Channel 4 : Body of killed MI6 man 'dead for two weeks'

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Body of killed MI6 man 'dead for two weeks'

By Channel 4 News | August 25, 2010

As detectives confirm the body of an MI6 employee may have lay undiscovered for two weeks, a former MI6 officer tells Channel 4 News the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) will be very concerned about the killing.

The body of the man, named locally as 31-year-old Gareth Williams from Angelsey, was found stuffed into a large sports holdall in the bath of his central London apartment.

Officers discovered his mobile phone and several sim cards laid out nearby when they broke into the top-floor flat in Alderney Street, Pimlico at around 4.40pm on Monday.

It is understood Mr Williams had been stabbed, possibly several times, and his body was decomposing when it was found.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said the body had yet to be formally identified.

MI6 will never confirm whether Gareth Williams worked for them or not, writes Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman, given the organisation's cloak of secrecy.

Security sources point out that the investigation into his death is being led by homicide and serious crime units from the Metropolitan Police - apparently ruling out any suspicion that this was a terrorist hit or related to Mr Williams' work.

I understand there is no evidence of any link between this killing and al Qaeda or any foreign intelligence service, including the Russians, though MI6 and GCHQ are waiting for the police to give them the results of the post-mortem examination.

Colleagues raised the alarm and contacted authorities on Monday after Mr Williams had not been seen for "some time".

It is understood he had been employed as a communications officer at the GCHQ "listening post" in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

But it is believed he was on secondment at the headquarters of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, which is only about half a mile from the flat.

Public documents revealed that several current and former residents of the freehold block have links to London and Cheltenham.

Police are continuing to scour the two-floor flat for evidence and cordons remain in place on the prestigious street where two former home secretaries live.

Sources close to the inquiry said it is not clear how Mr Williams died and played down speculation that the murder is linked to his secretive line of work.

One source said: "The suggestion there is terrorism or national security links to this case is pretty low down the list of probabilities."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "There is an ongoing police investigation.

"It is long-standing Government policy not to confirm or deny that any individual works for the intelligence agencies."

Security sources say there is no evidence linking Mr Williams' death to any rival secret service.

But Harry Ferguson, a former MI6 officer, told Channel 4 News that the agency would still be concerned.

"I think the chances are quite high it was a private matter, although it still leaves the mystery of the sim cards," he said.

"If it was that, it would concern MI6 anyway because it suggests he was carrying on liaisons in his private life that they weren't aware of that led to this sort of incident."

Land Registry documents reveal the block at number 36 Alderney Street, where the body was found, is owned by a private company, New Rodina.

The details of this company are hidden because it is registered in the British Virgin Islands and not listed with Companies House.

The word rodina means "motherland" in Russian and Bulgarian.

The property was bought for £675,250 in 2000 with a mortgage from the Royal Bank of Scotland and has been remortgaged twice, in September 2005 and February 2006.

The documents reveal the owner operated through a law firm known as Park Nelson.

This firm once occupied a rented block in Bell Yard, off Fleet Street, but it no longer appears to exist.

Neighbours shocked

Former Tory leader Michael Howard and Sir Leon Brittan are among a host of politicians and bankers who live in the street, according to residents.

Neighbour Laura Houghton said an "extremely friendly" man identifying himself as Gareth lived at the address that is being searched.

She said: "I have spoken to him only once. I met him in the entrance hall of the set of flats because of a boring plant issue about a year ago.

"He was extremely friendly and had a Welsh accent."

She said the man had an athletic build, and added: "He was not especially tall. He had medium to short brown hair.

"His windows were always shut and curtains were often closed. I could never tell if anyone was in.

"It was strange that we never saw him come and go. I just assumed he worked away.

"The first I heard of anything happening was when the police knocked on my door and asked me if I had heard anything happening. I told them the walls were so thick that I couldn't hear a thing.

"All they told me was that there had been a serious incident. I'm amazed it's taken this long to all come out."

GCHQ has a rigorous recruitment system which includes enquiring about character, family history and personal circumstances.

On the GCHQ website it says:

"GCHQ conducts enquiries into the character, family history and personal circumstances of candidates before they can be employed. It is for the protection of both the individual and GCHQ assets that we consider the risk of an individual being placed in a potentially compromising position".

"To ensure your suitability for appointment you will have to undergo a rigorous security clearance. As part of this a criminal records check will be conducted and you will be drugs tested.

"If you do not meet the Developed Vetting requirements for the job, or fail to disclose any security related issues or concerns, you will not be considered for employment."

It is unlikely GCHQ will consider a person for a position in GCHQ if they:

• Have used Class A drugs (e.g. ecstasy, cocaine, etc) in the last 12 months.
• Have used Class B/C drugs (e.g. amphetamines, cannabis, etc) in the last 6 months.
• Are currently being treated for an addiction (e.g. alcohol, gambling, etc) or have received such treatment in the last 12 months.
• Have ever suffered from manic depression or schizophrenia.
• Are currently bankrupt or the subject of an Individual Voluntary Agreement (IVA).

Pensioner Eileen Booth, 73, who lives opposite, said detectives told her the murder may have taken place two weeks ago.

She said: "A few years ago, I would definitely have known who it was that had been killed. But nobody knows each other these days.

"Detectives came round and asked for our eye colour and height. They said this probably happened two weeks ago."

Another neighbour Rob Mills, 35, who lives two doors away, said: "We've got two children - it's shocking.

"I'm told the man lived at the top-floor flat but we haven't ever seen him. It's not like you'd tell your neighbours if you were a spy."

Jason Hollands, 41, a City worker, who also lives nearby, said: "It's truly gruesome - this is a very mixed area of bankers and politicians. I've spoken to the next-door neighbour, who knew nothing."

Murder investigation

Scotland Yard has launched a murder investigation, led by detectives from its Homicide and Serious Crime Command wing. It is thought that counter-terrorist and security service officers are also helping detectives in the inquiry.

He said investigators were following up "several lines of inquiry" but declined to confirm the occupation of the dead man.

It is the first murder on British soil of someone linked to the secret services since the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

The former KGB agent died in hospital after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.

Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov was killed by an assassin who used an umbrella to fire a deadly ricin pellet into his leg as he walked across Waterloo Bridge in September 1978.