The secret double identity of murdered spy: Friend insists Gareth Williams was not gay - and was being trained by MI6 for undercover role
The spy found dead in a sports bag had been given a new identity by his MI6 bosses in the months leading up to his mysterious death.
By Daniel Boffey | December 25, 2010
Gareth Williams, a GCHQ codebreaker on secondment to MI6, had two passports and told his best friend that he was preparing for an undercover operation.
Details of the 31-year-old’s role within the secret services are disclosed today in an interview with his confidante and childhood sweetheart, Sian Lloyd-Jones.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, she said: ‘I find it difficult to see anything in his personal life which could lie behind this.’
* He was training to take on a new identity eight months before he was found dead.
* He often purchased designer women’s clothes, but she insists they were gifts for her and his sister.
* The maths genius was found dead two days before he was due to visit Paris with his sister.
The revelations shed new light on Mr Williams’s work which, until now, had been regarded as highly technical and carrying little risk.
His body was found inside a zipped and padlocked North Face holdall in the bathroom of his MI6 flat on August 23. A post-mortem was inconclusive.
Last week police released e-fits of a couple they wish to question and provided intimate details about Mr Williams’s life, including his interest in bondage websites and his extraordinary collection of women’s designer clothes and shoes, worth about £15,000.
But Ms Lloyd-Jones, 33, claims Mr Williams would have confided in her and his sister, Ceri, if he had any homosexual urges. Ms Lloyd-Jones, a fashion stylist, said: ‘I’m not in denial and nor is his mum, dad or sister. It would have been fine if he was [gay].
‘I have seen every item of clothing that was there. I truly believe that Ceri and I were going to receive the clothing. He was so generous you wouldn’t believe.’
She finds it difficult to see anything in his private life which could have led to his killing.
But she reveals his work was more complex than previously believed.
‘He said he was learning his new identity,’ she said. ‘In February he said he’d be unavailable for nine days because he was on a training exercise. He’d often go away, so I didn’t think any more about it.’
Ms Lloyd-Jones added that she last heard from Mr Williams on the day he was last seen alive when he was ‘happy and warm and the same as he always was’.
But it was Mr Williams’s sister – who was due to accompany him on a trip to Paris later that week – who alerted her that something may be wrong when she couldn’t get hold of him on the phone. She said that was when she became worried ‘because he’s like clockwork, he’s so predictable’.
There's no mystery about those women's clothes. He bought them for me and his sister
To Sian Lloyd-Jones, it was just another ordinary evening. A fashion stylist, she was pottering around the sitting room of her Knightsbridge flat organising outfits for the following day’s photoshoot.
Meanwhile her friend, Gareth Williams, was sitting on the sofa leafing through the contents of a black box file. Inside there were documents and notes and two passports.
‘He said he was learning his new identity,’ says Sian now. ‘It was all so relaxed. I was taping up shoes and co-ordinating outfits and he was going through his papers.
‘He often came round with his work. That night he came over with his box file and started going through it. He had two passports. He probably fell asleep on the sofa that night and stayed overnight with all the documents.’
At the time, Sian thought nothing of it. Nor did she think it significant when Gareth said he’d be ‘unavailable’ for nine days the following month as he would be away on a training exercise.
Sian knew her friend was a spy and that his job would often take him away for weeks at a time. She also knew there was a necessary element of secrecy to his life. What she couldn’t know was that eight months later, Gareth would be found dead, and in the most horrific circumstances.
It was on August 23 that police were called to Gareth’s flat in Pimlico, Central London, an MI6-owned safe house. He had been missing for more than a week. They found his decomposed body locked in a large red North Face sports bag.
In the months since, his friends and family have not only had to try to come to terms with their loss, they have had to endure a stream of unsavoury leaks from mysterious sources.
It was rumoured that Gareth, 31, was gay after bondage equipment was allegedly found in his apartment along with phone numbers for gay escorts. This was denied by the police, but by then the damage had already been done. Then there were reported irregularities in his finances, also denied.
