British and Russian spies could be compelled to give evidence at the inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, it emerged on Friday, after lawyers for the spy’s family called for the security services of both countries to be made “interested parties” to the inquiry.
Maya Sikand, representing Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, and his son Anatoly, told a preliminary hearing in London that the coroner Sir Robert Owen should consider giving “properly interested person” status to MI6 for the inquest, as well as to the Federal Security Service or, more generally, the Russian state.
Litvinenko, a dissident and former Russian intelligence officer, died in London in November 2006 after ingesting polonium-210, a rare radioactive isotope. Six years after Litvinenko’s death, Owen has promised there will be “no further delay” in holding the inquest, expected early next year.
As he lay dying at University College hospital, 43-year-old Litvinenko accused the Kremlin of orchestrating his demise. The UK authorities have accused former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun of murdering him during a meeting at London’s Millennium hotel. Both have denied involvement and claim they are victims themselves.
At Friday’s hearing, Hugh Davies, counsel to the inquest, said its scope could theoretically extend to an examination of “the possible culpability of the British state”, as well as that of the Russian state, “either (i) in itself carrying out (by its servants or agents) the poisoning; or (ii) in failing to take reasonable steps to protect Mr Litvinenko from a real and immediate risk to his life”.
A further preliminary hearing is to be held in December to pin down the breadth of the inquest. Davies, who acknowledged there were “a number of competing, and intrinsically controversial, theories” about Litvinenko’s death, said it could also examine potential involvement of other parties, including Russian oligarchs, Chechen-related groups and the Spanish mafia.
In the face of Marina Litvinenko’s calls for the Russian state to become an “interested person”, Davies said that the relevant authorities had been invited to apply for the status in January. “Interested persons” play an active role in an inquest and can be called upon to give evidence.
It also emerged that a number of government departments and agencies have not yet complied with the inquest’s request for material concerning Litvinenko to be made available for inspection. Representing the Home Office, Neil Garnham QC said the departments included the Home Office, Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the intelligence and security agencies, and that the material would be made available before the December hearing. He also argued that the designation of MI6 as an interested party was not necessary.
Speaking after the hearing, Litvinenko’s widow said she hoped the inquest would end speculation that he died after a fatal accident or suicide, both of which could be explored by the inquest.
“I believe it is important, not just for me and my family and my friends, it’s important for the two countries,” she said. “It’s important for Russia and England because this relationship is quite difficult and I think everybody needs to know what happened to Sacha [Litvinenko]. I would just like to know the truth because I want to stop all speculation. The most difficult thing to me was listening about an accident and suicide, and I want to stop it.”