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Litvinenko inquest: Files to be examined in private

12:31 27 February 2013

Poisoned former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in hospital before his death in 2006

Poisoned former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in hospital before his death in 2006

Archant

Sensitive evidence alleged to expose poisoned Muswell Hill spy Alexander Litvinenko’s ties to MI6 will be examined in secret, a coroner ruled on Wednesday.

His widow Marina has spoken of her disappointment the files - which lawyers believe may contain the key to Mr Litvinkenko’s assassination in London in November 2006 - was still being shrouded in secrecy amid claims the government planned to “suppress” evidence to protect relations with Russia.

But Foreign Secretary William Hague argued the disclosure of certain files relating to the case could pose a risk to national security.

Coroner Sir Robert Owen today told a pre-inquest review, at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, he would consider a selection of that evidence in private, giving Mr Hague’s application the “most stringent and critical examination”.

He assured interested parties he would carry out a “full, fearless and open investigation into the circumstances of Mr Litvinenko’s death”.

Mr Litvinenko, 43, was poisoned with polonium-210 while drinking tea at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square. His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.

Speaking after his ruling, Mrs Litvinenko said: “It isn’t an ideal decision for us but it could have been worse.”

She added: “I have to trust the coroner, I must trust him, I have no option. I believe he will do exactly what he says.”

The inquest was due to formally open on May 1, with former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun have been accused of his murder.

Prosecutors named Lugovoy as the main suspect in the case but Russia has refused to extradite him to the UK for questioning. Both men deny involvement.

The hearing was adjourned today ahead of a directions hearing on March 14.

The coroner gave no indication on when he would conduct the private hearing but told the pre-inquest review that he could reconvene proceedings relating to the files in public if he deemed it possible to do so.

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