Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Jesus Wept

People do crazy things, of that there's no doubt.

I read recently that an otherwise intelligent young woman in America is set on marrying the deranged murderer, Charles Manson, much to the disgust of her family.

But sometimes there's no telling people which is why there are folks around who believe that Elvis Presley is still alive and that the 9/11 attack on America was all the work of the CIA, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

So that's my attitude to this report from The Sunday Times which shows a young Jihadist in the making trying out an AK-47 assault rifle for size.

What a shame that these young women define themselves solely in terms of being mothers (Umm = Mum) instead of independent people in their own right, yet that is what they wish to believe as well as cooking and cleaning for their brave 'warriors' who have, of course, been killing fellow (Shia) Muslims with a messianic zeal. 

My boy Jesus, the little British jihadist

A former London student living in Syria with her Isis fighter husband is posting chilling images of her young son online and urging other British women to join them

Dipesh Gadher - The Sunday Times

The picture of Jesus was posted on Twitter by another British supporter of jihad

A SMILE across his face, a young British child in Syria poses for the camera as he struggles to cradle an AK-47 assault rifle.

Named Isa — the Arabic version of Jesus — the boy, who appears no older than three or four, is the son of a former London student who is among a growing number of British women travelling to Syria to live under the Islamic “caliphate” set up by the world’s most feared terrorist leader.

The boy has a younger brother, aged about 12 months, whom his mother refers to as a “mini mujahid”, or holy warrior.

The Sunday Times has identified at least five British women who have signed up to the cause of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or Isis.

An analysis of their postings on social media reveals:

•Chilling threats against Britain, including a call for more murders like that of the soldier Lee Rigby

• Girls as young as 15 being encouraged to join the jihad

•Female recruits to Isis being paid a monthly wage and offered free housing if they marry a foreign fighter.

One young woman, who is thought to come from Scotland, provides an insight into life as an Isis bride in an online diary. Despite her zeal for a regime that crucifies and beheads its opponents, she admits she misses her mother and pines for a taste of Irn Bru.

Last month it emerged that Salma and Zahra Halane, 16-year-old twin sisters from Manchester, had abandoned their studies and headed to Syria. Messages on social media suggest they are with other British women in Manbij, an Isis-controlled town in the north of the country.

Dozens of women from Europe are believed to have travelled to the region and a number are now raising children there. One Isis video has featured the purported blond offspring of a French jihadist couple.

Isa’s mother, who calls herself simply Umm Isa (Mother of Isa), has the image of her gun-toting son on her Twitter profile page. Her account is called Muhajirah fi Sham, which means “immigrant in Syria”.

It reveals she is married to a fighter from Sweden called Abu Bakr and their younger son is called Abdur Rahman.

The couple were featured in a Channel 4 News clip last year, although on that occasion Umm Isa gave her name as Maryam — the Arabic for Mary. Friends have identified her as a convert to Islam who attended a mosque in south London.

In last year’s clip, she was shown firing an AK-47 and a revolver while wearing a burqa in Syria. She said she had studied media, film, psychology and sociology in Britain. At the time, her husband was attached to a foreign fighters’ brigade, part of which later merged with Isis. It is unclear when Umm Isa travelled to Syria and whether her older son was born there. She has said she has no plans to return.

On Twitter, Umm Isa has retweeted a photograph of an Isis crucifixion and boasted about witnessing a public execution in Manbij.

In one post she complains: “Wer r all da sisters dat want 2 join us in Sham nd marry nd support a mujahid? Wer r all da brothers dat r spose 2 b on da front line?”

Her neighbour, another British woman who uses the alias Umm Khattab al-Britaniyya, has also posted the photograph of Isa carrying a rifle, adding: “Look at my little mujahid, this kid is the funniest man, love him.”

Umm Khattab started a Twitter account on June 27 — the day after the Halane twins went missing from their home in Manchester. She wrote: “I don’t think it’s still hit me that I’m in Sham.”

In a more recent tweet, the Briton cryptically said: “Missing twins — chilling with one of them now, look."

Online picture of a British woman using the pseudonyms Umm Isa and Maryam, with her Swedish husband (Channel 4)

A later post on the same day was more sinister: “The black flag is not only limited to iraq and sham, insha’Allah [God willing] it shall fly over 10 downing st.”

She has pledged her loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis, whom she refers to as “my beloved amir [commander]”.

