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Court: U.K. Must Revisit Idea of Public Probe Into Litvinenko Death
A key U.K. judicial body has ruled that Britain must reconsider holding a public inquiry into the polonium poisoning death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko.
A Tuesday ruling by the High Court of Justice in London requires British Home Secretary Theresa May to re-examine her justification for preventing an open investigation of the 2006 incident, Reuters reports. The former KGB officer died after drinking tea tainted with radioactive polonium 210.
May last year blocked a request for such a public probe from Robert Owen, a coroner who led a closed-door look at circumstances surrounding the death.
"If she is to maintain her refusal [to hold an open inquiry], she will need better reasons than those given in the decision letter," Lord Justice Stephen Richards said in a statement for a three-judge panel. The group unanimously backed the finding, though it issued no direct demand for a public probe.
"The case for setting up an immediate statutory inquiry as requested by the coroner is plainly a strong one," the three judges added.
An open investigation could implicate Russia in the death, creating potential for political and economic fallout from any findings, according to Reuters. Moscow maintains it was not involved.
Last year, May said political considerations had played a role in her decision not to go forward with an open investigation. She added, though, that those factors were not decisive.
The High Court of Justice said there are "strong reasons of public interest" for the United Kingdom to examine allegations of Russian collusion in the death.
The British Home Office indicated it is reviewing the court's finding.
Marina Litvinenko, the KGB veteran's widow who initiated the push for an open probe, said she was happy to learn about Tuesday's decision.
"This was the murder of a British citizen on the streets of London using radioactive poison. You would have thought that the government would want to get to the bottom of who was behind it," she said.
This article provides an overview of the United Kingdom’s historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.