Belfast Telegraph : MI6 chief says he did not follow rules in Gareth Williams 'spy in a bag' tragedy

Thursday, April 26, 2012

MI6 chief says he did not follow rules in Gareth Williams 'spy in a bag' tragedy

By Kim Sengupta | April 26, 2012

The boss of MI6 officer Gareth Williams, whose naked body was found in a padlocked bag, faced severe criticism at the inquest into the death for failing to issue an effective alert despite the agent not being at work for more than a week.

The executive of the Secret Intelligence Service [MI6], who was referred to as Witness G and gave his evidence behind a screen, was forced to admit under searching cross-examination that he should have done much more to find out what had happened to Mr Williams.

Westminster Coroners Court heard that Witness G had not reported that Mr Williams had disappeared through appropriate channels, despite knowing that the computer specialist had missed meetings with colleagues. Telephone calls and a belated visit to his address had also failed to locate him.

Witness G told the court that procedures had been reviewed following 34-year-old Mr Williams' death in August 2010. But he acknowledged he should have informed MI6's welfare service the day he did not report at his office.

Asked about the procedures already in place at the time, Witness G said initially that he could not immediately recall what they were. Appearing for Mr Williams' family, Anthony O'Toole QC, said the rules "should have been tattooed on your heart". Counsel pointed out that the reason Witness G and others from the intelligence agencies were afforded anonymity while giving their evidence was because Foreign Secretary William Hague had sought immunity for them because of their high-risk profession. Under questioning from Mr O'Toole, Witness G admitted that he had not informed Ceri Subbe, Mr Williams' sister, of the disappearance on Friday on 20 August, five days after he had not heard from her brother, as he had stated in an interview with police. He had, in fact made the call the following Monday.

The family alerted the police on the same day and Mr Williams' body was found in a red holdall at his flat in Pimlico, south west London.

As the court heard of repeated missed instances when alarm could have been raised over Mr Williams, coroner Coroner Fiona Wilcox said to the MI6 executive: "I am really struggling to understand why you took no action at this point." Witness G responded "In hindsight, knowing what I know now, should I have taken action? Absolutely. I still had that gut feeling that he was away doing something that I was not made aware of."

The inquest heard that when Mr Williams did not appear at MI6's headquarters at Vauxhall Cross on a Monday morning, Witness G had assumed he had been delayed by "train troubles" from visiting his family in Wales. He continued in this perception when a colleague told him that the computer specialist had not turned up for a meeting at 3pm and the following day.

Witness G told the court that Mr Williams was in the process of ending a secondment with MI6 at the time to return to his post at GCHQ and he has assumed that he may have been busy with those arrangements.

"I had it in the back of my mind that he may have told me something about it and I had forgotten," he said.

Witness G told the police that he had called Mr Williams on his home and mobile numbers in the early days he went missing but did not get a reply. He had subsequently gone around to the house where his flat was located but left after he failed to get an answer after pressing the buzzer on the front door.

Mr O'Toole maintained that an examinations of calls on Mr Williams' phones showed no record of such calls on those particular days and expressed astonishment that Witness G had not even attempted to speak to the residents of other flats in the building.

Mr O'Toole also raised the possibility, earlier, that MI6 and GCHQ may have interfered with evidence which was passed on to the police.

Detective Superintendent Michael Broster, of the Counter Terrorism command, SO15 – who was responsible for liaising between the murder squad and the security agencies – stated: "I can't testify absolutely it wasn't interfered with. However, I've no reason to suspect that it was."