Was MI6 spy-in-a-bag Gareth Williams killed by 'secret service dark arts'?
Gareth Williams, an MI6 spy found dead inside a locked holdall could have been killed by someone who specialised in “the dark arts of the secret services”, a coroner was told.
By Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter
1:00PM BST 30 Mar 2012
Gareth Williams could not have locked the bag from the inside, meaning a “third party” must have done it, according to a lawyer representing his family.
Relatives believe his death in 2010 may have been linked to his work at MI6, where he had recently qualified for "operational deployment", and that fingerprints, DNA and other evidence was wiped from the scene in a deliberate cover up.
Police have always said they were keeping an open mind on whether the 31-year-old codebreaker was murdered or died as a result of an accident, possibly during a bizarre sex game.
But at an interim hearing ahead of the full inquest into his death, Westminster Coroner’s Court in London was told that a delay by MI6 in notifying police of his disappearance meant a post-mortem examination had been “ineffective” and the cause of his death remained unclear.
A series of blunders, including a mix-up over DNA found at the scene, had also hampered the inquiry, Dr Fiona Wilcox, the coroner, was told.
Williams, a maths genius who had worked for the government listening post GCHQ in Cheltenham since leaving university, was on secondment to MI6 when his body was found by police in his top-floor flat in Pimlico, west London, on Aug 23, 2010.
He was discovered naked inside a red North Face holdall, which was padlocked on the outside and was in his bath.
Dr Wilcox said there were no injuries on the body to suggest he had been in a struggle, and a “lack of evidence that he made any frantic attempt to get himself out of the bag”.
She said it was possible he had got into the bag himself, and was considering ordering a live demonstration at the full inquest involving a police expert getting into an identical bag.
Evidence from pathologists suggested it would have been difficult to place the body in the bag after Williams had died, without leaving marks on the body.
Dr Wilcox said it was “at the very heart of this inquiry” whether Williams could have locked the bag himself from the inside, but Vincent Williams, representing the Metropolitan Police, said experts were agreed that this was impossible.
Anthony O’Toole, representing the Williams family, said that if the spy had not locked the bag himself, there was “a high probability that there was a third party present in the flat” at the time.
Despite a painstaking forensic examination of the flat, no forensic evidence of any such third party was found.
Mr O’Toole said this suggested that: “The unknown third party was a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret services, and perhaps evidence was removed from the scene post mortem by an expert in those dark arts.”
Outside the hearing, he said the family did not know whether the “third party” might have belonged to a British or foreign agency, raising the possibility that one of Williams’ own MI6 colleagues could have been involved, either in his death or the alleged cover-up.
He said Williams’ family did not know what his work involved, but had now been told that “he had attended two operational development courses and with effect from March 18, 2010 he could be operationally deployed”.
He said MI6 had issued a “bland statement” that his death was unrelated to his work and that the risk to him was “low” but added: “To properly explore the circumstances of the death we do need to know something of the deceased’s work.”
The coroner said she would “follow the evidence” wherever it led.
Williams was last seen alive on Aug 15, 2010, but he was not reported missing until Aug 23, when the human resources manager at GCHQ, called Scotland Yard.
The delay meant two post-mortem examinations were unable to pinpoint the time or cause of death, though the bachelor is thought to have been dead for about a week.
Dr Wilcox said the most likely cause of death was either oxygen depletion or hypercapnia – a build-up of carbon dioxide inside the bag.
But the Williams family believe the delay in raising the alarm may have been a deliberate part of a cover-up.
Mr O’Toole also said there was no evidence of “covert entry” to the flat, but an expert had been unable to make a thorough examination of the front door in situ because it had already been removed from the frame, along with the lock.
The inquest was also told that a man and a woman of “Mediterranean appearance” who had visited the flat in the weeks before the death, and who were the subject of a police witness appeal, had now been identified and ruled out as a “red herring”.
Officers investigating Williams’ death have always believed his private life, which was almost as secretive as his job, could hold the key to how he died.
Several months after his death, police disclosed that Williams owned £15,000 of women’s designer clothing, had visited a drag show and accessed bondage sex websites.
Some of the websites showed people bound and tied up.
The inquest was told that two women who ran a fashion design course that Williams attended were among those who had given statements to the police.
A shop assistant who sold him some goods he said were for “his girlfriend” has also given a statement.
Other witnesses at next month’s inquest, which is expected to last five days, will include three colleagues from GCHQ and MI6, named only as F, G and K, who will give evidence anonymously from behind a screen. They are likely to be asked about Williams’ personal and work life.
For 18 months, police believed DNA found on Williams’ hand was their best lead to identifying who locked him in the bag.
But earlier this month, during a review of the evidence, police discovered the DNA belonged to one of the forensics officers who had worked at the scene.
A typographical error by a worker at the forensics firm LGC meant a numerical code for the DNA sample had been wrongly fed into a computer, meaning the sample was marked as unidentified.
Mr O’Toole said outside the hearing: “The family weren’t very happy [when they heard about it] because it was the only link to convicting anybody.”
A spokesman for LGC said the firm was “sorry for any pain” the error had caused the family, adding that procedures had now been changed and all other cases where data had been inputted in a similar fashion had been checked without any other errors being found.
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