Channel 4 : Did MI6 spy Gareth Williams commit suicide?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Did MI6 spy Gareth Williams commit suicide?

By Jonathan Rugman | September 14, 2010

One of the greatest mysteries of recent weeks has been the unexplained death of an MI6 employee found in a padlocked and zipped up bag in the bath of his flat. Channel 4 News' Jonathan Rugman analyses the possibility of suicide.
Gareth Williams, one of the last pictures taken of the MI6 spy, who was found dead padlocked into a sports bag (Image: Reuters)

The circumstances of his passing are so bizarre that no conspiracy theory can be ruled out - and nor will anything be ruled out until the police investgation is complete - but one theory currently in play is suicide.

This may sound extraordinary, but when you look at what we know, suicide may be no more extraordinary than any other aspect of this remarkable spy-novel case, which the police are still not confident enough to call murder.

Gareth Williams was found dead by police in Pimlico on August 23rd. The door of his flat was double-locked and a forensic sweep of his Alderney Street flat has not, as far as we know, revealed signs of forced entry.

Police toxicologists have concluded that drugs or alcohol did not contribute to his death, though more toxicology tests may be required. Police have appealed for information about a "Mediterranean couple" - a phrase which surely should be consigned to the novels of Agatha Christie or Eric Ambler - who apparently visited the flat a few weeks before.

But this may just be due diligence on the part of an investigative team duty bound to keep an open mind. From the very beginning, there has been no suggestion from the corridors of Whitehall that a national security breach has occurred.

Conspiracy theorists will argue that this is a cover up by the Secret Intelligence Service or SIS, but for now I don't buy that.

First off, we know that Mr Williams travelled to the US listening centre in Maryland where he also worked, but he did not have any dealings - that we know of - with governments or foreign intellligence agencies potentially hostile to Britain.

Nor is there any reason to think that the Talibans or Al Qaeda, in their many franchises, knew who he was. And if terrorists killed him, surely they would have told us by now?

There is no evidence - again, that we know of - that anything like a laptop or mobile phone was taken from Williams' flat. In fact, we know that his phone SIM cards were neatly laid out on a table.

At first this was interpreted as a sign of a ritualistic killing, but with hindsight it may have been just the punctiliousness of a very private man - ideal for his job, I would have thought. Mr Williams was on secondment to MI6 from GCHQ in Cheltenham and was due to return to Gloucestershire imminently.

This fact - that he was going back to his former place of employment - is the only potential "trigger moment" we have which could provide a clue to the puzzle of his death. In the week the police found the body, I reported for Channel 4 News the theory that the code expert's "sexual preferences" may have had something to do with his death.

Two days later, The Sunday Times reported that it had spoken to two witnesses who had seen Mr Williams on the gay scene in South London.

All this apparently appalled the dead man's family in Wales - only beginning to come to terms with his tragic death - and both they and the police let it be known that this was not a useful line of enquiry. One outraged family member suggested that this could be an orchestrated "dirty tricks" campaign by British Intelligence. What would be the merits of MI6 falsely describing its employee as gay?

MI6 employs gay people, and like every other branch of the civil service it cannot discriminate against them. What it may not be able to tolerate is the security risk of an employee being a closet gay - leading a double life on top of their double life as a spy - in case this leaves an employee open to blackmail.

A "dirty tricks" campaign unfairly suggesting that Williams was a closet homosexual in fact does the reputations of GCHQ and MI6 few favours, because it makes it obvious that their supposedly rigorous vetting procedures failed. In other words, it is an "own goal" for SIS. So why suggest it if it wasn't true?

To disguise the fact that the Russians or the Iranians or Mafia hit men killed him, when they could have killed him in myriad and far less bizarre ways if they had wanted to, assuming they had even known who he was? Which brings us back to the body in the bag.

A padlocked bag in a flat which was double-locked with no sign of forced entry that we know of. Could the bag have been padlocked from the inside?

It has been reported that it could. Which leads us to the theory - and that is all this is - that an act of "erotic self-asphyxiation" or sex game caused Gareth Williams' death, either by accident or on purpose.

And if it was on purpose and involved no one else, what was the trigger? Perhaps it was his imminent departure from the bright lights of London and his return to his old life in Cheltenham.

I repeat that this is just a theory based on the little that we know; but Gareth Williams lived in a world of secrets, and perhaps the secret of his private life was, for him, one secret too many.