Litvinenko inquest to exclude evidence

A coroner has ruled that the UK inquest into the death of Russian former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 will exclude claims of involvement by the Russian state.

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Litvinenko's widow accuses coroner of abandoning 'search for truth'

The widow of poisoned spy Alexander Litvinenko tonight accused a coroner of abandoning "his search for the truth about Russian state responsibility for her husband's death".

Marina Litvinenko's criticism comes after Sir Robert Owen revealed he cannot hear in public evidence linked to the alleged involvement of the Russian government.

The ruling was published after the coroner accepted an application by the UK Foreign Office to keep certain information under wraps.

A statement from Mrs Litvinenko's solicitors described the decision as "a tragedy for British justice".

It added that it set a "frightening precedent" for all of those trying to "expose the crimes committed by conspiracy of organised criminals that operate from the Kremlin."

Government has prioritised political relationship with Russia over need for open inquest, says friend

Alexander Litvinenko's grave in Highgate Cemetary

Alexander Litvinenko was a Kremlin critic who left Russia in 2000. He died an excruciating death in hospital three weeks after drinking a cup of tea laced with the radioactive isotope polonium-2010 during a meeting with two men at the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square in 2006.

Alex Goldfarb, a friend of the Litvinenko family and his widow Marina, said the decision this afternoon was "deeply dismaying", and that it was "upsetting" that in his view British government had prioritised its political relationship with Russia over the need to hold an open inquest.

He said:

"It appears the British government is more concerned about the use of chemical weapons in Syria than radioactive weapons being used on the streets of London."

However Mr Goldfarb added: "On the other hand, it's an admission by the British government that the Russian state is culpable because otherwise they would not have requested immunity. That in itself is a partial victory for Marina. [Litvinenko's widow]"

His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.

The coroner's ruling was published today after he accepted an application by the UK Foreign Office to keep certain information under wraps.

Evidence cannot be heard in secret as part of an inquest, but could be as part of a public inquiry.

Sir Robert said: "It is my present view that I should hear submissions as to whether I should invite the Secretary of State (the Home Secretary) on behalf of Government to consider whether the power to hold an inquiry should be exercised in this case."

He said that the issues of preventability and Russian involvement are of "central importance" to the investigation into Mr Litvinenko's death.

Addressing the first issue, he said his duty to carry out "a full, fair and fearless investigation" would be hampered if it was not included.

He also said that excluding key evidence on the issue of Russian involvement would cause him "grave concern".

The coroner went on: "Were an inquiry to be held into the circumstances of Mr Litvinenko's death, the relevant material could be taken into account."


Government could hear secret evidence behind closed doors

In the judgement this afternoon, Sir Robert Owen also agreed not to include any evidence questioning whether the UK authorities could have prevented Litvinenko's death.

The coroner admitted the exclusion of this evidence could result in the inquest becoming "incomplete, misleading and unfair" and took the unusual step of inviting the government to hear the secret evidence in a separate secret inquiry behind closed doors.

The inquest is scheduled to begin on 2nd October.

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