Guardian : MI6 officer Gareth Williams found tied to bedposts by landlords, inquest told

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

MI6 officer Gareth Williams found tied to bedposts by landlords, inquest told

Officer shouted for help at 1.30am and told Cheltenham couple: 'I just wanted to see if I could get myself free'

Caroline Davies | April 25, 2012

The MI6 officer found dead in a padlocked bag in the bath at his flat once had to be rescued by his landlords after they found him tied to his bedposts, an inquest heard.

Jennifer Elliot, who rented a flat in Cheltenham to Gareth Williams while he worked at GCHQ, said she and her husband heard him shouting for help one night at 1.30am about three years ago.

When the couple went into the flat, they were shocked to find him in boxer shorts on his back on the bed "with both hands tied with material attached to the headboard".

"He said: 'I just wanted to see if I could get myself free,'" she said in a statement read to the court. "He was very embarrassed and panicky and apologising."

She said his hands were tied with some kind of material which was "tight enough to cut his wrists".

"My husband said: 'What the bloody hell are you doing?' He said he was just messing about to see if he could get free."

Her husband cut him free and said: "Gareth, we cannot have you doing this here," the statement went on. Williams apologised and said it would not happen again, said Elliot, and offered the couple more rent, which they declined.

The statement continued: "We never spoke to anyone about it." Elliot said Williams did not look aroused but the couple decided it "was more likely to be sexual rather than escapology". Her husband believed he had secured himself using a slip knot.

She added: "The main concern was what would have happened if we had been away."

Questions were raised over the police investigation into the death of the 31-year-old, as the inquest heard detectives found no connection with his work.

Police did not retrieve electronic equipment used by the codes and ciphers expert from GCHQ in Cheltenham until five days after his death. Equipment used by Williams at MI6 HQ in London took four days, Westminster coroners court heard.

Detectives relied on "assurances" from senior security intelligence services (SIS) staff that equipment had not been tampered with, Anthony O'Toole, a lawyer for Williams's family, told the inquest.

No formal witness statements were taken by police from intelligence staff. Instead detectives made a note or typed record afterwards, which was not later shown to the witnesses.

The body of Williams was found in a padlocked sports holdall in the bath in his top-floor flat in Pimlico, central London, on 23 August 2010.

The criticism of the investigation came as Superintendent Michael Broster, of the SO15 counter-terrorism command, whose job was to liaise between homicide command and the intelligence agencies, said all electronic equipment used by Williams had been examined.

The coroner, Fiona Wilcox, asked him: "You spent a lot of time trying to find a connection between Gareth's work and his death. Did you ever find a connection?"

"No, I did not," he replied.

O'Toole asked him why no signed witness statements had been produced from those interviewed at either MI6, where Williams was on secondment, or GCHQ, where he was due to return.

All three witnesses had complained that they had not had the opportunity to verify the contents of the "quasi-formal" statements produced and on at least two occasions the contents were inaccurate, said O'Toole.

He asked Broster how he could be sure the electronic equipment "had not been interfered or tampered with" before police retrieved it.

Broster said he had been assured by both GCHQ and SIS it had not.

"So almost under the old boys' act. They told you that and you accepted it?" said O'Toole.

Broster said the assurances were from senior staff. The equipment at MI6 had been sealed with tape. Elizabeth Guthrie, a friend of Williams in London, said of the designer female clothing found in his flat that "they certainly wouldn't have been for him".

Asked about her personal opinion of his sexuality, she said he was straight.