THE post-mortem examination of poisoned spy Alexander Litvinenko was “one of the most dangerous ever undertaken in the western world”, the public inquiry into his death has heard.
Dr Nathaniel Cary, a Home Office forensic pathologist, said Mr Litvinenko’s radioactive body was “very hazardous” and was transferred to a secure site.
During the post-mortem examination, Dr Cary and his colleagues wore two safety suits, protective gloves taped at the sleeves and specialised hoods, into which air was piped through a filter.
Mr Litvinenko, 43, a former Russian spy who is thought to have been working for the British secret service MI6 during his time in the UK, died at University College Hospital nearly three weeks after he had consumed tea laced with polonium-210 at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square.
Dr Cary told the inquiry: “It has been described as the most dangerous post-mortem examination ever undertaken in the western world and I think that is probably right.”
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Mr Litvinenko, who lost all his hair before his death, showed signs of multi-organ failure as a result of acute radiation poisoning, Dr Cary told the inquiry. His cause of death was recorded as acute radiation syndrome.
Dr Cary went on: “It appears Mr Litvinenko ingested a large quantity of polonium-210 on or around 1 November, 2006, largely if not wholly by oral ingestion, rather than by inhalation. The calculated amount absorbed was in far excess of known survivability limits,” he added.
Asked if there was anything in Mr Litvinenko’s clinical history inconsistent with acute radiation syndrome, Dr Cary said: “No. In effect, the polonium-210 detected is the smoking gun in the case.”
Another pathologist, Dr Ben Swift, said inflammation in Mr Litvinenko’s throat and wind pipe suggested he had swallowed the polonium-210.
An anonymous scientist, who gave evidence from behind a screen and was known only as A1, told the inquiry there was nothing found in traces on the so-called polonium trail in the Litvinenko case that would help identify its source – that is, a specific nuclear reactor.
The scientist, who worked for the Atomic Weapons Establishment for 30 years and is one of the country’s leading nuclear scientists, said there is a legitimate market for polonium-210 in industry for preventing static electricity.
Looking at contamination levels, the scientist said it was more than probable that the teapot from which he drank was the “primary source of contamination”.
A series of 3D renderings of the teapot showed high levels of polonium-210 in the spout.
Two men – former KGB bodyguard turned politician Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun – were named as the main suspects in 2007. Both deny any involvement and remain in Russia.
Detective Inspector Craig Mascall, who works for Scotland Yard’s counter-terror command, has been working on the probe into Mr Litvinenko’s poisoning since two days before his death on 23 November, 2006.
Mr Mascall told the inquiry: “It’s still an on going criminal investigation. There are still two people wanted for the murder of Mr Litvinenko and that’s Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun.”
Ben Emmerson QC, who represents Mr Litvinenko’s widow Marina, told the inquiry that Mr Lugovoi gave a television interview in response to the opening day of proceedings.
In the interview, Mr Lugovoi claims the proceedings were resurrected, after being suspended due to the exclusion of secret material, in response to the Ukrainian conflict.
Reading a translation of Lugovoi’s interview, Mr Emmerson said: “When the situation in Ukraine kicked off and the UK geographical interest… they had decided to dust off the mothballs and commence proceedings.” Mr Lugovoi said he “couldn’t care less about what’s happening” in Britain in response to the start of the inquiry, Mr Emmerson said.