Guardian: Litvinenko widow accuses William Hague of sabotaging inquest
- Alexander Litvinenko widow accuses William Hague of sabotaging inquest
Marina Litvinenko speaks out after coroner agrees to exclude material suggesting Russian agencies were involved in killing
guardian.co.uk, Friday 17 May 2013 23.07 BST
The widow of Alexander Litvinenko has launched a blistering attack on William Hague and David Cameron, accusing them of sabotaging the inquest into her husband's murder and hiding the Russian state's role in his death.
Marina Litvinenko said she was "utterly dismayed" after a coroner on Friday upheld an application by Hague to keep crucial evidence from the inquest secret.
Sir Robert Owen reluctantly agreed to exclude material which suggested Russia's state agencies were behind Litvinenko's cold-war style killing.
Owen also agreed to suppress documents that examined whether UK officials could have done more to prevent his murder.
A furious Mrs Litvinenko said on Friday: "The effect of today's ruling is to protect those responsible for the murder of a British citizen on the streets of London, and to allow the Russian government to shield behind a claim for secrecy made by William Hague with the backing of prime minister David Cameron."
She said there had been "increasing signs over the past year" that the government was moving to strike what she called "a secret political deal with the Kremlin".
She cited increasingly warm recent meetings between Hague and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and Cameron's talks on Syria last week with Vladimir Putin in the Russian beach resort of Sochi.
Afterwards the two leaders announced that Russia and the UK were resuming intelligence co-operation.
The former Labour government severed all contacts with Russia's FSB spy agency in 2007 after concluding it had played a leading role in Litvinenko's assassination. Putin is the agency's former chief.
Mrs Litvinenko added: "This is a very sad day, a tragedy for British justice which has until now been respected around the world, and a frightening precedent for all of those who have been trying so hard to expose the crimes committed by a conspiracy of organised criminals who operate inside the Kremlin."
In his [redacted] ruling (pdf)[http://litvinenkoinquest.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ruling-on-PII-Application-17.5.13-50095014_1.pdf%5d, Owen said the inquest scheduled to take place later this year might now result in an "incomplete, misleading and unfair" verdict.
The coroner said he would consider inviting Theresa May, the home secretary, to hold a public inquiry instead. The inquiry could hear the sensitive evidence buried by Hague in secret sessions.
On Friday Mrs Litvinenko said that since the inquest had effectively abandoned its search for the truth, she had therefore written to the coroner asking him to initiate a public inquiry within five days.
The inquiry could begin on 2 October 2 the date originally set for the inquest. Owen, who is a judge, could preside over it.
Litvinenko died in November 2006 after two former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun allegedly slipped radioactive polonium into his tea at London's Millennium hotel. The Kremlin has refused to extradite the two spies, who have both vigorously denied Litvinenko's murder.
Mrs Litvinenko's lawyer, Ben Emmerson QC, had previously accused Hague of attempting to stage a cover-up and of placing Britain's trade interests with Moscow ahead of justice.
Both Hague and Cameron were shamelessly "dancing to the Russian tarantella", he told a pre-inquest hearing.
Litvinenko's close friend Alex Goldfarb said it was now apparent that Hague was indeed hiding evidence in the case in order to appease the Kremlin.
"It's obvious: the government are trying to protect their relations with Putin. They have their reasons.
"They want Russian co-operation and investment. But in this case it's being done at the expense of justice."
Goldfarb said it was practically meaningless to soldier on with an inquest if it could no longer examine the role of Russia's spy agencies, nor damning evidence indicating that the polonium used in the murder plot came from Russia.
He added: "They [Hague and Cameron] appear more concerned about chemical weapons in Syria than polonium spread around the streets of London."
In his ruling, the coroner said the secret evidence held by the British government "does establish a prima facie case as to the culpability of the Russian state in Mr Litvinenko's death".
This evidence will now not be revealed. Owen made clear his unhappiness with this situation and admitted it made it difficult for him to carry out the "full, frank and fearless investigation" he originally promised.
Litvinenko's widow and other interested parties now have 14 days to challenge the coroner's decision. But they have little chance of success not least because they have been kept in the dark as to what the secret evidence includes.
Hague's lawyers have shown "samples" of the controversial material in closed-door hearings held over several days.
National newspapers and the BBC had joined forces to oppose Hague's secrecy application and on Friday expressed their dismay at the ruling.
Jan Clements, a lawyer acting for the Guardian and other media groups, said: "It would mark a low point in open justice if evidence concerning the responsibility for and preventability of the killing of Litvinenko were only heard in a secret hearing."
Hague applied for a public interest immunity certificate (PII) on 7 February. He argued that if sensitive evidence were revealed it might damage the UK's "national security and/or international relations".
Critics complained this wording was excessively vague. The coroner did eventually reject a part of Hague's PII claim, but the subject was redacted and is shrouded in mystery.