Radiation found in spy

Traces of the extremely toxic and radioactive element were also found at Alexander Litvinenko’s home in north London, Scotland Yard said.

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Health officials say they have found a large quantity of radioactive substance in the urine of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died on Friday.

Litvenenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin over his murder from beyond the grave.

Officials say the radioactive substance is probably polonium 210.

The British government has formally asked Moscow for any information it had on Litvinenko.

The former spy was a critic of the Kremlin who moved to Britain six years ago.

“The ambassador was asked to convey to the authorities in Moscow a request to provide any information they might have which would assist the police with their inquiries,” a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said.

A friend and spokesman for Litvinenko said the former spy had written a letter accusing President Putin of direct involvement.

The spokesman said he wrote the letter on his death bed and which was read on Friday.
“You succeeded in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life,” he is said to have written on Tuesday as his life slipped away.

The letter, read to a media scrum on the steps of University College
Hospital London where he died, said of Putin: “You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.”

Mr Putin immediately condemned his criticised whom he accused of manipulating Litvenenko’s death for political purposes.

“Unfortunately tragic events like the death are (being) used for political provocations,” the Russian leader told a news conference at an EU-Russia summit in Helsinki.

Confirmation that Litvinenko had apparently been poisoned with radioactive material came after the British government said police in London had drafted in experts to look for radioactive elements at a number of locations.

The Cabinet Office also confirmed that Britain’s secret COBRA committee of high-ranking ministers and police plus domestic and overseas intelligence chiefs met Friday to discuss the case.

Meanwhile, doctors were assessing the risk to doctors and nurses at the two hospitals which treated Litvinenko before his death.

Health Protection Agency (HPA) chief Professor Pat Troop told a central London news conference the fact that “someone has apparently been deliberately poisoned by a type of radiation” was an “unprecedented event” in Britain.

HPA official Professor Roger Cox said staff who came into contact with Litvinenko at the two hospitals where he was treated were being monitored.

Police later revealed that traces of polonium 210, which is extremely toxic and highly radioactive, has been found at a central London hotel and sushi restaurant he visited on November 1, as well as at his north London home.

Physical contact with Litvinenko himself would not pose any risks but the dangers increased when there was contact with excretia from the body such as urine, faeces and to a lesser extent sweat, Cox said.

But that risk was “insignificant”, he added.

Polonium — discovered by the physicist Marie Curie in 1888 and named after her homeland Poland — is more radioactive than radium; it requires careful handling and is extremely toxic in microsopic doses when ingested or inhaled.

It can cause irreversible damage to kidneys, liver and spleen.

Litvinenko’s coterie of supporters and friends — many of them exiled Russians hostile to Putin — have accused Moscow of invovlement in his death because of the former secret serviceman’s criticisms of the Kremlin.

In his book “Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within”, Litvinenko alleged secret services set up the 1999 apartment block bombings which triggered the second Chechen war and propelled the then-little known Putin to power.

He was also investigating the death of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a critic of her country’s involvement in Chechnya who was shot at her central Moscow apartment building on October 7.

The Russian — pictured last week as bald, gaunt and clearly weak in a green hospital gown — thanked medical staff, police and the British government “for taking me under their care”, adding: “I am honoured to be a British citizen.”

Goldfarb said arrangements for Litvinenko’s funeral had yet to be decided.