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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
Row over Litvinenko's radioactive house
By Steven Shukor
BBC News, London

Alexander Litvinenko's former home
Mr Litvinenko's house has been sealed off
"For sale: a stylishly-presented, three-bedroom townhouse, with landscaped garden and off-street parking. Has undergone remediation work due to radioactive contamination."

You might forgive an estate agent for withholding some of that information when the home of murdered former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko eventually goes on the market.

The 500,000 house located in a quiet development built seven years ago in Muswell Hill, north London, has been vacant since Mr Litvinenko's death in November 2006.

His wife Marina, who saw his condition deteriorate dramatically at their home, and their son Anatole have moved out and are unlikely to return.

'No blank cheque'

The property, 140 Osier Crescent, has been sealed off by Haringey Council, which has issued a prohibition order preventing access until the decontamination work is carried out.

But that may take a while. A row has broken out between the council and Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, who owns number 140 and other houses in Osier Crescent.

Boris Berezovsky
The statement from the council is ridiculous
Boris Berezovsky

After several vain attempts to contact Mr Berezovsky and his lawyers, Haringey Council has resorted to issuing a press release in an attempt to prompt some sort of action.

"We have been trying to contact the owners of the property who are responsible for paying for the remediation work," said the release. "So far we have been unable to resolve this issue."

Councillor Nilgun Canver said: "We cannot write a blank cheque promising to pay whatever it costs to remediate the property, that is the responsibility of the owner."

Traces of polonium-210, the substance used to poison Mr Litvinenko, have been detected in 14 premises across London, which have had to close for decontamination work.

The Itsu sushi bar in Piccadilly, where he met academic Mario Scaramella on 1 November, was closed for several weeks during the clean-up by contractor Nukem, which cost 16,000.

The cost of remediation work at 140 Osier Crescent has not been disclosed, but would include a 15,000 survey to determine the extent of the contamination.

Remediation can involve painting over contaminated surfaces, removing affected items such as furniture and leaving low-level contamination in place to decay naturally.

'Ridiculous'

The BBC News website had more luck than Haringey Council in contacting Mr Berezovsky, who said in no uncertain terms he had no intention of paying for the clean-up.

He used the opportunity to have yet another dig at Russian President Vladimir Putin who he blames for his friend's death, suggesting he should pick up the bill. The Kremlin has always denied any involvement in the killing.

Alexander Litvinenko
Mr Litvinenko was poisoned with Polonium-210 in his green tea

"The statement from the council is ridiculous," Mr Berezovsky said. "Marina is now homeless with her son.

"It's not that I don't want to help. I am helping them but I disagree that we are responsible for this. Those responsible for the murder should pay for any damage, as well as compensate all those affected by this terror attack in London."

In the meantime, the council has written to reassure residents in Osier Crescent that the contamination does not pose a danger to nearby homes.

The letter said: "The home of Mr Litvinenko is contaminated with polonium-210 and... a hazard exists to anyone residing in or entering the premises.

"We must stress that the contamination is not a hazard to any neighbouring property."

Radioactivity decays away over time, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said, and without remediation any contamination will have decayed after a "few years".

The HPA said polonium-210 contamination reduced to half the amount over a period of 138 days, and to half that level over the next 138 days, and so on.

Property prices

That appears to be of little reassurance to Mr Litvinenko's former neighbours who feel the council have kept information to a "bare minimum".

If the council is really concerned about the public's health they should clean it
Jane Lord

"It's quite worrying to know there is a radioactive house in your street," said resident Jane Lord.

"Children play in the road opposite Alexander's house. I have two small children. Who knows what risks there are?"

She added: "This whole argument about who is responsible for the clean-up is laughable. If the council is really concerned about the public's health they should clean it."

Muswell Hill estate agents said the radioactive house was having little bearing on the property market.

"Some potential buyers have been slightly concerned about Mr Litvinenko's property," said Andrew Hunt, of Kinleigh Folkard and Hayward.

"If this particular house was to go on to the open market after extensive remediation work, it is likely that there would be an adjustment in the selling price - in that it would be lower than similar sized properties in Osier Crescent."




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