British coroner to examine Litvinenko files in secret

27th February 2013, Comments 0 comments

The British judge investigating the death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko said Wednesday he would examine government evidence in secret to decide if it should be made public.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has argued that the disclosure of certain files at the forthcoming inquest would be damaging to national security.

But lawyers for Litvinenko's family, who claim he worked for British spy agency MI6, want the evidence to be made public as they believe it would point to Russia's involvement in his death by radioactive poisoning in London in 2006.

The lawyers argued at a hearing on Tuesday that Britain was trying to cover up evidence in order to protect crucial trade deals with Russia.

Giving his ruling on Wednesday, Coroner Robert Owen said he had decided to consider the government's application in a private hearing.

The High Court judge insisted he would carry out a "full, fearless and independent investigation" into the circumstances of Litvinenko's death, conducted with "the greatest possible degree of openness and transparency".

Speaking afterwards, Litvinenko's widow Marina said she was disappointed that the government files were still being kept secret but said: "I have to trust the coroner, I must trust him, I have no option."

The inquest, a fact-finding inquiry designed to establish the circumstances surrounding Litvinenko's death, was due to start in May but Owen has warned that the complex issues involved could see it delayed further.

British police have identified former Russian spy Andrei Lugovoi as the main suspect in Litvinenko's death, but Moscow has refused to extradite him, in an affair that had strained ties between Britain and Russia.

© 2013 AFP

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