20 Sep 2012

Alexander Litvinenko inquest set for ‘early 2013’

As a hearing sets a date for an inquest into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, his widow’s lawyer tells Channel 4 News she hopes the truth about his death will emerge.

Former spy Alexander Litvinenko (Getty)

Since the mysterious death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, his widow Marina has been campaigning for a full inquest into his death, after the original one was immediately adjourned pending the results of a police investigation.

His death from suspected radiation poisoning led to a chilling of British and Russian relations. With the pre-inquest hearing, Mrs Litvinenko will be a step closer to the inquest she hopes will reveal the truth about his death.

In November 2011, her campaign paid off when the coroner ordered a full inquest into where, when and how Mr Litvinenko died.

Marina Litvinenko has always maintained that her husband was poisoned with a radioactive substance, polonium 210, and that the Russian state is behind his death.

Marina’s position is she wants to get to the truth. Lawyer Louise Christian

He became ill on 1 November 2006 after meeting two Russian businessmen at a London hotel, and died three weeks later in hospital.

The two businessmen, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmintri Kovtun, have attracted the interests of the Crown Prosecution Service after the police traced the trail of radioactive polonium 210 back to them.

Both have been given “interested person status” so they have access to any documents handed over as part of the inquest.

Secret service’s role

Ms Litvinenko’s legal representative, the human rights lawyer Louise Christian, told Channel 4 News that she expects the hearing to be brief, possibly only a couple of hours.

At the very least, she says it will set out the timetable, but she added that there may be other things to watch out for. She said the fact that the British government will be represented by Neil Garnham QC suggests that the role of the UK’s secret service may be investigated.

Another thing that the hearing could reveal is whether both suspects will have legal representation in court. Andrey Lugovoi, who is now an MP in Russia, will be represented by a British lawyer but it is unclear whether Mr Kovtun will.

Neither the Russian nor British governments have been given interested person status by the coroner. Ms Christian told Channel 4 News that could change. Ms Christian said that the scope of the Litvinenko inquest is wide and it will cover not just the immediate death but also what lay behind it.

The inquest will also include those allegations made by Mr Lugovoi who denies the accusations against him and Mr Kovtun.

Mr Justice Robert Owen is sitting as coroner in the inquest, after the St Pancras coroner Dr Andrew Reid was suspended for hiring his wife to preside over other inquests, despite the fact she did not have the necessary qualifications.

The process of appointing Mr Reid’s replacement, and a row over who should pay for the inquest, have combined to delay the hearings. The inquest is not a criminal trial and will not directly result in any guilty verdicts, although a criminal prosecution may take place at a later date.

Ms Christian said it is unlikely that the inquest will answer all the questions but she says her client is happy with the scope of the inquest: “Marina’s position is she wants to get to the truth,” she insisted.