Tag Archives: London

‘Russian involvement’ central to UK inquiry into ex-KGB agent’s death

By Michael Holden
Women holding a poster of deceased former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko light candles in his honor in Moscow on November 22, 2008.Women holding a poster of deceased former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko light candles in his honor in Moscow on November 22, 2008. © AFP

LONDON – Evidence which shows Russia was behind the 2006 murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London will mostly be given in secret, the chairman of a public inquiry into his death said on Thursday.

Kremlin critic Litvinenko, 43, died after being poisoned with a radioactive isotope in November 2006, a crime which from his death bed he blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement.

Formally opening an inquiry into the killing at London’s High Court, senior judge Robert Owen repeated his assertion that the British government held material which indicated the Russian state was responsible.

“The issues to which his death gives rise are of the utmost gravity and have attracted worldwide interest and concern,” Owen said.

It had been described to him as a “state-sponsored assassination” and “a miniature nuclear attack on the streets of London,” he said.

Anglo-Russian ties fell to a post-Cold War low in the wake of Litvinenko’s death, particularly after British prosecutors said there was enough evidence to charge former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun with murder.

Marina Litvinenko, the wife of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko who was murdered in London in 2006, speaks outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London July 31, 2014.Marina Litvinenko, the wife of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko who was murdered in London in 2006, speaks outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London July 31, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville.

They were with Litvinenko at a London hotel when British police believe he was given tea poisoned with polonium-210. Moscow has refused to extradite them, and Lugovoy, who denied involvement, was later elected a lawmaker.

Relations between the countries improved after David Cameron became British prime minister in 2010, and his government had initially refused a request to hold a public inquiry.

The family of Litvinenko, who had been granted British citizenship, said the refusal had been made to protect business interests, and successfully challenged the decision in court, with judges ordering the government to reconsider,

Last week, with Anglo-Russian relations again at a low ebb after the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 in a pro-Russian rebel-held part of Ukraine, Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May said there would be an inquiry after all.

Owen had originally been appointed as coroner to oversee an inquest into the death and suspended this on Thursday to allow the inquiry to begin instead.


He said the allegations that the Russian state was culpable for the killing would be central to his investigation.

“HMG (government) material taken in isolation establishes a prima facie case that the Russian state was responsible for Mr Litvinenko’s death – a view that I myself have subsequently endorsed,” Owen said.

He said the material was of “such sensitivity” that most could not be heard in public and said some of his findings would remain secret. But he promised he would make public his conclusions about Russian involvement.

However, the inquiry would not examine whether British spies carried out the killing or could have prevented it, he said, explaining there was no evidence to suggest the first claim or to indicate Litvinenko’s life had been at serious risk.

Hearings ahead of the inquest also heard that Litvinenko had been working for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, for several years.

A hearing to establish the format and other details of the inquiry will be held on Sept. 5 and Owen said it would begin in earnest in January next year.

“Finally we will know all about this crime,” Litvinenko’s widow Marina, who has fought a long battle to learn the truth behind the death, told reporters outside the court.


Russians in London: ‘It’s official policy now to hate us’

Russians living in London say British media's coverage of the Malaysia Airlines crash is pushing them to side with Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Zuma/Rex FeaturesRussians living in London say British media’s coverage of the Malaysia Airlines crash is pushing them to side with Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Zuma/Rex Features.

Outside Kalinka, a Russian delicatessen and grocers on London’s bustling Queensway, customers were uneasy . “I am shocked,” says one, an electrician, who came to London 12 years ago to work on building sites. He remembers the stereotyping of his fellow Russians back then. “It was Russians are rude. And they are drinking beer. And they are drinking vodka. But it was funny. It was soft humour.

“Now, the newspapers are definitely trying to mix the opinions of people against Russian culture and people. Now it is Russians are killers.”

He is far from alone among Russians living in London to have noticed a backlash since the downing of flight MH17. Like most, he too, speaks only on condition of anonymity.

“There are pictures of Putin. The word “killer” on the front pages,” said Anna, a Russian-born pharmaceutical consultant. “Then page after page, until page 12 or something, when it’s Gaza. Russians are killers. How do you think it affects us?”