Umm Khattab also offers advice on, the controversial website used by teenagers. On Friday, she indicated that one of the Manchester twins “is my neighbour” and claimed that she had met “many British girls” since arriving in Syria.

When asked by a 15-year-old girl for help in joining the jihad, Umm Khattab replied: “I don’t think it’s young as long as you have common sense and a passport.”

A third British woman with Isis, who uses the alias Umm Layth, has used Twitter to advocate terrorist attacks against the UK and America.

The woman, who travelled to Syria last November and got married shortly afterwards, appears to be from Scotland and in her early twenties.

In a reference to the killers of Rigby in Woolwich, southeast London, the Boston marathon bombers and the perpetrator of a massacre at the Fort Hood US army base in Texas, Umm Layth recently wrote: “Follow the examples of your brothers from Woolwich, Texas and Boston.” She added: “If you cannot make it to the battlefield then bring the battlefield to yourself.”

Umm Layth has also posted a diary on Tumblr, making it clear that western women who join the jihad will not be allowed to fight and those who are single when they arrive in Syria will be expected to get married swiftly. All women receive a monthly income, she reveals, while couples are given a house by Isis.

She writes: “[There are] no martydom operations or a secret sisters’ katiba [brigade]. These are all rumours.

“Your day will revolve around cooking, cleaning, looking after and sometimes even educating children . . . We are created to be mothers and wives.”

Despite her stern advice, Umm Layth joked on Twitter: “Anyone making hijrah [emigrating] from Scotland . . . bring me some Irn Bru:D”


Men in Hats

I've been watching some of the coverage of Flight MH17 on Russia Today and it is indeed a poor excuse for a TV Channel - one that makes a station like Fox News look 'fair and balanced' because they at least have the occasional 'liberal' to balance their famously pro-Republican political slant.

If you ask me, Russia Today acts more like a fan club for President Putin so here's a fetching photo of the man himself wearing a rather nice hat.

Which is about as tough as it gets for the Russian leadership, if my recent viewing experience is anything to go by.    

Plane disaster is met with a sheepish silence from Russian media

President Putin met Russian Orthodox church leaders yesterday at the St Sergius Monastery, northeast of Moscow - Photo Ria Novosti/EPA

By Helen Womack - The Times

After weeks of strident anti-Ukrainian propaganda, there was a sheepish silence from much of the Russian media yesterday as the possibility grew that pro-Russian rebels would be found to have shot down Flight MH17.

Allowing the pictures to speak for themselves, the pro-Kremlin news site LifeNews showed plenty of footage of the wreckage, with little commentary.

RT (Russia Today) led its news with a statement from the Russian defence ministry that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile battery had been operational in the area at the time of the crash, before going on to cover Gaza and Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower.

President Putin was defensive. “Without doubt, the government of the territory on which it happened bears responsibility for this frightening tragedy,” he said in initial comments that blamed Kiev for abandoning a truce. Yesterday his tone changed slightly when he called for an urgent settlement of the crisis in Ukraine.

On the Echo of Moscow website, which prides itself on giving a platform to various voices, Vitaly Tretyakov, a famous newspaper editor during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms and now a trainer of Russian TV journalists, gave a Kremlin-loyal analysis.

Only three possible culprits could be responsible for bringing down the plane, he said: Kiev, because of its unprofessional military; self-defence units of New Russia (the pro-Russian separatists); or dark third forces, wanting to blacken Russia.

However, in another scathing blog, Alexander Minkin, an opposition journalist, took Mr Putin to task for his slow and inadequate response. “A passenger plane has been shot down, 298 dead, including children. The world is in shock. If it turns out that our weapons are involved, the world will soon start taking a very different tone with us.”

He added: “Obama has already spoken, Poroshenko [the president of Ukraine] also, and Putin is silent. On his official site at 20.20 [Thursday] appears the news: ‘Putin warmly congratulates [Angela] Merkel on her birthday.’ For two hours already, the world has been talking about this catastrophe.”

Mr Minkin added: “They [the Kremlin] say, ‘Well, nothing’s clear yet’. But the President should speak to the people not when all is clear . . . but straight away. Yes, we’re talking about Ukrainian territory but everyone understands that the weapons could well be ours. And it’s where we [unofficial volunteers] are taking part in fighting. But that’s Putin’s character. He kept silent for far too long about the Kursk and many other things.”

