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 in order 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 I 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 provide some clarity for Alexander Litvinenko’s family, 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 has considered “an abundance of evidence” – has found
that Mr Litvinenko was deliberately poisoned by Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun,
who 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. And 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 takes 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 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. And I can tell the
House today 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
In 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 ten years since Mr
Litvinenko was killed. Sir Robert Owen is unequivocal in his finding that Andrey
Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun killed him. In 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, both in
terms of extradition and freezing criminal assets. These decisions are, of course, a
matter for the independent Crown Prosecution Service. But the Government remains
committed to pursuing justice in this case.
We have always made our position clear to the Russian government and in the
strongest possible terms and we are doing so again today. We are making senior
representations to the Russian Government in Moscow. And 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, 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. And 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 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. And, 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 the 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.
This Government is 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 5 Eyes countries drawing their attention to both the report and the need to take steps to prevent such a murder being committed on 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. And
we will continue to engage, guardedly, with Russia where it is strictly necessary to do
so to support the UK’s national interest.
Mr Speaker, Sir Robert Owen’s report contains one recommendation within the
closed section of his report. Honourable Members and Rt Honourable 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 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 says 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.