Former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko died in the UCLH from suspected radioactive poisoning
Published: 18 May, 2012
by RICHARD OSLEY
THE Town Hall has been left stunned by a demand to pay at least £1million to host an inquest into the death of poisoned former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.
Already strapped for cash, Camden Council had not been budgeting for the bill, which has fallen at its door simply because Mr Litvinenko died within the borough boundaries at University College Hospital.
It was feared that the cash will have to come from accounts normally reserved for public services and there are appeals to government to intervene to cover the costs.
Council sources were noting how valuable the money would be to Camden’s school repairs programme.
Mr Litvinenko died almost six years ago after suddenly falling ill, and was later confirmed to be a victim of polonium 210-induced radiation syndrome.
The case was branded as “nuclear terrorism” as a picture of Mr Litvinenko, bald and dying in his UCLH bed, was flashed across the world’s media.
The case fell under the jurisdiction of St Pancras Coroner’s Court, which is jointly funded by Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets local authorities.
The inquest – pencilled in to begin in July – is expected to last at least a year, running up a bill of at least £4.4 million, largely due to the legal fees involved in having a judge and jury scrutinise evidence and the accommodation costs for such a long hearing.
It is estimated the bill for the Litvinenko inquest on its own matches the cost of running the coroner’s court for an entire year.
Splitting the demand in equal shares between the four local authorities connected with the court would still leave a bill in excess of £1 million – right at a time when councils across London have already cut back on spending and fear further demands from Whitehall to make savings again next year.
After his death, Mr Litvinenko was found to have ingested a radioactive isotope but the inquest will be tasked with finding out how.
Detectives at the time tried to trace radioactive trails left by Litvinenko in his final days before ending up at UCLH.
Interpol and the FBI were reported to have been recruited in what became officially labelled a murder inquiry.
He was later buried at Highgate Cemetery.
Town Hall staff are eager not to appear heartless or insensitive to Mr Litvinenko’s death, but will ask the Ministry of Justice whether a local council should be footing the bill for an inquest in a case which became an “international incident”.
Negotiations took place between local and central government when Southwark Council was initially left staring at a £4 million bill for the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the electrician shot by police at Stockwell tube station in the days following the London bombings almost seven years ago.
Expenses came from hiring legal counsel and booking rooms at the Oval, where the evidence was heard.
Labour council finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell said: “We regard this as an international incident and that the burden should not fall on the tax payers in Camden or the other three boroughs in north London.
"We will be making representations to the Lord Chancellor’s department.
"It is a very complex matter and the costs are extremely high.”
A Camden Council press official said: “Camden is one of four boroughs that currently stand to share the cost of the Litvinenko inquest because he died in UCLH.
"The cost is estimated to be in the region of £4 million.
"Given the national security implications and that the Ministry of Justice is expected to appoint a judge to oversee the inquest, we are lobbying the government to cover all of these costs.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said Justice Secretary Ken Clarke had received a request for central funding from Dr Shirley Radcliffe, deputy Inner North London coroner.