A public inquiry will be held into the death of poisoned Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, the British Home Secretary has confirmed.
Theresa May announced the probe in a written ministerial statement today, saying: “I very much hope that this inquiry will be of some comfort to his widow.”
Mystery has surrounded the death of the former KGB officer since he died after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 with two ex-colleagues at a London hotel in 2006.
But the latest move will mean investigators can probe whether the Russian state was behind his murder.
The British Government has until now resisted launching a public inquiry, and instead said it would “wait and see” what a judge-led inquest found.
But Mr Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, challenged this and the High Court ruled that the Home Secretary must reconsider the decision.
The move is likely to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time when relations are strained in the aftermath of the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight in Ukraine.
Sir Robert Owen, the senior judge who was acting as coroner in the inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death, will chair the public inquiry.
The terms of reference for the probe are “to conduct an investigation into the death of Alexander Litvinenko in order to ascertain who the deceased was; how, when and where he came by his death; identify where responsibility for the death lies and make appropriate recommendations”.
But the inquiry will not look at whether the UK authorities could or should have taken steps which would have prevented his death.
Mrs May said in the statement: “The arrangements for the inquiry will now be a matter for Sir Robert Owen. I am very grateful to Sir Robert for continuing to lead the independent judicial investigation into Mr. Litvinenko’s death. It is more than seven years since Mr Litvinenko’s death, and I very much hope that this inquiry will be of some comfort to his widow Mrs Litvinenko.”
The 43-year-old who fled to Britain in 2000, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea with two Russian men, one a former KGB officer, at the Millennium Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square.
His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.
Former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun have been identified as the prime suspects, but both deny any involvement and remain in Russia.
Ministers have been under pressure since last year when Sir Robert said he could not hold a “fair and fearless” investigation as part of an inquest.