Mr Minkin’s mention of the Kursk submarine, which sank in 2000 with the loss of all her 118 sailors, was a reference to when Mr Putin, as a new, inexperienced leader, stayed on holiday too long and failed to show sufficient public concern. The curbs on Russia’s free media date back to the Kursk disaster, when Mr Putin was made to look weak and foolish by journalists who were still able to investigate and speak out.

Piles of flowers were laid at the Dutch embassy in Moscow yesterday, with a note in Russian saying: “Forgive us.”

A London-based correspondent working for Russia Today, the Kremlin-funded news channel, has resigned over its reporting of flight MH17. Sara Firth, 28, who has worked for the station — which is soon to expand its presence in the UK — for five years, called coverage of the tragedy “abysmal” in its attempt to pin the blame on Ukraine.

Ms Firth, who worked from the channel’s Moscow base before moving to London two years ago, said the coverage was “the final straw” in her decision to resign. “The truth for them is flexible,” she said.“The management are the Russian government. We are government-funded. RT is its own entity but it’s operating for the same agenda. It’s about promoting the Russian government.”

Right Versus Wrong

The 'trick' that won Tony Blair and New Labour three Westminster elections on the trot was the frank admission that party policies had to appeal to a much wider audience than just Labour members and activists.

So, for example, the Labour leadership despite having an overall majority of MPs refused to overturn laws on trade union pre-strike ballots which had been introduced in the 1980s by the previous Tory Government on the principle of one-member-one-vote.

One of the slogans made famous by New Labour at the time was that these big issues were not a matter of 'left versus right' but a matter of 'right versus wrong' which struck a chord with many ordinary voters (including most trade union members) because it sounded an awful lot like common sense.

Now this stance was deeply unpopular with trade union leaders and and left wing Labour activists, but the Party leadership (including Gordon Brown) faced down their protests and made it clear that New Labour had to govern in the name of a much wider body of opinion than just traditional Labour voters.

And that's what's at the core of this article by Steve Richards in The Independent.     

The intensity of the adulation for Blair ought to concern Labour’s ‘new’ man

By STEVE RICHARDS - The Independent

They cheer for Blair because he is not Miliband, who they fear will lead their party to defeat

The relationship between a current leader and a former one is always complex. Tony Blair may be a well-behaved éminence grise but, like Margaret Thatcher and Ted Heath, he views the present mainly through the prism of his political past. Given that Ed Miliband has defined his leadership as a break from the New Labour era there are bound to be moments when the current leader is at odds with the former one.

The intensity of the adulation for Blair at yesterdays’s Progress event was genuine and, for Miliband, cause for concern. Blair received a rapturous reception when he walked on to the stage. Subsequently the audience gave him three standing ovations. They did so for lots of reasons. Partly they know that their friend, former colleague or political hero has been widely vilified and they want to show him their defiant appreciation. But they do so also because they see him as a guide to the future as well as the past.

They cheer because he is not Miliband, who they fear will lead their party to defeat. They turn once more to the three-time election winner to navigate them towards a vaguely defined Promised Land. The feverish scale of the idolatry has an echo with meetings of the more fervent Thatcherites after the Tories’ 1997 defeat, when either Michael Portillo or sometimes the Lady herself would speak to them in an atmosphere close to worship. The dynamic then was a sign of a disturbed party, troubled by the unresolved battles of the recent past and uncertain of the immediate future.

Blair can judge better than any public figure in the Western world how to play different events. Yesterday he insisted several times that he wanted Labour to win the next election and delivered no damning quotes. Nonetheless the differences between Blair and Miliband are stark. There was one vivid contrast played out yesterday. In Washington, Miliband’s closest ally Stewart Wood wrote an article highlighting the “post-crash challenges” for progressive parties. Both Miliband and Wood believe that the 2008 financial crash was an epoch-changing event that requires radical solutions. In his speech yesterday Blair argued “what the financial crisis doesn’t alter is as important as what it does”. There is plenty of space in these words for Miliband to claim he agrees with the former leader, but in reality they highlight a very different analysis and ideological outlook.

There is no surprise here. The two of them were on different sides of the internal battles that marked the New Labour era, conflicts that were in part ideological. But there is another reason why divergence is inevitable, one that makes the relationship between past and present leaders so fraught.

