Did spy's killer steal state secrets? MI6 agents search for 'missing' laptop or MP3 player after body-in-bag murder case
By David Williams, Charlotte Gill and Tom Kelly | August 26. 2010
Intelligence officers are investigating whether state secrets were stolen by the killer of a British spy.
The MI6 agent, whose body was found in a sports bag in the bath of his flat, was named yesterday as Gareth Williams.
He was a cipher and codes specialist on secondment to the Secret Intelligence Service from the GCHQ listening station, and often took his work home.
Security services fear that his murderer could have taken classified material - possibly held on a laptop or MP3 player - which could be sold on to Britain’s enemies.
The partially decomposed body of the talented 31-year-old loner was discovered in his top-floor flat at a Georgian townhouse in Pimlico, central London.
It is thought to have lain there for two weeks before it was found on Monday. Mr Williams is believed to have been on annual leave before returning to his job at GCHQ on September 3.
Detectives yesterday spent a second day in the two-bedroom flat - believed to be one of several ‘safe houses’ in that area used by MI6 - looking for clues and trying to check if anything was missing.
A security source said: ‘Whatever the motives for this killing, there is the strong likelihood that items will have been taken and that is potentially a real problem because it may be difficult identifying exactly what he had at home.’
With much of the focus of MI6 on the terror threat posed by fanatics linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, one theory was that Mr Williams had been targeted because of his work.
In the flat in Alderney Street, a mobile telephone and a collection of SIM cards had been carefully laid out - in what was described as a bizarre ritualistic scene - and officers are researching each number called.
Police said the results of a post-mortem examination were inconclusive.
Toxicology tests have been ordered to see if Mr Williams had been poisoned. Another possibility is that he was smothered or strangled before being bundled into the bag.
But lurid speculation that he had been stabbed or even dismembered was discounted by police sources.
They said the telephone numbers of escort agencies were found on one SIM card while pornographic material had also been discovered in the flat.
It is not known exactly when Mr Williams was reported missing - but one suggestion is that he had taken some time off and had been due to return to work on Monday.
Officers from Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, with assistance from their counter-terrorist and security service colleagues, are delving into the private life of Mr Williams, seeking to discover whether he had relationship or money problems.
Another possibility is that he was the victim of a dangerous sex game gone wrong.
Tight security controlled the entrance to the flat, which is just a few hundred yards away from the MI6 headquarters across the Thames at Vauxhall.
Such were the precautions, it is believed, that eye scanners could have been used to gain entry.
Eileen Booth, 73, who lives opposite the flat, said detectives had come round and asked neighbours for their eye colour and height.
Mr Williams, a bachelor who had been subjected to security clearance before he was given the job, was described as a mild-mannered fitness and cycling fanatic dedicated to his work.
He was due to leave London and return early next month to his job at Cheltenham.
Finance worker Gemma Wingfield Digby, 26, who moved into the basement flat of Mr Williams’s building three weeks ago, said: ‘I saw him only once but he was such a sweet guy. All I wanted to do was give him a hug.’
Public documents reveal current and former residents of the freehold block where Mr Williams lived have links to London and Cheltenham.
One fear is that an area used by MI6 to house operatives - and where two former senior Tory politicians are neighbours - had now been compromised.
Former MI6 officer Harry Ferguson said: ‘There are lots of flats in this area owned by MI6 and their big worry will be that a terrorist group or intelligence group was involved.’
As Alderney Street remained cordoned off last night and forensic experts continued to search for clues, police were releasing little about the case.
Land Registry documents reveal that the block at number 36 is owned by a private company, New Rodina, whose details are hidden because it is registered in the British Virgin Islands and is not listed with Companies House.
The word rodina means motherland in Russian and Bulgarian. Several other residents were also linked to Cheltenham leading to suggestions the flats may have been used regularly by MI6.
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 show that the owner operated through a law firm known as Park Nelson, a firm which once occupied a rented office block in Bell Yard, off Fleet Street, but no longer appears to exist.
One Frenchman who lived at the flat between 2005 and 2006 is an expert in global satellite positioning, radio communications and high sensitivity antennae.