The KGB's Poison Factory Ten Years On
7 December 2006 was a lousy day. Only hours before the event a secret message was delivered to a narrow circle of people who were invited to attend the burial ceremony of Alexander ‘Sasha’ Litvinenko at Highgate Cemetery. Oleg Gordievsky, his companion Maureen and myself arrived in London from our homes in Surrey and took the underground that brought us most of the way to our destination. In the nearest pub Oleg ordered three double gin-and-tonics and a cab that arrived promptly. The weather was bad but not yet rainy – a storm would begin later.
It took two weeks before the authorities gave the clearance for Sasha’s funeral. His body presented a major environmental hazard, they declared, and every place where he had spent the last three weeks of his life were decontaminated while his body, after the post-mortem, was removed to some secret facility. Should the family wish to cremate him, it was said, they would have to wait for twenty-eight years until the radioactivity decays to safe levels.
Oleg, Maureen and I got out of the cab at the gate that had already been surrounded by hundreds of television cameras and photographers. We were greeted by a solemn and rather small party of about fifty mourners gathered under an overcast London sky. Marina Litvinenko, Sasha’s widow, and their son Anatoly were together with Boris Berezovsky, Akhmed Zakayev, Alex Goldfarb and Andrei Nekrasov. Vladimir Bukovsky with several foreign guests who knew Sasha stood slightly aside. At that sad moment, none of us could predict what was going to happen in ten years but we well understood that starting from that day our lives would be different.
In barely audible Russian Sasha’s father, Walter, told mourners gathered around the muddy grave: ‘My son was killed for telling the truth by those who are afraid of what he had to say.’ And I thought, ‘All right, I am going to investigate who did it and find out why and how’. It took me ten years to do it.
As featured inThe Times 7/3/18