The First Post : MI6 man ‘locked himself in his holdall’. Oh yes?

Monday, September 20, 2010

MI6 man ‘locked himself in his holdall’. Oh yes?

Latest theory about the death of Gareth Williams is preposterous, say security experts

By Jack Bremer | September 20, 2010

National security experts reached by The First Post last night have reacted with a mixture of astonishment, ridicule and suspicion to the idea that Gareth Williams, the MI6 agent found dead in a London flat last month, padlocked himself in a zip-up holdall in search of a sexual thrill and then suffocated because he couldn't get out again.

"With all due respect to Williams and his family, I haven't stopped laughing since I read the paper at breakfast," one former agent said. "It's more than unlikely - it's preposterous."

The hypothesis was reported by the Sunday Times, quoting anonymous "security sources".

The paper claimed police had established that Williams, a single man, had a record of engaging in autoerotic practices, and that the greatest likelihood was that he had died as result of an experiment going wrong.

According to the Sunday Times' source, police recently invited an escapologist to show them whether it was possible to lock oneself in a holdall and get out again. The escapologist duly climbed into the bag, padlocked it from the inside and then unzipped it using a sharp-tipped pen.

Convinced by this - and without addressing whether a 31-year-old codebreaker would necessarily have the skills honed over the years by a seasoned escapologist - the police were apparently persuaded that Williams must have got into the bag and then suffocated in the August heat before he could release himself.

"The emerging background is something almost certainly autoerotic," a "senior official" told the paper.

The "emerging background", to coin a phrase, for those observing this case unfold, is that the police are at a total loss as to how Williams died.

This is either because forensics are revealing nothing - it is possible he was murdered by an enemy using undetectable poison, for instance - or because someone somewhere has succeeded in throwing the police off the scent.

According to The First Post's security sources, there are good reasons why government agencies might want this investigation to "go away". These include the possibility that what Williams was working on - and what might have led to his murder - is simply too sensitive to be allowed to go public. It is also possible that his employers slipped up in some respect.

One security consultant who spoke anonymously to The First Post said he had been surprised from the start at the considerable delay - at least a week, longer according to some reports - before anyone was alerted to Williams's absence.

This did not tally with our source's experience of working for British intelligence: he said the slightest hiccup in established routine would bring instant inquiries.

Another source was puzzled by the differing messages being leaked - mainly to the Sunday Times - by those claiming to be close to the investigation. "One minute we're looking for a suspicious couple of Mediterranean appearance, the next we're being told he could have been poisoned by polonium-210 like Alexander Litvinenko - now we're expected to believe that he locked himself in a suitcase."

The facts are that Gareth Williams was a GCHQ codebreaker on secondment to MI6, where his work made him privy to highly classified anti-terrorism material. On August 23, at least a week after he had last been seen, his body was found in a North Face holdall in the bath at his top-floor apartment in Pimlico, a short walk from MI6 headquarters.

Yes, there are instances of auto-asphyxiation fetishists accidentally killing themselves. But invariably these cases involve hanging, not climbing into airtight suitcases.

As Crispin Black wrote for The First Post a week ago, the discovery of Gareth Williams's corpse bore all the hallmarks of a murder by someone who had killed before.

The perpetrator had prepared the victim for transport, put the bag in the bath where any final traces of the crime could most easily be washed away, and was then presumably interrupted before being able to remove the body for disposal.