“Do you believe in collective punishment? Do you want to bomb people for their nationality?” she asks. “It’s actually official policy now to hate Russians.”

Of course, she said, she has no idea of the exact circumstances that led to shooting of the plane and loss of 298 lives. “But the British culture is to find a culprit. Bully them. Bully those around them. Don’t bother to investigate. Judge on very superficial grounds. Let’s bully his daughter. Let’s find someone who played judo with this man and bully them too.

“Surround him with hate so the Russians will throw him out. But the Russians won’t throw him out,” she added. “Everyone is suffering. Collective punishment is not the answer.”

Among his friends, Sasha, a retired Russian army officer who has lived in London for more than 20 years, now finds “a great deal of sadness, and fear, fear that the lunacy will escalate.

“It is easy to resurrect antagonism towards Russia because people remember the cold war, and when something goes wrong in Russia it’s magnified,” he said. Sanctions would hit the middle and lower income Russians “the tourists, the students who fill the universities” and not “the big people, who don’t care”.

Across London in the City, fears are also for business. One director of a reinsurance broker, whose company works in 20 different countries, many from the former Soviet Union, said his concern about media coverage was “that there is no presumption of innocence in this case.

“It looked as if the story was ready for the mass media before the aircraft came down.

“All this blaming Russians, I am Russian English. I have been living here for 25 years. I don’t quite like Putin’s politics. But, unfortunately, all this has really pushed me over to the Russian side, which I haven’t been since the events started in the Ukraine.”

He fears a break “in connections which have been set up over the last 20 to 25 years, based on information that has not been verified”.

Others fear a trade slump will lead to job losses. “If there is no business with Russia, it inevitably will affect our employability because we sell our language skills,” said one insurance worker.

Now living in London, she was born in Russia before moving to Ukraine, where her parents still live. She was visiting them when the plane was shot down.

“My parents have both Ukrainian and Russian channels. And the story was so contradictory if you switched from Russian TV to Ukrainian TV. It is actually scary how the same event can be shown from a different perspective and you just don’t know what to believe,” she said. “They are trading accusations, and both seem equally credible. My advice would be not to listen to either.”

She has found British media “more or less objective” but is concerned how comments translate into Russian.

“I can hear what David Cameron says in English and it’s sort of alright. Once it is translated into Russian it sounds really harsh. That really is an issue. When it’s taken out of context, and translated, it can sound almost opposite to what was said,” she said.

The Guardian.

Environmental: Water, super-sewers and the filth threatening the River Thames

The Great Stink of the 1800s alerted politicians to the filth in the Thames. The Victorian sewers fixed it, but trouble is brewing again. Is a clean river just a pipe dream?

After 150 years, London's sewage system needs a rejig to keep up with its growing population. Photograph: Mark LovattAfter 150 years, London’s sewage system needs a rejig to keep up with its growing population. Photograph: Mark Lovatt

“Water is the giver of life,” says the great-great-grandson of the engineer who revolutionised London’s sewerage system. “That’s why people always ask if there’s water on Mars to support life. But it is also bringer of death, as we saw in the 19th century.”

Quite so. Before Sir Peter Bazalgette’s great-great-grandfather Joseph built 1,300 miles of sewers and river embankments in London in the 1860s, raw sewage flowed into the tidal section of the Thames and got stalled in a hellishly insanitary circulation system. The stench of what politician Benjamin Disraeli in the mid-19th century called the “Stygian pool” was bad enough – referencing the River Styx of Greek mythology, which formed the boundary between Earth and the underworld – but, worse, Londoners bathed in and drank this water. “Before the great embankments were built, the Thames flowed more gently so the shit went up and down and people were drawing their own effluent,” says Bazalgette. If you’re eating your breakfast, apologies for that last sentence.

The filthy Thames of the Victorian era was a relatively new phenomenon. As late as 1800 it had been clean enough for salmon to be caught and for Lord Byron to swim by Westminster Bridge. By the early 1830s it was a very different river. In 1834, the English wit and cleric Sydney Smith told Lady Grey: “He who drinks a tumbler of London water has literally in his stomach more animated beings than there are Men, Women and Children on the face of the Globe.”