If Blair had won the leadership in 2010, when Miliband did, he too would have wanted to signal a break with the recent past. He would have done it differently to Miliband, but he would have known about the importance of moving on after electoral defeat. When Blair became leader in July 1994 he made an overt leap declaring his party to be “new” and the past to be “old”. A former leader from the old Labour era, Harold Wilson, was dead so could not give an equivalent speech to Blair’s yesterday – perhaps gently reminding a new leader that he had won four elections out of five as “old Labour”. Leaders are younger these days and their predecessors remain in the wings, full of political life, seeking to play a role.

Blair’s precise advice is fairly vague. Having listened to many of his speeches in recent years I find that general assertions are rarely backed up by detailed prescriptions in relation to the dilemmas that Miliband now faces. Partly Blair is being discreet, but that is not the sole explanation. Blair argues there is no left and right division any more, the only divide being between those who seek “open or closed” societies. The assertion might reflect his personal journey but to extrapolate a global trend from that is quite a leap. I can see what he means in relation to immigration, Europe and dealing with Ukip. On all of these, he is impressively forensic. But on other mighty issues, he offers no clear route map. Who pays for health and elderly care when people are living longer? With good cause, Blair regretted the closure of Sure Start centres, but does that mean he believes Miliband should pledge to reopen some? The answers will be determined partly by whether an advocate is on the left or right.

Blair sometimes chooses to occupy a comfort zone on the centre ground that can lead to muddled policy and a certain amount of ideological flexibility. Iraq was not an issue about Blair’s integrity, but is partly explained by his determinedly centrist expediency trapping him in a place that became dangerously inexpedient.

Still, Blair won three elections and his governments made a large and too-easily-forgotten difference to people’s lives. He still uses humour and accessible language to weave diverse themes into compelling patterns. Unless Miliband wins an election, Blair’s followers will look to the former leader for inspiration. Probably they will do so even if Miliband wins. Labour’s discipline and is matched by an impressive will to win. But on strategy and policy they remain haunted by the past.

The Squeezed Middle

Dan Hodges highlights what he sees as the Labour Party's difficulty in explaining its attitude towards the 'squeezed middle' - is Labour in favour of protecting the 'middle classes' or does it believe that those on middle incomes should pay more?

And how do you 'factor in' the reality of mortgage owners in the UK (many of them middle class of course) whose housing costs have fallen significantly since 2008 as a result of artificially low interest rates?

Harriet Harman has made the first major gaffe of the next election

By Dan Hodges - The Telegraph


We may be 10 months out, but Harriet Harman has just made the first gaffe of the 2015 general election campaign. And it’s a major one.

During an interview on LBC yesterday she volunteered the following statement:

You don’t want to have to pay to go private to get really good healthcare system. And I think that is not just for working-class people, it’s for middle-class people as well. And the same with education, you know, a really good school system that helps people from lower income families and middle income families as well. So I think that actually the idea that there are some things that help people on low incomes and other that help people on middle incomes. Yes I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes. But actually they need those public services like the transport system.

Because the reshuffle was in full swing, nobody really paid much attention to it. But some sharp press officers at Tory HQ heard it. And the phrase “I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes” got their ears burning.

When something like this drops on your lap the immediate reaction is to start hitting the phones and trying to get journalists to chase it. But those evil – and clever – Tories did a smart thing. They held it tight, trusted it would be overshadowed by the demotion of Michael Gove, and handed it David Cameron.

And at PMQs he’s just ambushed Ed Miliband with it, to devastating effect. It wasn’t just the quote itself which got the Tory benches roaring. It was the reaction on the Labour side.

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls clearly had no idea Harriet Harman had even made the comment. So Miliband’s initial response was to scoff at Cameron. Until he heard his deputy leader shouting out “It’s true!”, at which point he turned and stared at her as if she’d taken leave of her senses. Which, in a political sense, she had.

Miliband tried to brush it off with his “I ask the questions” line, but he’d just had the House of Commons chamber rug pulled clean out from under him. As he got up and ploughed vainly on, Ed Balls could be seen leaning across to his colleague and asking her, in effect, “what’s Cameron going on about?” In response, she seemed to try and laugh the whole thing off.

Well, Labour isn’t going to be able to laugh the whole thing off. The Tories are going to go for the jugular on this. They’ve been planning to run a “Labour middle-class tax bombshell” line for some time. But never in their wildest dreams did they think Harriet Harman would be running it for them.

