This short documentary film on the Litvinenko case, featuring Vasily Livanov, the Russian actor internationally celebrated for his portrayal of Sherlock Homes, makes some valid points that deserve a lot more attention than they have so far received. Made by a collective of filmmakers & investigators known as Russian Hour TV, in 2012, but unseen in the West apart from one screening at the Russian Embassy in London, this documentary examines three key questions in the official case against Lugovoi and Kovtun, the two Russians “convicted” of the murder in the bizarre and barely legal Public Inquiry of 2015.
The issues raised in this film
1. Lugovoi’s polygraph
During the filming of this documentary in 2012, the team employed a British polygraph practitioner, Bruce Burgess, to question Andrey Lugovoi, one of Litvinenko’s alleged assassins, about his alleged involvement in the murder. The interview itself doesn’t appear in the film, but we see Burgess announce the results on camera.
He says he asked Lugovoi three questions.
- “Did you do anything to cause the death of Alexander Litvinenko?”.To which Lugovoi answered “no”
- “Where you involved in any way in the death of Alexander Litvinenko?” To which Lugovoi answered “no.”
- “Have you ever handled polonium?” To which Lugovoi answered “no.”
According to Burgess the result was “conclusive” on all three questions. Lugovoi was “telling the truth.”
This result from a qualified polygraph examiner was, of course, completely at variance with the official story, and, though not admissible in a court of law, could be expected to impact quite a lot on the court of public opinion and on the general level of credibility surrounding the already legally questionable Inquiry. We may not be too surprised, then, that both the test itself and the man who administered it, where a) excluded from most mainstream discussion and b) when considered, made the subject of ferocious attempts to discredit them.
Burgess himself was revealed as a fairly easy target, having once given a false name after being pulled over for speeding. As a result of this offence he received a two-year suspended sentence. Much was made of this at the Inquiry by Crown barristers, but this was largely a rhetorical device and distraction.
Clearly Burgess’ essentially minor violation doesn’t impact on his professional judgement, and indeed Burgess is still a practising polygraph examiner to this day.
Moreover, despite huge efforts made by the Crown barrister, Andrew O’Connor QC, to make him retract his statement, Burgess refused to back down(see the full transcript of the testimony HERE). He went into the witness box claiming Lugovoi had passed the polygraph test and went out again saying the same thing.
Q. But in any event the outcome of the polygraph test, as we will see, was that you concluded that Mr Lugovoy was not deceiving you when he denied responsibility for Mr Litvinenko’s death?
A. That was what I concluded from the test.
Faced with this potentially devastating pointer to Lugovoi’s innocence, the Guardian, reporting the following day, handled this with its customary ethics and honesty.
Despite the fact Burgess maintained Lugovoi had passed all three parts of his polygraph test “conclusively”, and despite the fact he never wavered from this claim once in his testimony, this was the Guardian headline the following day:
“Alexander Litvinenko murder suspect failed lie detector test, court hears”
This was quite simply an absolute, unequivocal lie.
And a lie repeated and expanded in the body of the article.
We’ll be coming back to talk about that again another time.
Perhaps most important section of the film is an interview with US nuclear physicist from Princeton University, Professor William Happer, who worked as a nuclear safety adviser for the U.S. Government. His testimony that polonium 210:
a) can be produced by any nuclear reactor
b) is sold and used throughout the world for industrial purposes
doesn’t accord at all with the official view on the subject which dictates that, since most polonium 210 is produced in Russia this must be assumed to indicate Russian state involvement in Litvineko’s death. But in an unbiased discussion this shouldn’t be a controversial issue. Polonium 210’s use in various industrial processes is confirmed in many online sources including this one that lists the manufacture of static eliminators as one of several uses for the isotope. In fact it’s widely available, in potentially lethal doses, in products that can be freely bought online.
Without getting into the debate on how possible/probable it is that any of these products were a source for the polonium that killed Litvinenko, the simple fact that polonium 210 is exported from Russia in its pure form to various locations, mainly the United States, for industrial application, rationally suggests it’s just as possible for the polonium that killed Litvinenko to have “gone missing” after it left Russia as before. Meaning that, while the claim that polonium 210 = “Russia did it” is not quite as absurd as the more recent claim made to the same effect about “novichoks”, it’s still far from an inevitable conclusion.
3. Where and when was Litvinenko poisoned?
The documentary raises an aspect of this question that hasn’t received much attention: how does the traces of polonium found at the Abracadabra club fit with the official timeline? According to the club’s (now deceased) owner, Litvinenko was a regular there, but didn’t visit on the night he was allegedly poisoned (November 1 2006). Luke Harding’s explanation for this errant polonium is that Lugovoi was there during an earlier and abortive attempt at killing Alexander Valterovich, and left his usual radioactive trail behind, but how much hard evidence there is for this (Harding offers none) we haven’t determined at this point.
Altogether this short film shows us how much confusion, contradiction and elision and frank deception there continues to be in this case, 12 years after Litvinenko died.
It concludes, in 2012, four years before the findings of the legal Official Inquiry were published, with an appeal to the truth-based investigative tradition embodied by Sherlock Holmes and the legendary British sense of fair play. From our current perspective, six years on, this appeal was clearly made with unwonted optimism and misplaced faith.