The results were deaths from water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Liverpudlians were less prone to suffer than Londoners – argues David Green, professor of geography at King’s College London – because of their fondness for tea imported through Liverpool’s docks; they were more likely to boil their water. After cholera arrived from India, there were epidemics in London in 1832, 1848, 1849, 1854 and 1866, in which thousands died.

Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, top right, overlooks the Northern Outfall sewer being built below the Abbey Mills pumping station. Photograph: Getty ImagesSir Joseph William Bazalgette, top right, overlooks the Northern Outfall sewer being built below the Abbey Mills pumping station. Photograph: Getty Images Continue reading

#UK: #Sussex could be hotter than #Barbados this week

Brighton BeachTemperatures are predicted to soar to the hottest of the year so far.

Sussex is set for a scorcher this week as temperatures are predicted to soar to the hottest of the year so far.

Parts of the county will feel as hot as Barbados as warm air sweeps north from Spain.

Temperatures will rise from 22C (71.6F) tomorrow up to 25C (77F) on Wednesday and a possible 27C (80.6F) on Thursday, according to the Met Office.

Sussex commuters travelling to London could enjoy temperatures as high as 30C (86F).

Dan Williams from the Met Office said: “Thirty degrees is really the top end of what we are expecting as a whole.

“It is possible that places in Sussex will get up towards 27C.”

Mr Williams said Sussex is likely to see thundery showers by Friday as a result of the humidity and it would stay humid into the start of next week.

The highest recorded temperature in Sussex this year so far was 25.5C (77.9) in Wiggonholt near Pulborough on July 13.

Bognor saw a high of 24.6C (76.28) on June 24.

Gatwick is set for a high of 26C (78.8F) on Thursday, eclipsing temperatures in some parts of southern France.

And according to the website Met Check, parts of Brighton could feel hotter than the 28C (82.4F) forecast for the Caribbean island of Barbados on Thursday.

A spokesman for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We have a Heatwave Plan to ensure we are prepared for any extreme temperatures during summer.

“The plan includes an escalation policy, which has different actions depending on how hot the temperature becomes.”

It is down to local authorities to issue preventative public health advice.

Tom Scanlon, Brighton and Hove City Council’s director of public health, said: “There are visitors who are particularly at risk in hot weather: older people, children and those with particular health conditions.

“At this time of year we take particular care over vulnerable people.

“Similarly, we work with care homes where elderly residents are at risk.

“Every year we see children and babies who suffer from sunburn, so the main message is take care, and take particular care of those who need it most.”

Sunset overlooking Brighton beachGlorious sunset overlooking Brighton beach with the Palace pier in the background.

The council is advising people to keep hydrated by drinking non-alcoholic drinks and staying in the shade.

From:The Argus Header Logo

#UK: Clear differences between #organic and non-organic #food, study finds

Organic apples and pears. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the GuardianOrganic apples and pears. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Organic food has more of the antioxidant compounds linked to better health than regular food, and lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides, according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date.

The international team behind the work suggests that switching to organic fruit and vegetables could give the same benefits as adding one or two portions of the recommended “five a day”.

The team, led by Prof Carlo Leifert at Newcastle University, concludes that there are “statistically significant, meaningful” differences, with a range of antioxidants being “substantially higher” – between 19% and 69% – in organic food. It is the first study to demonstrate clear and wide-ranging differences between organic and conventional fruits, vegetables and cereals.

The researchers say the increased levels of antioxidants are equivalent to “one to two of the five portions of fruits and vegetables recommended to be consumed daily and would therefore be significant and meaningful in terms of human nutrition, if information linking these [compounds] to the health benefits associated with increased fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption is confirmed”.

The findings will bring to the boil a long-simmering row over whether those differences mean organic food is better for people, with one expert calling the work sexed up.

Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition at King’s College London, said the research did show some differences. “But the question is are they within natural variation? And are they nutritionally relevant? I am not convinced.”

Why people choose organic Continue reading