The Royal Courts of Justice will hear a pre-inquest review hearing dealing with the death of Alexander Litvinenko later today. The session is being held so as to prepare for an inquest, in the event that there is no public inquiry into the Russian spy's death.
The coroner in the inquest into the death of poisoned Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko has refused applications for three police witnesses to remain anonymous.
Sir Robert Owen declined the request by the Metropolitan Police for witnesses known only as D1, D2 and C1 to be known only by ciphers during any inquest.
Even though the application has been turned down, their identities will only be publicly revealed if their evidence is discussed in court, or if they are called to give evidence in person. The reasons for the refusal have not been published.
Sir Robert allowed an application from the Atomic Weapons Establishment for a fourth witness, known as A3, to remain anonymous.
Scotland Yard had applied for the officers to be referred to only by ciphers and a reporting ban on any identifying personal information.
This was on the grounds that they would fear for their own safety, their privacy would be breached and being called to give evidence without anonymity would discourage others from assisting in future investigations.
The force had also applied for the witnesses to give evidence from behind screens that would shield them from the view of media and members of the public, and this will be considered at a later date.
The ruling was published days after the Government rejected calls to hold a public inquiry into Mr Litvinenko's death rather than an inquest.
Alexander Litvinenko died of radioactive poisoning in 2006.
The Coroner's inquest into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko can investigate the circumstances surrounding his death, the Foreign Office said today after the Government declined a request to hold a public inquiry.
A Foreign Office spokesman said:
We believe that the Coroner’s inquest can continue to investigate the circumstance of Mr. Litvinenko’s death and we will continue to co-operate fully with it.
The widow of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko has said "it will be a long way to get justice" today, after the Government declined a request to hold a public inquiry into his death.
A public inquiry will not be held into the death of poisoned Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, Coroner Sir Robert Owen said today.
Ben Emmerson QC - Marina Litvinko's lawyer has severely criticised the government's decision. He will seek judicial review.
He calls it "a repeated catalogue of broken promises[...] disastrous catalogue of indecision at the heart of government. [The government] has been paralysed by indecision".
Mr Emmerson says his widow and her son have been treated with "utter contempt" and in "the ultimate shabby way". He called it a "catalogue of disrespect".
The Government has declined a request to a public inquiry into the death of poisoned Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. The decision was only made this morning.
Coroner Sir Robert Owen says "an inquiry is necessary into Mr Litvinenko's death if is to be properly investigated".
Sir Robert Owen says he does not believe a proper investigation can be conducted and that it is of critical importance. He says he has not received a full and reasoned response from government and that it is regretted that the decision was not made until this morning.
The Foreign Secretary's lawyer apologises the decision has taken so long and Mr Hague will write to the Coroner with a full explanation about why this decision was reached.
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."
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.
"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."
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.