Litvinenko Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:32 am on 21st January 2016.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department 11:32 am, 21st January 2016

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the death of Alexander Litvinenko on 23 November 2006 and the statutory inquiry into that death, which published its findings this morning.

Mr Litvinenko’s death was a deeply shocking event. Despite the ongoing police investigation and the efforts of the Crown Prosecution Service, those responsible have still not been brought to justice. In July 2014, I established a statutory inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr Litvinenko’s death, to determine responsibility for his death and to make recommendations. It was chaired by Sir Robert Owen, a retired senior High Court judge, and it had the Government’s full support and access to any relevant material regardless of its sensitivity.

I welcome the inquiry’s report today and would like to put on record my thanks to Sir Robert Owen for his detailed, thorough and impartial investigation into this complex and serious matter. Although the inquiry cannot assign civil or criminal liability, I hope that these findings will provide some clarity for Alexander Litvinenko’s family and friends and all those affected by his death. I would particularly like to pay tribute to Mrs Marina Litvinenko and her tireless efforts to get to the truth.

The independent inquiry has found that Mr Litvinenko died on 23 November 2006, having suffered a cardiac arrest as a result of acute radiation syndrome, caused by his ingesting polonium-210 on 1 November 2006. He ingested the fatal dose of polonium-210 while drinking tea at the Pine bar of the Millennium hotel on the afternoon of 1 November 2006. The inquiry, which in the course of its investigations considered “an abundance of evidence”, has found that Mr Litvinenko was deliberately poisoned by Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, whom he had met at the Millennium hotel on the afternoon of that day.

The inquiry has also found that Lugovoy and Kovtun were acting on behalf of others when they poisoned Mr Litvinenko. There is a strong probability that they were acting under the direction of the Russian domestic security service, the Federal Security Service or FSB. The inquiry has found that the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev, the then head of the FSB, and by President Putin.

The Government take these findings extremely seriously, as I am sure does every Member of this House. We are carefully considering the report’s findings in detail, and their implications. In particular, the conclusion that the Russian state was probably involved in the murder of Mr Litvinenko is deeply disturbing. It goes without saying that this was a blatant and unacceptable breach of the most fundamental tenets of international law and of civilised behaviour, but we have to accept that this does not come as a surprise. The inquiry confirms the assessment of successive Governments that this was a state-sponsored act. This assessment has informed the Government’s approach to date.

Since 2007 that approach has comprised a series of steps to respond to Russia and its provocation. Some of these measures were immediate, such as the expulsion of a number of Russian embassy officials from the UK. Others are ongoing, such as the tightening of visa restrictions on Russian officials in the UK. The Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation into Mr Litvinenko’s murder remains open. I can tell the House today that Interpol notices and European arrest warrants are in place so that the main suspects, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, can be arrested if they travel abroad. In the light of the report’s findings the Government will go further, and Treasury Ministers have today agreed to put in place asset freezes against the two individuals.

At the time, the independent Crown Prosecution Service formally requested the extradition of Mr Lugovoy from Russia. Russia refused to comply with this request and has consistently refused to do so ever since. It is now almost 10 years since Mr Litvinenko was killed. Sir Robert Owen is unequivocal in his finding that Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun killed him. In the light of this most serious finding, Russia’s continued failure to ensure that the perpetrators of this terrible crime can be brought to justice is unacceptable. I have written to the Director of Public Prosecutions this morning asking her to consider whether any further action should be taken, in terms of both extradition and freezing criminal assets. These decisions are, of course, a matter for the independent Crown Prosecution Service, but the Government remain committed to pursuing justice in this case.

We have always made our position clear to the Russian Government, and in the strongest possible terms. We are doing so again today. We are making senior representations to the Russian Government in Moscow. At the same time we will be summoning the Russian ambassador in London to the Foreign Office, where we will express our profound displeasure at Russia’s failure to co-operate and provide satisfactory answers. Specifically, we have demanded, and will continue to demand, that the Russian Government account for the role of the FSB in this case.

The threat posed by hostile states is one of the most sensitive issues that I deal with as Home Secretary. Although not often discussed in public, our security and intelligence agencies have always, dating back to their roots in the first and second world wars, had the protection of the UK from state threats at the heart of their mission. This means countering those threats in all their guises, whether from assassinations, cyber-attacks, or more traditional espionage. By its nature this work is both less visible and necessarily more secret than the police and the agencies’ work against the terrorist threat, but it is every bit as important to the long-term security and prosperity of the United Kingdom.

The House will appreciate that I cannot go into detail about how we seek to protect ourselves from hostile state acts, but we make full use of the measures at our disposal, from investigatory powers right through to the visa system. The case of Mr Litvinenko demonstrates once again why it is so vital that the intelligence agencies maintain their ability to detect and disrupt such threats.

The environment in which espionage and hostile state intelligence activities take place is changing. Evolving foreign state interests and rapid technological advances mean it is imperative that we respond. Last November the Chancellor announced that we will make new funding available to the security and intelligence agencies to provide for an additional 1,900 officers. In the same month, I published the draft Investigatory Powers Bill so that we can ensure that the intelligence agencies’ capabilities keep pace with the threat and technology, while at the same time improving the oversight of, and safeguards for, the use of investigatory powers.

In the Government’s recently published national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review, we set out the range of threats to the UK and our allies, including from Russia, and our comprehensive approach to countering these threats. Since publication of the previous SDSR in 2010, Russia has become more authoritarian, aggressive and nationalist. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilising actions in Ukraine have directly challenged security in the region. These actions have also served as a sobering demonstration of Russia’s intent to try to undermine European security and the rules-based international order. In response, the UK, in conjunction with international partners, has imposed a package of robust measures against Russia. This includes sanctions against key Russian individuals, including Mr Patrushev, who is currently the Secretary to the Russian Security Council.

The Government are clear that we must protect the UK and her interests from Russia-based threats, working closely with our allies in the EU and NATO. This morning I have written to my counterparts in EU, NATO and “Five Eyes” countries, drawing their attention to both the report and the need to take steps to prevent such a murder being committed in their streets.

We will continue to call on President Putin for Russia, as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, to engage responsibly and make a positive contribution to global security and stability. They can, for example, play an important role in defeating Daesh and, together with the wider international community, help Syria work towards a stable future. We face some of the same challenges, from serious crime to aviation security. We will continue to engage, guardedly, with Russia where it is strictly necessary to do so to support the UK’s national interest.

Sir Robert Owen’s report contains one recommendation that is within the closed section. Right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate that I cannot reveal details of that recommendation in this House, but I can assure them that the Government will respond to the inquiry’s chair on that recommendation in due course.

Finally, I would like to reiterate the Government’s determination to continue to seek justice for the murder of Mr Litvinenko. I would like to repeat my thanks to Sir Robert Owen and, in particular, Marina Litvinenko. As Sir Robert states in his report, she has shown “dignity and composure” and

“has demonstrated a quiet determination to establish the true facts of her husband’s death that is greatly to be commended.”

Mr Litvinenko’s murder was a truly terrible event. I sincerely hope that for the sake of Marina and Anatoly Litvinenko, for the sake of Mr Litvinenko’s wider family and friends, and for the sake of justice, those responsible can be brought to trial. I commend this statement to the House.