Australian : MI6 codebreaker Gareth Williams may have been poisoned

Saturday, April 28, 2012

MI6 codebreaker Gareth Williams may have been poisoned

Fiona Hamilton | April 28, 2012

THE MI6 spy found padlocked inside a bag may have taken drugs or been poisoned before he died, it was revealed yesterday.

Experts are unable to rule out a range of "volatile agents" or poisons such as cyanide being used on Gareth Williams, 31, whose body had decomposed badly in the week before his colleagues reported him missing.

The codebreaker's inquest was also told that he could have been vulnerable to "hostile and malign" third parties after making unauthorised searches on the agency's sensitive database.

A Secret Intelligence Service witness known only as SIS F said that there were a "small number of searches for which we could not see any clear operational justification".

She told Westminster Coroner's Court there was a "theoretical possibility" that a third party could use that knowledge to "put pressure on Gareth", although there was no evidence that that had occurred. The spy's family have previously suggested that agents specialising in the "dark arts" might have been involved in, or tried to cover up, his death in August 2010.

MI6 offered a "profound apology" to Williams's parents, Ian and Ellen, and his sister, Ceri Subbe, for the failure to raise the alarm about his absence from work. SIS F acknowledged that delays hampered the police inquiry and said that the authorities should have been called within four hours.

The spy's relatives walked out in tears after learning that no disciplinary action had been taken against the MI6 manager who did not report him missing for seven days even though he knew him to be diligent and a meticulous timekeeper.

Anthony O'Toole, representing the Williamses, said that the delays had "horrendous results". As well as material evidence being lost, Williams's family were unable to say goodbye properly because his body was in an "unacceptable state".

Williams had been in the bag for up to nine days and his remains were such that tests for drugs and poisons could not be relied on. The court was told that a "wide range of poisons", anaesthetics and other "volatile agents" might have been used on the spy, who was discovered in the North Face holdall placed in the bath at his flat in Pimlico, Central London. Other substances that could not be ruled out included the legal high amyl nitrate, helium, chloroform and nitrus oxide.

Denise Stanworth, a toxicologist, said that traces of the party drug GHB were found in Williams's bloodstream and urine but had "probably" been produced naturally after he died. Asked how reliable the tests could be, she said: "In terms of many of the drugs, reliable, but in terms of the more volatile substances, not that reliable."

Mr Williams, who was due to leave his MI6 secondment and return to GCHQ in Cheltenham, was found on August 23 but his last known activity took place on August 16.

The investigation into the death has always focused on whether he could have got himself into the holdall, although police believe that a third party was involved.

His Cheltenham landlady had once had to free him after finding him tied up in bed and £26,000 of women's designer clothing and shoes were found in the flat, near MI6 headquarters.

The police have previously disclosed that he visited websites about bondage and claustrophilia.

SIS F said that Mr Williams had passed all vetting processes and she appeared to indicate that such lifestyle preferences would not have rendered him unsuitable for MI6. There was no indication that his death was linked to his work as he was a low-risk officer.

Stephen Gale, his boss at GCHQ who has since retired, said that Mr Williams could have afforded the expensive clothes though they would have taken a "large chunk" out of his salary.