Russian spy report 'to be secret'
Thursday, 20 September 2012 12:57

The death of Mr Litvinenko led to a major diplomatic incident

A police report into the death of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko will be redacted to omit a section about his alleged links to British intelligence.

Mr Litvinenko, 43, is thought to have been poisoned with polonium-210 after having tea with two Russians at a central London hotel in November 2006.

Sir Robert Owen apologised for the delay in holding the inquest and said it would take place in early 2013.

The prime suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, has been elected as a Russian MP.

Ben Emmerson QC, counsel for Mr Litvinenko's widow Marina, said they believed Russia was responsible.

He added: "If that hypothesis were to be evidentially substantiated, this would be an act of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism on the streets of London."

The death of Mr Litvinenko, a former Russian security officer who had obtained asylum in Britain, led to a major diplomatic incident in 2006 as the Kremlin was accused of masterminding his murder.

A pre-inquest review hearing on Thursday was told "interested parties" would receive a summary of Scotland Yard's investigation report into Mr Litvinenko's death but certain intelligence reports would be redacted.

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An inquest into Alexander Litvinenko's death was opened just weeks after he died but then immediately adjourned while a police investigation got under way.

That investigation led to the Crown Prosecution Service announcing it wanted Andrei Lugovoi extradited to stand trial.

But nearly six years after Mr Litvinenko's death and with no sign of a trial, Mr Litvinenko's family and friends have lost patience and pushed to re-open the inquest to try to provide some answers.

A key question is how broadly the inquest will range.

If it tries to answer not just how he died but why, and look at issues of where the radioactive polonium might have come from, then it may well lead to renewed diplomatic tensions with Moscow.

Relations had only just recovered from the original investigation in the wake of which both sides had expelled diplomats.

The Metropolitan Police had been asked to look at any links between Mr Litvinenko and British intelligence.

That section will be redacted from the report given to interested parties but counsel to the inquest, Hugh Davies, said: "This redaction, of course, should not be taken as indicating one way or the other whether Mr Litvinenko did indeed have any such contact."

He said all competing theories would be examined, adding: "The court is committed to transparency."

Mr Davies, said some foreign witnesses could give evidence by video link.

Mr Lugovoi is represented as an interested person at the inquest but Dimitri Kovtun, another Russian former agent who was present at a crucial meeting with Mr Litvinenko on 1 November 2006, is not represented.

Others with interested person status include Home Secretary Theresa May, Mrs Litvinenko and her son Anatoli, and Russian tycoon Boris Berezvosky.

Mr Emmerson said Mrs Litvinenko "is keen that the significance of all the evidence, including that which is redacted, is in one way or another fairly and independently evaluated and that as much as is possible should be made public".

He said she wanted to know if it was "a targeted assassination of a British citizen committed by agents of a foreign state in the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom".

Sir Robert, a High Court judge who has been appointed as an assistant deputy coroner specifically for the inquest, said: "There will be no further delay. It is manifestly in the interests of the interested persons... that the inquest is brought to a conclusion with due expedition".

A website has been launched for the inquest, which contains details about the legal process and short biographies about the lawyers involved.

British prosecutors named Mr Lugovoi as the main suspect but he was later elected as a Russian MP and Moscow refused to send him to the UK for questioning. He has denied involvement.

Prime Minister David Cameron raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his recent visit to London.

Earlier this year the then Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, wrote to the then coroner asking for clarification about the estimated £4m inquest costs.

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