Today, the Guardian reports:
The mysterious death of a former Russian spy living in exile in London turned into an unprecedented public health scare yesterday when it emerged that he had been deliberately poisoned by a major dose of radioactive material.
Further traces of the substance were found at a sushi restaurant and at a central London hotel where Alexander Litvinenko met a number of people before falling ill, and at his home in the city.
He was killed by polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope which is so toxic that there may never be a postmortem examination of Mr Litvinenko's body, for fear of causing further deaths.
Police and security sources said they had never encountered such an extraordinary death. "Nothing like this has ever happened before," said one Whitehall source. "It is unprecedented, we are in uncharted territory." One priority last night was to establish who has access to polonium 210 anywhere in the world.
Government ministers meanwhile, are said to be "dreading" the possible repercussions of a public inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death, at which they expect his associates to make damning accusations against the Russian government.
Last night health officials were contacting up to 100 people - hospital staff and relatives - who came into contact with the former spy during his three weeks at two London hospitals, so they can be screened for contamination. The home secretary, John Reid, also convened Cobra, the government's emergency planning committee, to discuss the situation.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said the risk to hospital staff was extremely low, as alpha radiation from the ex-agent's body would need to be inhaled, swallowed, or enter an open wound before causing harm. Normal hospital practices should have prevented this. Nor would anybody be at risk just because they had been close to Mr Litvinenko.
But the agency said it could not assess the level of risk to the public who had visited locations which had been contaminated with the substance. Professor Roger Cox, director of the HPA's centre for radiological, chemical and environmental hazards, said there was insufficient information to make such an assessment. Last night police were refusing to say how much of the substance was found at the hotel and restaurant, or at Mr Litvinenko's house in Muswell Hill, north London.
Radiation from the polonium was first detected in Mr Litvinenko's urine hours before he died on Thursday night. There is no antidote to the substance and the HPA said that such a large dose would always kill once ingested. Scientists are trying to use computer models, based on analysis of Mr Litvinenko's urine, and the apparent damage to his organs over the last three weeks, to work out when he may have been poisoned.
While Scotland Yard say they are treating his death as suspicious, they are not describing their investigation as a murder inquiry. One possibility being considered is that Mr Litvinenko poisoned himself.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command, which is conducting the investigation, said: "We continue to carry out a thorough investigation. There will also be an extensive examination of CCTV footage."
Enemies of the Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, blamed him - insisting the poisoning bore the hallmarks of an assassination by Mr Litvinenko's former colleagues from the FSB, a successor to the KGB. Mr Litvinenko fled to Britain six years ago after revealing an alleged plot to murder Boris Berezovsky, a multimillionaire businessman also in exile in the UK.
On November 1, he met Mario Scaramella, an Italian academic, at a sushi restaurant. Mr Scaramella showed him two emails, obtained by the Guardian, which warned "Russian intelligence officers speak more and more about necessity to use force" against critics of Russia including Mr Berezovsky and Mr Litvinenko.
Yesterday Mr Litvinenko's associates, many of them employees of Mr Berezovsky, produced a statement which they said was made by Mr Litvinenko last Tuesday, in which he blamed Mr Putin for his impending death.
"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 declared. "May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people."
Mr Putin brushed aside such claims yesterday, telling a press conference: "There is no ground for speculation of this kind. A death of a man is always a tragedy and I deplore this and send my condolences to the family."
Some of Mr Putin's aides went further, hinting at an expatriate plot to discredit the Russian government. "I am far from being a champion of conspiracy theory," said Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Mr Putin's chief envoy to the EU. "But it looks like we are facing a well-orchestrated campaign or a plan to consistently discredit Russia and its leader."
The Foreign Office confirmed last night that officials had discussed Mr Litvinenko's death with the Russian ambassador at a meeting yesterday afternoon, and had asked Moscow for any information which would assist Scotland Yard with their inquiries.
Apart from the sensation that we are being transported a good 40 years back in time to when the Cold War was at its apogee, what else is very disturbing in all of this most extraordinary story? The conspiracy theory claims? The shroud of mystery? No. As far as I'm concerned it's just that apparently it's possible to get your hands on Polonium 210 and use it in a restaurant in the middle of London...