Tory sources are already pointing out the discrepancy between Harman’s line on higher taxes for the middle classes, and her leader's attempt to pose as the champion of the squeezed middle. “They’re now saying two utterly contradictory things”, said one. “That the recession has been tough for middle-income people, but despite that they want to whack middle-income people with more taxes. It doesn’t even make basic sense.”

Over the past few months Harriet Harman has been complaining to Ed Miliband that she wasn’t being given a high enough profile in the forthcoming election campaign. The Tories are about to ensure that she has one.

Left Wing Narcissists?

Relations on the left of Scottish politics seem to have taken a turn for the worse if this article in the Sunday Herald is anything to go by, with an anonymous 'insider' from the Common Weal describing comrades from the Scottish Left Review/Jimmy Reid Foundation as 'narcissists'.

Which is not a very comradely way to behave, if you ask me. 

Now I was involved with the Scottish Left Review when it was being set up 15 years or so ago although I eventually decided to devote my time and energies elsewhere.

Nonetheless it is sad to see fights and splits emerging via the newspapers especially when people ought to be able to resolve these issues through debate and discussion, as my old chum from Nupe/Unison days, Bob Thomson, points out.    

Reid family speak out over tensions inside Foundation

THE family of the late left-wing icon Jimmy Reid has spoken out about the "tensions and disagreements" inside the foundation set up to secure the trade unionist's legacy.
They voiced concerns amid claims that two senior figures in the Jimmy Reid Foundation are at loggerheads about the body's direction and purpose.
Reid gained international recognition as one of the trade union leaders during the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders "work-in" in the early 1970s.
He died in 2010, with figures including Sir Alex Ferguson, comedian Billy Connolly, First Minister Alex Salmond and former prime minister Gordon Brown attending the funeral.
The Foundation was set up as a non-partisan think-tank, and has Robin McAlpine as its director and Scottish Labour stalwart Bob Thomson as convener. It has no independent legal status, but is under the umbrella of Left Review Scotland Ltd.
The Foundation's flagship project is Common Weal, which under McAlpine's direction has published a series of left-wing policy papers on subjects ranging from the economy to education.
However, McAlpine has also put forward options for the future of the Common Weal, such as influencing future governments and even forming a political party, although he is said to be sceptical of the latter idea.
He has also suggested setting up a Common Weal digital newspaper, film unit and television service.
An online magazine, edited by Kenneth Roy, last week reported tensions between McAlpine and Thomson on the Foundation's future, particularly relating to the notion of fielding political candidates.
Eileen Reid, one of Reid's daughters, has released a statement to this newspaper on behalf of the late trade unionist's family.
It is understood the Reids sympathise more with Thomson's line of thinking.
The statement noted: "Sadly, Kenneth Roy's piece in the Scottish Review about Jimmy Reid's legacy is a broadly accurate description of the unfortunate state of affairs within the Jimmy Reid Foundation.
"The Reid family's concern is to try as much as we can to protect Jimmy's memory and legacy, and to ensure as far as possible that all those who act in his name do so in a manner which respects in a dignified manner his values and humanitarianism.
"However, there is very little the family can do to resolve the current situation, as we do not have a seat on the Scottish Left Review editorial board which governs the Jimmy Reid Foundation Project Board.
"Therefore although we are concerned, we have no formal power or influence to do anything about the current tensions and disagreements but we are hopeful that these will be resolved as soon as possible by the Jimmy Reid Foundation and the Scottish Left Review."
Thomson, in his own statement, said: "At no time have we discussed far less agreed to stand candidates anywhere.
"Standing candidates would require us registering as a political party and would be contrary to our objectives."
He added: "There have also been reports in the media that the Common Weal was proposing setting up a digital newspaper, film unit, television service etc.
"Laudable as these may be, they would require substantial funding and resources.
"More importantly there have been no discussions on any of these ideas and most of them could be construed as outwith our objectives."
It is believed that the Foundation and the Common Weal may be heading for a formal split.
A Common Weal insider dismissed the statements as "narcissism" and "two people versus a movement".
McAlpine said yesterday: "Common Weal will continue."

Russia in the Dock

In November 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent, met with two former colleagues, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, in London.

A few days later he was admitted into hospital suffering from poisoning, but not just any old poisoning because somehow he had ingested radioactive Polonium 210 which finally killed him 22 days later - with the poison being traced back to a teapot in the London hotel where he had shared a cup of tea with his fellow countrymen from Russia.

Suspicious, damning even, or what?

