Gareth Williams's parents identify body
Parents return from holiday to speak to police as picture emerges of MI6 officer as private and mild-mannered
By Sam Jones and Matthew Taylor | August 26, 2010
The grieving parents of an MI6 intelligence officer whose decomposed body was discovered in a flat in London formally identified their son's remains today, as detectives continued to search for his killer.
Gareth Williams's body was discovered in a holdall in the bath of a flat in Pimlico on Monday. Police believe he may have been dead for two weeks.
Williams, a cycling and fitness fanatic who worked at GCHQ, the eavesdropping and security centre, was days from completing a year-long secondment at MI6.
Tests are still being carried out to determine the cause of death. Initial reports that he was stabbed have been proved false. Further tests could determine whether Williams was asphyxiated, and whether drugs or alcohol were present in his system. The toxicology tests are expected to take weeks.
Williams's parents, Ian and Ellen, arrived back from holiday in Canada and America to speak to police and to identify their son's body, as a picture emerged of him as an intensely private and mild-mannered man.
William Hughes, Ellen's cousin, said: "The last time I saw Gareth was just a few months ago at a family party and he was fine. He was always a quiet person, he was from a young age."
Hughes said he had never known Williams to bring home a partner, describing him as a very private person. "I knew he worked at GCHQ and he had been working in London but I didn't know what he did. It wasn't said that we shouldn't talk about it, I simply never asked and he never told me."
Keith Thompson, of Holyhead cycling club, said Williams had joined the club at the age of 17. "He wasn't a great conversationalist. I never spoke to him about his job or his private life. Nobody did with Gareth."
Dylan Parry, a childhood friend, described him as academically gifted but socially naive. "He was the kind of person who found it difficult to engage with people on a normal level," Parry, who went to secondary school with Williams in Anglesey, north Wales, told the Evening Standard. "It was clear he was going to go far, but we all assumed he would end up in academia. Finding out he became a spy was a shock."
Williams's former maths teacher, Geraint Williams, recalled how the maths genius had transferred from a primary school at Holyhead to the secondary school at the age of 10, a year earlier than usual. "I'd heard about this amazing pupil. He had done his GCSE at primary school and got a B at intermediate level. He took the higher level GCSE in a couple of months and got an A," he said.
"It was a problem for us – what could we do with him? We got him to follow A-levels and he did A-level maths and computer science in the third form. He achieved As in them. That was a big problem because he was still only 13 so we contacted Bangor University and he followed the first year of a maths degree course."
The student left school at 15 and got a first-class degree in maths at 17, and a PhD at Manchester University. His old teacher added: "He was the best logician and the pupil with the fastest brain I have ever met. You only had to say things once, that's why he was so successful. He could understand things immediately."
Investigators suspect Williams may have known his killer as there was no sign of forced entry at his top-floor flat. Detectives think the motive could lie in Williams's private life, but sources close to the inquiry said it was not clear how he had died and played down speculation that the murder was linked to his secretive line of work.
One source said: "The suggestion there is terrorism or national security links is pretty low down the list of probabilities."
Police have begun examining Williams's mobile phone and financial records as well as CCTV cameras from streets and businesses surrounding his home. His body could have lain undiscovered for up to a fortnight as he is believed to have been on leave from work.
His flat has been the subject of a fingertip search amid fears that top-secret work material could have gone missing. Officers broke down the door of his flat on Monday afternoon when attempts by government officials to locate him through his former landlady failed.