A strange assassination took place in London in 2006. Russian emigre Alexander Litvinenko was murdered with the world’s most poisonous ever cup of tea, containing liberal amounts of Polonium 215, a substance so poisonous there is no known safe dosage. Polonium was discovered by the great Marie Curie, and it unfortunately killed her daughter. Quite why such a bizarre method was chosen for the assassination has never been satisfactorily explained, but now, with the opening of an official enquiry into Litvinenko’s death, we may finally get some answers. At the time, the affair spawned a book and a film, though neither managed to solve the many riddles thrown up by Litvinenko’s shadowy life and horribly painful death.

That it has taken so long for a proper enquiry into his death is in itself something of a mystery. The identities of the chief suspects – Andrei Lugovoi and Dimitry Kovtun, a pair of shady characters associated with the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who also died in suspicious circumstances some years later – was known from the outset. Both deny any involvement, but the evidence is stacked against them. At the time, relations between the UK and Russia were undergoing a difficult transformation, and the murder was perhaps considered too sensitive a subject while Cold War thawing was underway.

But today, Russia is again the bad guy, at least for media purposes, so the enquiry could be used as part of the armoury of international pressure being brought to bear on Vladimir Putin and co. Whether the truth of Litvinenko’s death will ever come out is almost a sideshow now, despite the hopes of his wife, and the curiosity of many who remember the original incident and the furore it provoked. But it is interesting to see the irradiated memory of a murdered Russian loose cannon being pointed back at his country of origin. Whether or not the half life of this bizarre episode carries quite the same poisonous sting of its initial blast, it will raise a number of troubling ghosts, and perhaps bring a series of connections between mysterious deaths in the last ten years to light …