Because it's not everyone, of course, who has ready access to a highly volatile, dangerous radioactive isotope and the ability to administer such a deadly substance to an 'enemy' they intended to kill, without being anywhere near the scene of the crime when their deadly deed finally came to light. 

So it's great news that Marina Litvinenko has been granted the public inquiry that her husband's terrible murder deserves, as explained in the following report from the BBC.  

Alexander Litvinenko death: UK announces public inquiry

A public inquiry will be held into the death of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, the UK Home Secretary Theresa May has announced.

Mr Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who became a British citizen, died in 2006 in a London hospital after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium.

The investigation will examine whether the Russian state was behind his death.

Mr Litvinenko's widow, Marina, said she was "relieved and delighted", saying the "truth will win out in the end".

Announcing the inquiry - which will be chaired by senior judge Sir Robert Owen - Mrs May said she hoped it would be of "some comfort" to Mrs Litvinenko.

The former Russian spy, 43, died after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium while drinking tea with two Russian men, one a former KGB officer, at a London hotel.

His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time of his death and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.

'For truth'

Speaking at a press conference, Mrs Litvinenko - who had legally challenged the government's earlier decision not to hold a public inquiry - said she had pursued the case "for justice", adding: "I did this for truth."

"I would like to be able to show people that you are able to get justice, in any difficult situation," she added.

But she added that she did not believe the suspects would face trial in the UK.

One of the suspects, Andrei Lugovoi, told the Russian Interfax news agency the decision to launch an inquiry was "the height of cynicism".

In May 2007, the UK said Mr Lugovoi - now a politician in Russia - should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko. Russia refused to extradite Mr Lugovoi, who denies any involvement.

The inquiry will seek to establish how Mr Litvinenko died and where the responsibility for his death lies. It will also have powers to make recommendations.

The government had previously resisted calls for a public inquiry, saying it would first "wait and see" what a judge-led inquest found.

However, Sir Robert - who was the coroner overseeing Mr Litvinenko's inquest last year and will now chair the inquiry - called for a public inquiry to be set up.

In a written ruling, he said an inquest could not take sensitive evidence due to national security fears. As a result any verdict would be "potentially misleading and unfair", he said.

As the law stands, inquests cannot consider some material relating to national security because of rules preventing its public disclosure.

The inquiry will be able to be mostly held in public but have closed sessions to consider sensitive evidence.

In February - following a legal challenge by Mrs Litvinenko - the High Court said the Home Office had been wrong to rule out an inquiry before the outcome of an inquest.

Analysis from BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera

Until now, the government has steadfastly resisted holding a public inquiry.

That was because there are layers of secrets surrounding the death of Alexander Litvinenko. This is thought to include secret intelligence that may relate to whether the Russian state was responsible for his murder.

There are also secrets about Mr Litvinenko's own relationship with MI6. The government demanded all these secrets be kept out of an inquest.

But the former Russian security officer's widow has fought a long legal battle to get to the truth.

A public inquiry will now look at where responsibility lies for the death although it does not look as if it will look at whether his relationship with MI6 means that more should be done to have protected him.

Lawyers for Mrs Litvinenko had claimed that the issue of state responsibility was being closed down precisely to try to improve relations with Russia.

If so, then changing times may explain a government's change of heart. And so we may get one step closer to finding out who was behind a radioactive murder on the streets of London.

A Downing Street spokesman said Sir Robert would have the jurisdiction to demand the production of both witnesses - including security agents - and documents from the security and intelligence services.

However, the inquiry will have no such powers in relation to evidence from Russia, he added.

The inquiry is due to begin on 31 July and is expected to conclude by the end of 2015.

A government spokesman said Mr Litvinenko's death was "an appalling crime and we want to see those responsible prosecuted through the courts".

The Litvinenko case

  • 1 Nov 2006 - Alexander Litvinenko has tea with former agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun in London
  • 4 Nov 2006 - After three days of vomiting he is admitted to hospital, and dies 22 days later. His death is attributed to radiation poisoning
  • May 2007 - The UK decides Mr Lugovoi should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko. He denies any involvement but says Mr Litvinenko was a British spy
  • 5 Jul 2007 - Russia officially refuses to extradite Mr Lugovoi, prompting a diplomatic row
  • 20 Sept 2012 - Pre-inquest review hears that Russia's links to the death will be probed
  • May-June 2013 - Inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death delayed as coroner decides a public inquiry would be preferable
  • Jan 2014 - Marina Litvinenko in High Court fight to force a public inquiry
  • 11 Feb 2014 - High Court says the Home Office had been wrong to rule out an inquiry before the outcome of an inquest

Russian Games (12 February 2014)

I'm not sure that it will do much good, but Marina Litvinenko, the  widow of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, has won a major court victory which means that government ministers will have to think again about holding a public inquiry into his death. 

