THE murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko was an “act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of London”, a coroner has heard.
Mr Litvinenko, 43, fell ill shortly after drinking tea during a meeting at a West End hotel with former KGB contacts and died in hospital on 23 November, 2006, having been apparently poisoned with the radioactive substance polonium 210.
British prosecutors have named fellow ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy as the main suspect in his murder, but the Russian authorities have repeatedly refused to send him to face trial in the UK.
Coroner Dr Andrew Reid is holding a pre-inquest review where he will decide whether he or a leading judge should hear the inquest into the death.
Mr Lugovoy – now a Russian MP – suggested through his lawyer yesterday that Mr Litvinenko may have killed himself.
Ben Emmerson QC, acting on behalf of Mr Litvinenko’s family, denied the claim and pointed to recent comments by former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald QC, who said he had the “gravest suspicion” that the Russian state was involved in planning the murder.
He said the poisoning of Mr Litvinenko was a case of “nuclear terrorism on the streets of London”.
Appealing for a wide-ranging inquest to be carried out, Mr Emmerson said Mrs Litvinenko and her family “would not rest” until they had achieved this.
Neil Garnham QC, for the government, argued in favour of a narrower remit for the inquest. He told the coroner: “There is simply nothing before you to suggest that the bringing of polonium-210 into this country or its use on Mr Litvinenko was something that any public authority here might have prevented.”
Speaking outside court after the hearing, Mrs Litvinenko said: “I was waiting for this almost five years since my husband died. Today I actually received a very important decision.
“The coroner has said there will be a wide inquest into my husband’s death. It will therefore include an investigation into the involvement of the Russian state in his murder, which is exactly what I want.”