Riddle of the missing two weeks: Why did body of British spy with 'secretive' private life lie undiscovered for so long?
Police probe claims Gareth Williams had double life outside work
Shocked family describe him as a 'very, very private person'
Post-mortem inconclusive: Was spy strangled or poisoned?
By Daily Mail Reporter | [updated] December 20, 2010 | originally published date N/A (possibly Oct 1)
Detectives investigating the murder of a British spy were picking over his private life today for clues that could identify his killer.
The decomposing body of codes expert Gareth Williams, 30, was found stuffed into a bag in the bath of his London Government flat.
He was days from completing a one-year secondment to the headquarters of MI6 from his job at national 'listening post' GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Further tests were taking place to determine how the cycling and fitness fanatic met his death after a post-mortem examination was inconclusive.
They could reveal if Mr Williams was strangled or asphyxiated, as well as if drugs or alcohol were present in his system.
Police believe Mr Williams's body could have lain undiscovered for up to a fortnight. Mystery still surrounds why no-one raised the alarm sooner.
It is thought he was on holiday at the time of his death. Another explanation may lie in claims that he travelled regularly to the U.S. for his work.
Detectives believe the key to the case could lie in his private life. His family said he was an extremely reserved person who kept himself very much to himself.
But investigators will be attempting to discover if the quietly spoken, mild-mannered codes and ciphers expert was leading a double life which he kept from his colleagues.
There have already been a series of lurid claims about his personal affairs while others have raised the possibility that his death was a sex game gone wrong.
Police sources said the telephone numbers of escort agencies were found on one SIM card while pornographic material had also been discovered in the flat
Detectives are examining his mobile phone and a number of Sim cards found at the address, a top-floor flat at a Georgian townhouse in Pimlico, central London.
Several clues are believed to have emerged from the analysis of telephone numbers called and received on the phone.
Parents Ian and Ellen travelled to London with his sister Ceri today from their home in Anglesey to speak to police and identify his body.
William Hughes, Mrs Williams’s cousin, said the family was deeply shocked. He said: 'The last time I saw Gareth was just a few months ago at a family party and he was fine.'
Mr Hughes said he never knew Mr Williams to bring home a girlfriend or a partner, describing him as a 'very, very private person'.
Scotland Yard detectives from the Homicide and Serious Crime unit are investigating the death in liaison with counter terrorism officers and the security services although they have not yet opened a murder inquiry.
There are no obvious signs of a robbery at the flat, believed to be one of several MI6-owned 'safe houses' in the Pimlico area.
However, security sources say they have a problem identifying what Mr Williams had so cannot be sure if anything was taken.
Experts have carried out a fingertip search of the address amid fears that top-secret work material could have gone missing.
Investigators suspect Mr Williams might have known his killer as there was no sign of forced entry at the flat in Alderney Street.
Last night it emerged that Intelligence officers were investigating whether state secrets had been stolen by Mr William's killer.
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.
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.
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.
THE SPY THEY CALLED THE QUIET MAN: MATHS GENIUS, LONER AND CYCLING FANATIC AT THE CENTRE OF MYSTERY
Few who crossed Gareth Williams’s path would have been surprised to learn that he was a spy.
A mild-mannered loner, who preferred cycling on gruelling lone runs to the pub or clubs, acquaintances knew him as ‘the quiet man’.
His landlady for a decade, Jenny Elliott, yesterday recalled how the 31-year-old bachelor lived without a TV in the annexe of her home, often hearing him working alone on the tapes she knew were part of his work.
‘There was never noise, never a problem,’ she said. ‘He was the perfect person to have in your home... a genuinely nice, decent man.’
Gareth Williams, from Cheltenham, who has been found dead in a flat in Pimlico. His body was discovered stuffed in a large sports bag in his bath in a flat just a few hundred yards from the MI6 HQ
Retired office worker Mrs Elliott, 71, and her husband Brian came to know Mr Williams well during the ten years he spent with them at their £500,000 home in the Prestbury area of Cheltenham, while he worked for GCHQ, the government’s listening centre.
‘It’s a real tragedy,’ she said. ‘Gareth was a really nice guy who was polite and mild-mannered and wouldn’t hurt a fly.
MI6 Gareth Williams
‘When someone has lived with you for ten years you get to know them really well, and Gareth almost became a part of the family.
