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Victims of Ukraine jet crash begin their long journey home

THE victims of the crashed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 will begin their long journey home today as their bodies are flown from Ukraine to the Netherlands for formal identification.

VITAL CLUE: A pro-Russian separatist shows the media the black box belonging to Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as he handed it over. Picture: Reuters
VITAL CLUE: A pro-Russian separatist shows the media the black box belonging to Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as he handed it over. Picture: Reuters

Following an overnight journey in a refrigerated train from Torez in eastern Ukraine to the government-controlled city of Kharkiv, the remains of most of the 298 victims will be carefully transferred to coffins for the flight to Eindhoven.

There, the full identification process will begin, led by the Dutch - nearly two-thirds of the victims were from the Netherlands - but will include a Disaster Victims Identification team from Scotland Yard.

It is possible some victims' families could make the journey to Eindhoven to be near their loved ones and to help arrange the final leg of their return home.

Ten Britons were among the dead, including former RAF search and rescue controller Stephen Anderson, 44, from Inverness. Downing Street did not rule the possibility David Cameron might meet some or all of their relatives later this week.

In a separate development, it was announced the plane's black box recorders, handed over by the Ukraine separatists, will be moved to Farnborough in Hampshire, where the flight information will be downloaded by British air accident investigators. Dutch and Malaysian aviation experts will then analyse the data.

Last night on a visit to Scotland, the Prime Minister said: "Of course, the people who probably have the really valuable information about what happened to this flight are indeed the Russians themselves and they should release what they know about what happened over the skies of eastern Ukraine."

As the UK Government attempted to keep the political pressure on Moscow, it announced a U-turn, saying there would after all be a public inquiry into the death by radiation poisoning of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko.

In 2006, the 43-year-old Russian died an excruciating death after drinking tea with two former KGB colleagues. The drink had been laced with radioactive polonium-210.

Last year, the coroner halted the inquest, saying a public inquiry was preferable but the Home Office refused, citing "international relations" as a factor. Earlier this year, the High Court said the Whitehall department had been wrong to rule out an inquiry.

In announcing one, Downing Street insisted there was "no link whatsoever" to the plane crash and Britain's attempt to turn the diplomatic screw on Russia. A spokesman said the Coalition was simply following the proper process in light of the court's decision.

Mr Litvinenko's widow, Marina, said she was "relieved and delighted" that a judge-led inquiry would go ahead, stressing it told his killers "no matter how strong and powerful you are, truth will win out in the end".

Meantime following a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, the 28-member bloc raised the prospect of economic sanctions against Russia.

While they agreed to extend asset freezes and travel bans on the "cronies" of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, the ministers also called on the European Commission to draft proposals within days for restricting Russian access to European capital markets, defence and energy technology. Such a move would require agreement by heads of government.

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, said: "The cronies of Mr Putin and his clique in the Kremlin are the people who have to bear the pressure. If the financial interests of the group around the leadership are affected, the leadership will know about it."

The PM added further sanctions were now "being put on to the starting blocks; that's good news but, of course, we need to do more".

But at Westminster, Labour urged Tory high command to "come clean" on its links to Russian oligarchs after highlighting how they had given the Conservatives more than £900,000.

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore said: "People will be surprised at the extent of Russian wealth bankrolling David Cameron's re-election fund.

"The Tories need to come clean about all their Russian links. There can be no impression of conflicts of interest or hypocrisy at such an important time. Scrutiny is on David Cameron and he should respond with transparency."

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