THE government belatedly announced a public inquiry yesterday into the murky events surrounding the death of KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko over seven years ago.
Mr Litvinenko died in November 2006 in a London hospital after he was poisoned with with radioactive polonium as he took tea with two Russian men.
His family allege that he was working for MI6 at the time and was killed on the orders of Russian intelligence chiefs.
The agent’s widow Marina Litvinenko has been battling to reverse the British government’s earlier stubborn refusal to hold a public inquiry.
MI6 chiefs put pressure on the government to maintain a veil of secrecy around the spy’s relationship with British spooks.
The inquiry will be chaired by senior judge Robert Owen, who was the coroner overseeing Mr Litvinenko’s inquest last year.
In his coroner’s ruling, he urged a public inquiry and said national security issues would prevent an inquest considering sensitive evidence.
Earlier this year, Ms Litvinenko went to the High Court to try to force a public inquiry and it ruled that the Home Office had been wrong to totally refuse an inquiry.
Home Secretary Theresa May announced the inquiry yesterday, but she ruled out a full-scale investigation into the former KGB officer’s precise relationship with British secret agents.
“The inquiry will not address the question of whether the UK authorities could or should have taken steps which would have prevented his death,” she said in a written Commons statement.
Ms Litvinenko said yesterday that she was “relieved and delighted” and she suggested that “truth will win out in the end.”