‘Gareth was a very likeable person but didn’t really have any friends as such. He was a cycling fanatic and was forever off on some bike ride or another but never really had friends round.
'He was an extremely intelligent person but would not talk about his job as it was a secret, on account of working for GCHQ. All he told me was it was something to do with codes.’
The last time Mrs Elliott spoke to Mr Williams flat was two weeks ago, when he called to confirm when he would be returning to Cheltenham from London.
He was a keen cyclist with the Cheltenham and County Club and took part in uphill races - coming eighth in a recent event.
Mrs Elliott said she did not remember him ever bringing a girlfriend back to the self-contained flat, comprising a bathroom, bedroom and kitchen, above her garage.
’That’s not to say he didn’t meet girls. But if he did, he certainly didn’t talk about them to me.
‘Gareth occasionally said he was meeting some of the guys from work for a quiet drink but he wouldn’t tell me who they were or where they were going and I never pried.
'He never had a television and I never heard music coming from the flat. He was the perfect tenant and I doubt I’ll be able to find one as good as him again.’
Mr Williams, a Welsh speaker, was raised in Holyhead on Anglesey by his father Ian, who worked at the nuclear power plant, and mother Ellen, together with sister Ceri.
Friends recall how it was his father who led Gareth to a love of cycling and together they were a frequent sight - even recently - pounding the roads of Anglesey.
According to his uncle William Hughes, it was always apparent that Gareth was an outstandingly bright boy.
‘The family knew this from a very, very young age. He was a very clever lad. When he was at secondary school he would go to university one day a week.’
According Mr Hughes, Gareth graduated at the age of only 19 from Bangor University and went on to Cambridge to continue his studies.
‘He was quiet, unassuming. When he came home on his weekends and holidays he’d be on his bicycle riding around the lanes of Anglesey.
‘He worked for GCHQ for many years. We knew he was working in London, but he’d never talk about his work and the family knew not to ask really. We didn’t know what he was doing. He never spoke about it.’
Mr Hughes added that to learn of the murder was a terrible shock.
‘I got a phone call... I couldn’t believe that such a thing had happened.’
John Barnes, who once worked with Gareth Williams’s father and who regularly cycled with the two men, said: ‘Gareth was brilliant at maths - a genius.’
Mr Williams’s parents were abroad on holiday when their son’s death was discovered and were said to be staying last night in London. Scotland
Yard detectives were at the family home in Holyhead, where they were speaking with the dead man’s sister, Ceri Subbe, who lives with her doctor husband, Christian. #
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY: THE INTRIGUING TRUTH ABOUT LIFE AS A 21st CENTURY SPOOK
By MICHAEL BURLEIGH
Whether he was killed by Islamic extremists, Russian gangsters or someone altogether closer to him, MI6 operative Dr Gareth Williams died a spook's death.
Murdered in his Pimlico penthouse - which is owned by a Russian-named, British Virgin Islands-registered company - his body was found in the bathroom, in a sports bag.
Nearby, a mobile phone and numerous SIM cards had been laid out on a table. As murders go, it is the stuff of Bond films.
Williams usually worked in Cheltenham, inside the vast doughnut-shaped complex that is the Government's top secret communications monitoring agency, GCHQ - and was reportedly on secondment to MI6.
Indeed, 'Ceaucescu Towers', as MI6's brutally modernist Vauxhall Cross HQ is known, is just across the River Thames from his apartment, overshadowing a huge bus terminal, and the gay clubs and saunas of 'VoHo' - the area's red light district.
But are GCHQ and MI6 operatives such as Williams really James Bond figures? And what exactly do they do?
Gone are the days when agents were recruited after a discreet word from their Oxbridge tutor. In the 21st century, spooks are recruited like anyone else. Posts are publicly advertised, and hopefuls must first sit the kind of psychometric test - devised to reveal their powers of analysis and observation - that many blue chip companies now employ.
Nor are the successful candidates guaranteed an exotic life of high jinks and murky subterfuge. While television series such as Spooks - which is about the domestic intelligence service, MI5 - have glamourised life in Britain's secret services and have certainly proved a useful recruitment tool, the daily reality is rather less dramatic.
Many of the workers at GCHQ, for example, spend their days - and often nights - trawling through billions of emails, text messages and telephone calls, looking out for the one communication that might prove crucial.
