AFP : MI6 spy inquest hears of grim discovery

Monday, April 23, 2012

MI6 spy inquest hears of grim discovery

By Judith Evans (AFP) – April 23, 2012

LONDON — A policeman has described how he found the decomposing body of a British spy in a padlocked bag in a bathtub at the intelligence officer's London flat.

The details of the grim discovery were revealed as the inquest resumed into the mysterious death two years ago of Gareth Williams, 31, who was working for Britain's MI6 external intelligence service.

His family believe secret agents versed in the "dark arts" tried to cover up his death, but Scotland Yard detectives have found no evidence that anyone else had been with Williams in his flat at the time of his death.

As the dead man's parents and sister watched in silence in the courtroom on Monday, John Gallagher said he was called to Williams' flat on August 23, 2010, because of concerns over his welfare after he had not been seen for over a week.

He said that in an en suite bathroom he noticed a "particular smell" and a red North Face holdall in the bath.

"I looked at the bag -- I noticed a bulge. I noticed there was a padlock. Two of the zips were joined together," he said.

"I lifted the bag, possibly only six or seven inches -- it was quite heavy. That's when I noticed some red fluid. It was in the bath, like it had been seeping out of the bag."

Police also found a "lady's wig" hanging on a chair and a mobile phone laid out on the dining table of the flat along with two SIM cards, while the lights were on although it was daytime.

They confirmed the naked body in the bag was that of Williams and realised within hours that he was an MI6 agent, resulting in the rapid involvement of counter-terror police.

But the five-day inquest at Westminster Coroner's Court, at which almost 40 witnesses will give evidence, will be shown a video of a practical demonstration of how Williams could have got into the bag and locked it by himself.

Coroner Fiona Wilcox said the demonstration was "at the very heart of this inquiry," given that one suggestion is Williams had got into the bag as part of a sadomasochistic sex ritual.

But it will not be performed live in court "to prevent proceedings becoming ridiculous," she said.

Earlier, Williams' sister described how he had been seconded to MI6 from GCHQ, Britain's electronic "listening post" which monitors communications for intelligence purposes, based in Cheltenham, western England.

Ceri Subbe said her brother had experienced some "friction in the office" and had asked to cut the secondment short -- returning to Cheltenham after one year instead of three. He had also just completed a work trip to the United States.

Although he never discussed details of his work, he had said the MI6 job "was not quite what he expected." He was a "country boy" who had quickly tired of the London "rat race," she told the inquest.

But the family were not concerned about his state of mind at the time of his death, finding him "upbeat" in their final conversation.

Despite media reports that Williams told friends he was being followed, Subbe said her brother had never mentioned such concerns to her.

He was "scrupulous" in assessing risk and let very few people into his flat, she said.

Subbe was unaware that her brother had an extensive wardrobe of female clothing in his flat and speculated it could possibly be "a gift ... or collectibles."

The coroner said the clothing had an approximate value of £20,000 pounds (24,500 euros, $32,200).

Williams, who came from Wales and is thought to have been a mathematics genius, started university at age 16 and went on to earn a doctorate, his sister said.

A lawyer for the Williams family, Anthony O'Toole, said at a pre-inquest review hearing last month that they believe someone else was either present when he died, or broke into his home afterwards to destroy evidence.

"The impression of the family is that the unknown third party was a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret services -- or evidence has been removed post-mortem by experts in the dark arts," he said.

Four intelligence agents are to testify at the inquest, which police said could lead to criminal proceedings, but they will be identified only by letters of the alphabet and speak from behind screens.

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