ISSN 2330-717X

UK Government Rebukes Litvinenko Coroner – OpEd

Coroner Sir Robert Owen was taken to the woodshed by the British government. At issue is his conduct of the inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. A reputed former KGB spy, Litvinenko died suspiciously in London in 2006.

Owen’s rebuke came as a result of the course he had charted for himself in investigating Litvinenko’s death. The coroner’s statutory responsibility, according to Home Secretary Theresa May, is to “ascertain who the deceased was, and how, when, and where he came by his death.” But Owen was not focusing on those issues; he was not doing his job.

Instead, Owen had been conducting a rogue criminal investigation, looking for Russian state involvement in the death. The late Boris Berezovsky, a fugitive Russian oligarch who had been hiding out in London, had accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of culpability. He never presented any evidence, however. But Owen was apparently picking up where Berezovsky left off.

The Home Secretary reined in Owen, pointing out that he had overstepped his bounds. She stated that the law does not allow a coroner to determine criminal liability.

Earlier news reports uncovered the fact of Owen’s illicit criminal investigation. In response, he concocted a scheme to transfer his work to a different venue, one without the restrictions placed on coroners regarding criminality. It was a clever strategy.

But when Owen wrote to the government requesting the transfer, he misrepresented the circumstances of the case. He said, “It is a highly exceptional situation when the victim of what appears to have been a murder is interviewed by police before he dies, and makes a public statement in which he names those whom he suspects of being responsible for his death…”

However, the public record shows that Litvinenko made no such statement to the police. It is true that there was a written public statement accusing Putin that was attributed to Litvinenko. It was released after his death. But that document has been shown to be a fraud. The statement was a hoax, and the hoaxer has publically confessed

At last count, the Litvinenko inquest has spent over $2 million of British taxpayer money. Despite all the flurry of activity created by Owen, there does not seem to have been any progress toward establishing the cause and manner of death. The work thus far seems to have been a complete waste of money.

What more will it take for the coroner to rule on the specific circumstances? Secretary May called Litvinenko’s death an “apparent murder.” Was it indeed a homicide? Or was it a suicide or accident? It is hard to understand why the coroner could not have ruled on that long ago.

Likewise on the cause of death. Many media reports claim that radioactive polonium was the agent of death. Other reports say the cause was thallium poisoning. It should be possible to answer this question with scientific evidence. Either there is evidence, or there isn’t.

Litvinenko’s death happened nearly seven years ago. If sufficient evidence is not on hand, perhaps it is time to admit that the cause and manner of death are indeterminable, and then simply close the case. Why spend more British taxpayer money to accomplish nothing.


About the Author

William Dunkerley
William Dunkerley
William Dunkerley is a media business analyst and consultant based in New Britain, Connecticut, USA. He works extensively with media organizations in Russia and other post-communist countries, and has advised government leaders on strategies for building press freedom and a healthy media sector. He is a Senior Fellow at the American University in Moscow.

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