And last week there were further lurid allegations after police said they wanted to question a Mediterranean couple who were seen calling at Gareth’s flat before he died. But as well as releasing e-fits of the unknown man and woman, they revealed that Gareth had bought £15,000 of designer clothes and shoes, including labels such as Stella McCartney and Christian Louboutin. They were all stored unopened in their bags and boxes alongside a number of women’s wigs.
Police disclosed that Gareth had visited five bondage websites, which were not pornographic but would give readers advice on how to get in and out of confined spaces. They also said they had found tickets for a number of drag shows.
Gareth devoted his life to serving his country. He was already acknowledged as a talented codebreaker and had worked for the Government listening post GCHQ for ten years before being seconded for a year to MI6. Now, it appears he was rather more than that and was involved in the type of tradecraft more commonly found in a John le Carre novel. There is even a plaque to him at GCHQ in Cheltenham in honour of his work.
'The person everyone talks about . . . I don’t recognise him at all. He was the complete opposite of everything that has been said about him.'
Yet the constant drip-feed of sordid allegations has not only destroyed his reputation, it suggests that he is somehow to blame for his own demise. For Sian, and for Gareth’s parents, Ian and Ellen, and sister Ceri, this has caused untold pain at an already heart-wrenching time.
Until now, those close to Gareth have kept their counsel. Yet now Sian, 33, has agreed to speak about the man she has known since she was eight; a man who is very different from the one she keeps hearing about in the media.
A bubbly, garrulous young woman, who also comes from Gareth’s home town of Holyhead, she’s not the sort of girl who would be friends with a ‘strange loner’, as Gareth has so often been painted.
She says: ‘The person everyone talks about . . . I don’t recognise him at all. He was the complete opposite of everything that has been said about him. It’s been awful for everyone but particularly his family. They’re at breaking point, to be honest. They’re not celebrating Christmas. They weren’t going to anyway but the latest revelations have just made it even worse for them.
‘They’re completely broken by this because it’s not the true Gareth at all. He was a lovely guy, a true, old-school gentleman. He had an excellent sense of humour and, from the bottom of my heart, he was the most charming, sensitive, gorgeous man. Truly, he was one in a million. He was somebody who really had a sound judgment for life.
‘He was very effortless as a person. Nothing was a bother to him; whether you asked him to call you a cab or do a big deed, he was always the same. He wasn’t a loner and he wasn’t lonely. He had close chums in Cheltenham whom he was very friendly with and whom he spoke highly of, but because of the line of work they do they naturally keep in the background. He loved what he did and he thrived on it. He was a workaholic. That kept him very happy and content.
‘When Gareth was not at work, I was the person he spent more time with than anyone else. I have thought about this every day since he died. I find it difficult to see anything in his personal life which could lie behind this. But I know this is a murder investigation so we must remain open to every possibility.
‘His family respect, 100 per cent, that he worked for MI6. I and the family respect the role he was
in. But personally, I don’t think we’ll ever get an answer as to what happened.’
As for the latest allegations, Sian rejects them absolutely. While most men might not keep thousands of pounds of designer clothes, she says it was merely a sign of his generosity. She told police in the summer that Gareth would often buy her and his sister, Ceri, expensive gifts and she believes the clothes were meant for them.
As if to prove it, she points to her £760 Stella McCartney PVC trousers which were a present from Gareth.
She says: ‘I’ve seen every item of clothing that was there in the flat. There was Diana von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney, all in a size 6 or 8 which he wouldn’t even fit an arm or a leg into. He was small but not that small. And the shoes they found in his apartment were not in his size, but his sister’s. He was so generous you wouldn’t believe.
'I truly believe if he had any interest in homosexuality, he would have spoken to his sister and to me as well.'