They seek to glean intelligence on a wide range of targets, including terrorists, organised criminals and hostile foreign governments. They also seek to foil the growing threat of cyber attacks launched against Britain's banking system.
In 1998 they played a major role in locating the fugitive murderer Kenneth Noye - after he fled to southern Spain - by tracking his mobile phone.
During the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, GCHQ waged a sophisticated electronic war against the IRA. It used electronic signals to prematurely detonate radio-controlled bombs, or listened in on telephone conversations between terrorists, looking out for such phrases as 'Are you coming out for a drink then?' - meaning an attack was imminent - or 'the bricks are in the wall' - a bomb is in place.
Much of this expertise will now have been re-directed, along with GCHQ manpower, to pick up fanatical Islamists using coded language about the imminence of a 'big wedding', a favourite code for a bomb attack.
But some of their operations seem downright bizarre. After the entire electricity grid in Auckland went down in the late 1990s, for example, GCHQ helped the New Zealand authorities trace the cyber-attack back to a group named the 'Anti-Christ Doom Squad', which had managed this feat from a laptop in an Amsterdam drug café.
GCHQ also eavesdropped on UN diplomats from six (friendly) nations crucial to the Security Council's second resolution on the permissibility of the Iraq War. Some, including Mexico, are still demanding an official apology from the UK.
Holding a doctorate in maths, Williams would have been wellqualified to work in a service which uses extremely complicated decryption methods to access sensitive - and heavily protected - information.
No wonder one former landlady said that the only noise she heard from Williams's otherwise hushed flat was the whirr of audio tapes.
Much of the work of GCHQ overlaps with that of MI6, who deal with real people rather than data pulsing through the ether. But most of MI6's agents are also worlds apart from the fictional figure of James Bond.
The majority of MI6 agents work in office jobs, inside the Vauxhall Cross complex. Here, they also sift through masses of data, about 90 per cent of which is 'open source'.
That means it is available to you or I, in newspapers or via the internet. They certainly bring acute analytical skills to the table, but several former ministers have openly questioned the value of what they yield.
Indeed, only 150 or so MI6 personnel are actually stationed abroad as secret agents. They are usually 'camouflaged' as counsellor, first secretary or protocol officer on the official lists of serving British diplomats working in key embassies.
Their main job is to recruit foreign agents, often people with inside knowledge on defence or commercial matters - the links between the security services and British business run deep - that might give an edge to British interests.
Some of these contacts will volunteer their services; others will have to be blackmailed or coerced into co-operating.
These operatives will spend much of their time hanging around the sort of places where lonely businessmen, civil servants, politicians or journalists congregate.
In fact, it used to be said that MI6's real work began after 6pm, when the interminable round of diplomatic cocktail parties started.
Being the life and soul of the party, rather than a gormless wallflower, was essential to the job, which may explain why so many men like Guy Burgess or Donald Maclean - the notorious KGB double agents - became hopeless drunks.
It was a tradition that continued with rogue MI5 officer Michael Bettany. On one occasion, when caught the worse for wear travelling on a train without a ticket, he shouted: 'You can't arrest me, I'm a spy.' Indeed he was, selling British secrets to the Russians, for which he was jailed in 1984.
Of course, nowadays, MI6's contemporary Al Qaeda and Taliban opponents are not to be found sipping gin at embassy receptions.
And so a handful of MI6 agents will be getting down and dirty, not just with their opposite numbers in the Middle East, but with the local people who inhabit dusty mountain encampments.
Chief among their tasks will be monitoring British subjects who claim to be in Afghanistan or Pakistan attending family weddings when they are really planning the next London Tube bombing in a terrorist training camp.
These agents will also be directing covert strikes on Taliban leaders, while simultaneously seeking to peel off the more amenable or corruptible ones to join the Afghan government.
This is extremely dangerous work, requiring a clear sense of purpose and nerves of steel. But they are also the minority.
Regardless of how Dr Williams died, and it may be that he was killed by someone close to him for reasons that were obscurely personal, he was part of a highly secretive, but often surprisingly mundane, culture.
And that, presumably, is why his mysterious death is the exception, rather than the rule.
MICHAEL BURLEIGH is the author of Blood And Rage: A Cultural History Of Terrorism (Harper Perennial, £9.99).