibility for his death would not be included in the scope of the inquest. He also ruled that the responsibility of the British State for Litvinenko’s death would not be included in the scope of the inquest either.

The assistant coroner said he could not consider these two aspects as he was unable to hear the evidence of Litvinenko’s cooperation with British security services, following the court ruling upholding British government’s request that such evidence should remain classified.

Speaking of whether the British State could have prevented Litvinenko’s death, Owen said, “This is an issue of the highest importance, involving as it does the possible culpability of the British State for the death of Alexander Litvinenko.”


“Russian State responsibility should be withdrawn from the scope of the inquest”

On the “Russian trail,” the judge said that “neither the interests of the IPs (interested persons) nor the public interest will be served by an investigation of this issue on an incomplete and potentially misleading basis.”

Owen said he had come “to the conclusion that Russian State responsibility should also be withdrawn from the scope of the inquest.”

In November 2013, London’s High Court ruled against disclosing some of the materials in the Litvinenko as had been requested by Owen. The High Court issued its ruling after Foreign Secretary William Hague’s appeal against Owen’s request, in which the former insisted that classified materials remain undisclosed.

On February 7, 2013, Hague, who oversees the British security services, sent a note to Owen, stating that disclosing secret information in the Litvinenko inquest would be unacceptable and detrimental to British interests.

Having studied the note, Owen on May 17 supported it in part, but said that the other materials should be made public for the sake of fair and complete inquest.

However, the government opposed Owen’s position and succeeded in getting it overruled by the High Court, saying that the documents the assistant coroner had sought to make public were highly sensitive and their disclosure could impair national security.

Initially, the inquest proper was supposed to begin on May 1, but then was postponed by presiding Judge Robert Owen for almost six months because of a delay in various procedures, including the submission of certificates by the holders of the “interested party” status.


The trial

The first preliminary hearing regarding anonymity applications took place on March 14. It was stated during the hearing that some witnesses would like to testify in court on condition of anonymity. Some of them have yet to be determined and no decisions on the matter have made so far.

Interested parties to the process include Maria Litvinenko and her son Anatoly, entrepreneur Boris Berezovsky (the court intends to look into his possible role in Litvinenko’s death), Russian MP Andrei Lugovoi (who the British authorities claim to be a suspect in the case and who flatly denies any such charges), Metropolitan police, and the British Foreign Office.

The coroner’s court has also published a provisional list of questions to be examined during the pre-inquest hearings. These include different aspects and circumstances of Litvinenko’s life in Russia and then in Britain, post mortem and toxicology evidence, and responsibility for his death.

The inquest said earlier it might look into the involvement of Litvinenko’s late friend Boris Berezovsky and groups connected with Chechens and the Spanish Mafia. The court may also consider different leads as Litvinenko’s suicide and the infliction of death by negligence.

The lawyer of Litvinenko’s wife Marina said earlier that her defendant did not like assumptions that her husband might have committed suicide or died as a result of some accident. Marina believes these leads have no foundation but she is prepared for a situation where they will be considered in court.

It’s a coroner's duty to find out if the death of a person has constituent elements of offence. After that, the coroner decided whether the case should be submitted for judicial inquiry.


Litvinenko’s death

Litvinenko died of polonium 210 poisoning at a London hospital in November 2006.

British investigators consider Russian MP Andrei Lugovoi to be the main suspect in the case, but he flatly denies all charges.

Lugovoi is incriminated in Litvinenko's death in Britain.

The British authorities claim that Lugovoi is responsible for Litvinenko’s death.

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