Court: U.K. Must Revisit Idea of Public Probe Into Litvinenko Death

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Feb. 11, 2014, 9:25 a.m.

A key U.K. ju­di­cial body has ruled that Bri­tain must re­con­sider hold­ing a pub­lic in­quiry in­to the po­loni­um pois­on­ing death of Rus­si­an dis­sid­ent Al­ex­an­der Litv­inen­ko.

A Tues­day rul­ing by the High Court of Justice in Lon­don re­quires Brit­ish Home Sec­ret­ary Theresa May to re-ex­am­ine her jus­ti­fic­a­tion for pre­vent­ing an open in­vest­ig­a­tion of the 2006 in­cid­ent, Re­u­ters re­ports. The former KGB of­ficer died after drink­ing tea tain­ted with ra­dio­act­ive po­loni­um 210.

May last year blocked a re­quest for such a pub­lic probe from Robert Owen, a cor­on­er who led a closed-door look at cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the death.

“If she is to main­tain her re­fus­al [to hold an open in­quiry], she will need bet­ter reas­ons than those giv­en in the de­cision let­ter,” Lord Justice Steph­en Richards said in a state­ment for a three-judge pan­el. The group un­an­im­ously backed the find­ing, though it is­sued no dir­ect de­mand for a pub­lic probe.

“The case for set­ting up an im­me­di­ate stat­utory in­quiry as re­ques­ted by the cor­on­er is plainly a strong one,” the three judges ad­ded.

An open in­vest­ig­a­tion could im­plic­ate Rus­sia in the death, cre­at­ing po­ten­tial for polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic fal­lout from any find­ings, ac­cord­ing to Re­u­ters. Mo­scow main­tains it was not in­volved.

Last year, May said polit­ic­al con­sid­er­a­tions had played a role in her de­cision not to go for­ward with an open in­vest­ig­a­tion. She ad­ded, though, that those factors were not de­cis­ive.

The High Court of Justice said there are “strong reas­ons of pub­lic in­terest” for the United King­dom to ex­am­ine al­leg­a­tions of Rus­si­an col­lu­sion in the death.

The Brit­ish Home Of­fice in­dic­ated it is re­view­ing the court’s find­ing.

Mar­ina Litv­inen­ko, the KGB vet­er­an’s wid­ow who ini­ti­ated the push for an open probe, said she was happy to learn about Tues­day’s de­cision.

“This was the murder of a Brit­ish cit­izen on the streets of Lon­don us­ing ra­dio­act­ive pois­on. You would have thought that the gov­ern­ment would want to get to the bot­tom of who was be­hind it,” she said.

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