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UK Home Secretary announces public hearing on Litvinenko case

July 22, 2014, 17:58 UTC+3 LONDON/MOSCOW
The inquiry will be conducted by a specially appointed judge who will hear any person wishing to testify and provide any relevant information
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Home Secretary Theresa May (center)

Home Secretary Theresa May (center)


LONDON/MOSCOW, July 22. /ITAR-TASS/. After long consultations the British government on Tuesday agreed to hold public hearings on the death of former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned in London in 2006.

Home Secretary Theresa May said in a written message to the parliament that a public hearing on the Litvinenko case would be held.

The inquiry will be conducted by a specially appointed judge who will hear any person wishing to testify and provide any relevant information.

“Subsequent to today’s announcement that the Home Secretary is establishing an Inquiry … into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, Sir Robert Owen, in his capacity as Assistant Coroner for the Inner North London District of Greater London, will hold a hearing on Thursday, 31 July 2014 to formally suspend the current Inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Following which Sir Robert will open the Inquiry into Mr Litvinenko’s death,” the coroner said in an operational note on Tuesday.

The British government earlier opposed the idea of public hearings saying they might have an adverse impact on relations with Russia.

Secretary May said 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 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.

Owen said he had come “to the conclusion that Russian State responsibility should also be withdrawn from the scope of the inquest.”

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 the 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.”

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 then 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 oversaw 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, 2013 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.

Interested parties to the process include Maria Litvinenko and her son Anatoly, late entrepreneur Boris Berezovsky (the court intends to look into his possible role in Litvinenko’s death), Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) Deputy 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 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 such as Litvinenko’s suicide and the infliction of death by negligence.

However, the lawyer of Litvinenko’s wife Marina said that her defendant did not like the 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 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.

Luguvoi has declined to comment. “I will make no comment for the time being,” he told ITAR-TASS.

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