UK and Russia ‘conspire’ to shut down inquest

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Britain and Russia are conspiring to shut down the inquest into the death of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko to preserve crucial trade interests, a lawyer for his widow suggested yesterday.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has moved to exclude sensitive details relating to the former KGB agent’s ties to MI6 from the inquiry on the grounds they could pose a “risk of serious harm to the public”, a pre-inquest review was told.

But Ben Emmerson QC, representing Mrs Marina Litvinenko, said such claims should be treated with the “greatest degree of scepticism” and suggested attempts to withhold evidence pointed to a conspiracy at the highest levels of government.

The inquest was due to formally open on 1 May, more than six years after Mr Litvinenko, 43, was poisoned with polonium-210 while drinking tea, allegedly at a meeting with two Russians – former KGB contacts Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun – at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square.

Prosecutors named Mr Lugovoy as the main suspect in the case following Mr Litvinenko’s high-profile death in November 2006.

Mrs Litvinenko yesterday expressed dismay as it emerged her late husband’s inquest was likely to be further delayed, amid concerns it could be shelved.

Mr Emmerson told the pre-inquest review at London’s Royal Courts of Justice: “The British government, like the Russian government, is conspiring to get this inquest closed down in exchange for substantial trade interests which we know Mr Cameron is pursuing.”