‘The list is endless. He bought me a high-end Balenciaga top, a Gucci bag, a Mulberry bag, an Armani fur. He did the same for his sister. I truly believe that Ceri and I were going to receive the clothing. We received so many things from him, that wouldn’t have been strange.’
As for the women’s wigs, Sian says there is an entirely innocent explanation. ‘He and an American friend were going to a fancy-dress party in October,’ she says. One of his hobbies was Japanese superhero cartoons and they were going to go as two of the characters. They were pink and yellow and those are the only wigs that were found.
‘I didn’t know he went to the drag clubs but I think that was quite a new thing. He spoke in depth to his sister about everything. He mentioned he’d been to the transvestite comedy club so it’s not something he was trying to hide.’
The constant implication throughout all the rumour and counter-rumour is that Gareth was gay. This is something Sian also denies. She says: ‘They said last week that he had been training in fashion, doing night school at Central St Martin’s. I didn’t know about that but I knew he liked fashion. He saw it as art.
‘He had lots of magazines at his flat, Italian Vogue and all sorts, but he was open with his family, and if he was gay and had any temptations he would have spoken about them, especially to his sister. Hand on heart, there were no “innuendoes” about him.
‘His father was his best friend and he adored his mother and his sister. He was really open with his friends and family about his personal life and I truly believe if he had any interest in homosexuality, he would have spoken to his sister and to me as well.
‘I’m not in denial and nor are Gareth’s mum, dad or sister. It would have been fine if he was but he had too much interest in women. He wanted a girlfriend and he wanted a wife and family. The truth is he wished he was better with women. He had a mild stutter, which was a big barrier as it would get worse when he was nervous.
I don’t know if he ever had a girlfriend. There weren’t any I was aware of but to be honest, we never mentioned it. I know it was my next big project to get him a girlfriend. He felt he lacked confidence with women. He cherished the time he had with his sister and with me and he wanted that with other girls. I know because Gareth had a bit of a soft spot for me.’
Sian and Gareth first met at Ysgol Gynradd Morswyn primary school where her mother, Eleri, was a dinner lady. Her father Alwyn was a BT engineer.
Gareth was two years younger than her, the brilliant child prodigy of Ian, an engineer at Wylfa power station, and Ellen, who worked in education. Sian says: ‘He was moved up two years because he was so clever. He used to read encyclo-pedias at six. Even in primary school, he was doing his GCSEs during lunchtime.
'I was quite naughty at school. I used to sell his homework. He used to have a big list. People used to come, all those who couldn’t do their maths, and he would do it for them.'
‘We were childhood sweethearts at school. Then when we went to Bodedern, our secondary school, he moved on leaps and bounds with his intellect. He really was a genius. I would say a date, say May 15, 1974, and he would count back and then say, yes it was a Wednesday. He could work it out. But if he was here today, he’d hang out and enjoy a chat and a catch up. He was so approachable.
‘I was quite naughty at school. I used to sell his homework. He used to have a big list. People used to come, all those who couldn’t do their maths, and he would do it for them. We only sold it for school dinner money, 70p a time or something like that, and I used to buy magazines. He got nothing, to be honest. He didn’t want anything. That’s how he was, how we were as friends.’
After school the two friends went their separate ways.
Mr Williams gained special permission to leave school for Bangor University aged just 15, and at 18 he left home to study for a PhD at Manchester University. Three years later, he was approached by the British security services, who apparently spotted his precocious online gaming abilities.
Sian left school at 16 to become a window-dresser for Next in Bangor before going on to become a celebrity fashion stylist. She moved to Manchester and worked on Hollyoaks and Coronation Street.
It was in Manchester, four years ago, that she bumped into Gareth again. She says: ‘It was surreal at first. I was coming down the escalators at Selfridges and I spotted him coming up. We took off again. We went out for a drink and chatted. To be honest with you, I think we were both slightly in awe of each other. We were both excited by what the other was doing and amused too. He told me he was working for GCHQ.