Whatever the UK might do Russia has already given the main suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, immunity from prosecution and extradition by making him a deputy in the Russian Duma or Parliament.

So, a public inquiry will only tells us what we already know while having no powers to bring those responsible to justice.

All the same you have to admire the determination of Marina Litvinenko to keep the issue in the public eye - and I wish her well in her campaign. 

Spooks and Spies (6 July 2013)

I was rather surprised by the recent announcement that Eric Snowden, the former  American 'spook', is seeking political asylum in - wait for it - freedom loving Russia.

Now I can quite accept that America does not always live up to its billing as the 'land of the free and the brave' -
But the last time I looked Russia was playing fast and loose with its constitution to allow Vladimir Putin a third term as President, operating virtually as a one party state, passing legislation that openly discriminates against gay people - and murdering exiled dissidents like Alexander Litvinenko.
And with exquisite timing along comes another scandal from Germany - which just goes to show that to a greater or lesser extent many of the most powerful nations in the world are snooping and spying on each other all the time.
In Germany a married couple - Andreas (54) and Heidrun (48) Anschlag - were jailed earlier this week after spying for Russia for more than two decades - during which they lived a quiet suburban life having entered Germany in 1988 via South America on false Austrian passports.   
Andreas and Heidrun (real names Sasaha and Olga) were passing information to Russian handlers - their espionage activities included making a payment of 72,000 Euros to a Dutch diplomat for top secret EU information on Georgia and details of NATO operations in Libya and Afghanistan.
Sasha was caught 'red-handed' (pardon the pun) while sending a short wave radio transmission to his Russian handlers whose private thoughts about modern Germany were worryingly hostile - describing it as the 'land of the enemy'.
Now wonder Angela Merkel gave Vladimir Putin a good kicking during her recent state visit to Russia - but it just goes to show how naïve spooks and spies can be, if Eric Snowden's bizarre choice of an adopted homeland is anything to go by.   
For their part the Russians don't seem too keen to welcome him with open arms - which can only mean that they have plenty of work for their home grown agents - at the moment anyway.

Safe Havens (16 July 2013)

While the former American spook, Eric Snowden, is thinking about seeking political asylum in Russia I wonder if he might like to raise the curious case of Alexander Litvinenko - with his new comrades and friends.

Now I'm sure that Alexander Litvinenko became a useful source of information to British intelligence handlers - a 'spy' in the very broadest sense of that word - but in no way could he have been regarded as an on-going threat to Russian security.

Yet he was murdered by consuming radioactive Polonium shortly after taking tea with two former Russian intelligence agents in a London hotel - an act which could only have been organised by a very sophisticated state machine with a motive to kill a Russian defector.

So Russia looks like a very unpromising place for an American spy to call his new home from home - although this is a very murky world where things are not necessarily as reliable or believable as they would first appear.

Andrew Lugovoi has since become a Russian MP, of course, which makes it unlawful for the Russian authorities even to consider extraditing him to the UK - where he is wanted for questioning in connection with a cowardly and vile murder plot.

Here's a little history of the Litvinenko case which I came across on the BBC web site - I can't say I'm surprised that the Government has decided not to proceed with a public inquiry.

Because what would that tell us other than it is almost certainly the case that Russia and its intelligence services - were responsible for Alexander Litvinenko's untimely and unnatural death. 

The Litvinenko case
  • 1 Nov 2006 - Alexander Litvinenko has tea with former agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun in London
  • 4 Nov 2006 - After three days of vomiting he is admitted to hospital, and dies 22 days later. His death is attributed to radiation poisoning
  • May 2007 - The UK decides Mr Lugovoi should be charged with the murder of Mr Litvinenko. He denies any involvement but says Mr Litvinenko was a British spy
  • 5 Jul 2007 - Russia officially refuses to extradite Mr Lugovoi, prompting a diplomatic row
  • 20 Sept 2012 - Pre-inquest review hears that Russia's links to the death will be probed
  • May-June 2013 - Inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death delayed as coroner decides a public inquiry would be preferable