29/11/2006

More locations tested in Litvinenko investigation

Police investigating the death of former KGB agent Litvinenko are examining two new locations in London's West End.

The search for traces of polonium 210 - a radioactive substance found in the body of Mr Litvinenko - has now been extended to cover the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel and a second office building in Grosvenor Street.

Traces of polonium 210 had previously been found in the Itsu sushi restaurant in Piccadilly and the Millennium Hotel in Grosvenor Square - both places that Mr Litvinenko visited on November 1, the day he fell ill - the Russian's home in Muswell Hill in north London, the offices of exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky in Down Street in Mayfair and the headquarters of a security firm in Grosvenor Street.

Mr Litvinenko died in hospital last week and a major dose of polonium 210 was found in his body. The Health Protection Agency warned anyone who visited the same places as Mr Litvinenko on the day he fell ill or had any contact with him to contact NHS Direct. More than 450 people have so far come forward and eight people have been referred for tests as a precautionary measure.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Italian Mario Scaramella, who met with Mr Litvinenko at the Itsu sushi bar on November 1, has been given the all clear after being tested for radiation poisoning. He is to be interviewed by police as a potential witness. He has denied any involvement in Mr Litvinenko's deaths and earlier revealed that he had discussed email death threats that both men had received with the Russian at the meeting.

The Health Protection Agency has also revealed that 160 workers at the two hospitals were Mr Litvinenko was treated - University College Hospital and Barnet General Hospital - have been assessed to see if they were at risk of possible contamination. Forty-nine staff have been asked to provide urine samples for testing.

Friends of Mr Litvinenko have suggested that he was poisoned because he was a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He had also been investigating the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, another critic of Putin's regime who was shot dead near her apartment in Moscow last month, at the time he fell ill.

Before his death, Mr Litvinenko had accused Mr Putin of being behind the poisoning. The allegation was denied by the Kremlin and Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR, also denied any involvement.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he had not yet spoken to Mr Putin about the case, but would do so at "any time that is appropriate".

Counter-terrorism officers from Scotland Yard, who are investigating the death, have described it as "suspicious".

(KMcA)


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