Appeal for help over £4m Russia spy inquest bill

Alexander Litvinenko. Pic: Handout/Reuters

Hackney and Tower Hamlets have appealed for Government help over their liability  for a share of a £4m bill for an inquest into the death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.

The two East London borough, along with Islington and Camden, the two boroughs are currently in line to cover the total costs of the inquest, which is due to take place at St Pancras Coroner’s Court.

Litvinenko died of suspected Polonium poisoning in 2006 at University College Hospital (UCL). He is believed to have consumed the substance while meeting with former KGB colleagues.

Although the Russian lived in Barnet, deaths at UCL, which is in Camden, fall within the jurisdiction for the St Pancras Coroners Court, which is funded by the four London boroughs. They have now petitioned the Justice Minister for the inquest to be centrally funded as costs continue to creep up.

The inquiry is set to become more expensive than the six month long inquiry into the death of Princess Diana, which ran to £2.6M. The only other inquest totaling more was into the 7/7 bombings, which was funded by central Government, took five months to conduct and cost £4.6M.

A recent Governance and Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting of Hackney Council heard that it had always been recognized that there was a risk of ‘’unpredictable additional costs’’ to be bourne in relation to inquests such as that for  Litvinenko and that it might need to be  shared equally between the boroughs of Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets at around £1m each.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “The Secretary of State has received a request for central funding of the Litvinenko inquest from Dr Shirley Radcliffe, deputy Inner North London coroner. This request is currently being considered.”

There is currently no indication of when this decision will be reached.

Inner North London coroner Dr Andrew Reid ordered a full coroners inquest in 2011 after deciding that the case merited an inquiry into the links to the Russian state.

At the time he said in a statement: ‘’The inquiry will extend beyond the mechanical circumstances of death. If Mr Litvinenko is shown to have died as a result of ingestion of Polonium 210, the public interest plainly demands an open and fearless investigation into the full circumstances, including how and why this fatal ingestion occurred.

‘Any lesser level of inquiry would not command public confidence either nationally or internationally.’

Dr Reid has since suspended from his duties pending the findings of a misconduct inquiry into allegations he hired his wife Suzanne Greenaway, as his Deputy Coroner.

Hackney Council today said: “Hackney Council is working with the other local authorities concerned to lobby the Government to cover the costs of the Litvinenko inquest.”

Tower Hamlets Council were unable to be reached for comment.


By Emma-Jane Burgess

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