Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:20 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 9:20 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, there are references in the Queen’s Speech to keeping the population safe and safeguarding national security—words of comfort—yet over the past two weeks the UK media have been astonished by investigatory reports published by buzzfeed.com about more than a dozen suspicious “non-suspicious” deaths in the UK. BuzzFeed published the reports, which are extensive and detailed, on 12, 15, 19 and 20 June, and I invite noble Lords to access them. According to BuzzFeed, the Government have declined to comment on any of the deaths due to “national security concerns”.

I do not propose to go into any detail but I think it would be useful if I read out the names of the people whose deaths are the focus of the reports: Scot Young, Boris Berezovsky, Stephen Moss, Badri Patarkatsishvili, Stephen Curtis, Yuri Golubev, Paul Castle, Robert Curtis, Johnny Elichaoff, Alexander Litvinenko, Matthew Puncher, Igor Ponomarev, Daniel McGrory, Gareth Williams and Alexander Perepilichnyy.

In all but one case, the police have found the deaths to be non-suspicious. They have been classified as due to natural causes, accidents or suicide. One of them is subject to a current inquest in London, during which the Government have withheld information and refused to co-operate with the French police regarding a French connection to the death. One case involves a suicide decision, as a result of the person stabbing themselves to death with two separate knives.

Certainly, the death of Mr Litvinenko in 2006 cannot be held to be non-suspicious, given the result of the inquiry by Sir Robert Owen in January 2016. The evidence was so blatant that action had to be taken, but it caused a severe rift with Russia to the extent that high-ranking US intelligence officials fear that the UK is failing to get to grips with the threat. They claim, as do officials cited in the BuzzFeed reports, that it has caused a 10-year stand-off with the Kremlin, but several officials quoted in the reports claim that the UK Government have been particularly keen to preserve the flow of Russian money into London banks and properties.

Nine of the deaths related to one circle of people. The police declared them non-suspicious, yet the BuzzFeed report reveals that MI6 asked its US counterparts for information about each of them in the “context of assassinations”.

Examples are given in the report of the UK Government refusing to fully co-operate with some of the inquests, quoting “international relations” or “national security”. Named former UK senior counterterrorism officers make it clear that investigating such cases is “very, very dangerous territory” and,

“completely out of the scope of local police”,

and that,

“the government withholds evidence from coroners ‘quite a lot’… because it’s ‘diplomatically easier’”,

and,

“the UK is soft on such things”,

as,

“‘brazen’ Russian assassinations in Britain ‘right out in the daylight’”.

Eleven of the deaths occurred after the murder of Mr Litvinenko. Some of those who died had been UK public sector employees where the employer needs to be tested on the duty of care. Public Health England is in the frame, as are the security services. Either we no longer have the capacity to investigate such deaths or someone has told the police not to fully investigate them. The police are not stupid, but it has been shown that UK public bodies find it very difficult to change decisions once made.

What do Ministers say about these reports, which have been very negatively received on the other side of the Atlantic? Quite clearly, some members of our population have not been kept safe. Notwithstanding what the Minister might say, I believe that there is a strong case for the relevant House of Commons committees to start examining these reports and to start asking some very searching questions.