‘We talked for a couple of hours and made a pact we would always stay in touch, and we did. We called each other every week from then on. And he would come up roughly once a month. He was hugely into music, from classical to rap. Music was his life. He’d always tie up his visits with a gig at the MEN Arena or the Apollo. I never went with him, I’d meet him afterwards or the next day. He’d often help me with the shopping for my shoots.’
Two years ago Sian moved to London, where she lives with her partner of three years Saul Herd, 37, who runs a corporate flooring company. Gareth also moved to the capital after he was seconded to MI6.
She says: ‘Our friendship deepened. We didn’t have many friends around us – he’d moved from Cheltenham, I’d moved from Manchester – and so we stuck closely together. We’d grown up together and enjoyed each other’s company.
‘We used to go to Nobu Berkeley Square in Mayfair. He always treated me. We just used to hang out.
‘Sometimes we’d go to the Fifth Floor bar at Harvey Nichols and drink cocktails. It would be apple sours for me. He would have a non-alcoholic cocktail. He used to join in with whatever was there, white wine or champagne if there was a group, but he wasn’t a drinker. If it was just me and him he wouldn’t have anything at all.
‘He used to just turn up at any time. He was always welcome. I might have spoken to him and told him I was finishing late and he would pop round. Sometimes he would stay over on the sofa. He would always bring me a bottle of rosé and often some cigarettes. He was a true old-school gentleman.
‘He loved candles. He used to love burning my expensive candles and then we’d have a catch-up and a gossip. There was no one like him, I had such an in-depth relationship with him. He was so knowledgeable about everything from restaurants to cars to maths to politics.’
Sian last saw Gareth in April. She had moved back to Wales for a while to take a break from the pressures of London life, while he was preparing to go on a driving holiday to the West Coast of America during July and August.
She says: ‘Before he went to America, we went down to Trearddur Bay and watched the sunset. We’d spent the whole afternoon together. I was at home with my parents and he stopped by. He was excited about his trip. He seemed very together. There was nothing troubling him. It was just a lovely, completely normal afternoon.’
She had no way of knowing she would never see Gareth again. The couple stayed in touch, as ever, on the phone and he called her on August 14, the day of the last known sighting of him at Holland Park Tube station. She says: ‘He just said, “Hi darling, how’s it hanging?”
‘He said he was leaving London and moving back to Cheltenham, and wondering when we would meet up next. He was happy and warm and the same as he always was. He left the message on the Saturday but I didn’t get it until the Wednesday as I was in Spain for work and couldn’t pick up messages abroad.
‘He was fine, which is why I’m sure he didn’t try to take his own life. And anyway, he’d never do that. He loved his family too much to commit suicide. Then on August 23, the day he was found, Ceri called me at 11am and asked if I’d heard from him. I said, “Yes, a week ago.” He and Ceri were due to go to Paris on the Wednesday of that week. She’d tried to get in touch over the weekend and there was no answer on the home phone or the mobile.
‘It was odd she hadn’t heard from him, particularly as they were going away. She said, “What do you think?” I told her I was sure it was nothing to worry about. But the minute I put the phone down, I knew something was wrong. He was like clockwork, so predictable. It was completely out of character for him.
‘I spoke to Ceri again later and we both admitted we were worried. We thought he must have had an accident or something. She called his work and they said he hadn’t shown up for a meeting on Wednesday.’
That day all their lives changed when Gareth was found dead. A month later, on September 24, they buried Gareth at Bethel Methodist Chapel in Anglesey. The head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, attended.
Sian says: ‘The family were really happy he came. There were around 20 people from his work there. They came in through the back door of the chapel and had a separate area they were guided into. To be honest, I don’t think anyone really noticed as there were so many people there.’
But they can never fully lay Gareth to rest until they have some idea as to how, and why, he died. Sian says: ‘I’m not sure we ever will know but the family need some answers. If anyone has any information about what happened to Gareth, I hope they will come forward. It’s not fair for his family to suffer like this.