Scotsman : ‘Flash car contests’ and drinking culture at MI6, inquest told

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

‘Flash car contests’ and drinking culture at MI6, inquest told

April 24, 2012

AN MI6 codebreaker found dead in a sports bag had been unhappy living in London and complained about “friction” at the intelligence agency, an inquest has heard.

Gareth Williams, 31, hated the post-work drinking culture and “flash car competitions” at the Secret Intelligence Service, his sister said.

He was due to move back to the West Country a week after his naked body was discovered padlocked inside a holdall in the bath of his flat in Pimlico, central London, on 23 August, 2010.

The inquest into Mr Williams’s death began yesterday with evidence that Scotland Yard murder detectives were not able to speak to his MI6 colleagues directly.

Instead, specialist officers from the Metropolitan Police’s SO15 counter-terrorism command had to carry out the interviews and produce anonymous statements.

Detective Chief Superintendent Hamish Campbell said police were not shown any internal inquiry by MI6 into what happened to the brilliant codebreaker.

The spy’s sister, Ceri Subbe, told the inquest her brother was excited when he began what was supposed to be a three-year secondment to MI6 from GCHQ, the government listening station at Cheltenham. But he missed the countryside and became disillusioned with the atmosphere at MI6’s Vauxhall Cross headquarters in London.

“He disliked office culture, post-work drinks, flash car competitions and the rat race. He even spoke of friction in the office,” Mrs Subbe said. “The job was not quite what he expected. He encountered more red tape than he was comfortable with.”

In April 2010 Mr Williams applied to return to GCHQ earlier than planned. MI6 “dragged their feet” in approving his request but eventually agreed.

Mr Williams, of Anglesey, north Wales, failed to turn up for a meeting at MI6 on 16 August, 2010, the inquest heard.

Mrs Subbe said she discussed her brother’s absence with one of his colleagues. “He is very conscientious,” she said. “The person I spoke to agreed, and said Gareth was like a Swiss clock – very punctual, very efficient, and it was very unlike him not to attend a meeting.”

The discovery of the spy’s body curled up in a large holdall at his top-floor flat in Alderney Street, Pimlico, sparked a painstaking investigation, worldwide media frenzy and several outlandish conspiracy theories.

Mrs Subbe was asked about £20,000 of women’s clothes found in her brother’s flat after his death, but said it was “not particularly” surprising and suggested they could have been a gift. She told the inquest she did not believe Mr Williams would let a potential killer in his flat, adding: “I cannot emphasise enough his conscientiousness”.

Four intelligence agents will give evidence to the inquest anonymously after coroner Fiona Wilcox said there was a real risk of harm to national security and international relations if they were exposed.

Mr Williams was a mathematics prodigy who passed his O-levels aged ten, his A-levels a few years later, and studied at Bangor University when he was 16. He was a keen fell runner and mountaineer.

His sister said he was “the most scrupulous risk-assessor” she had known.

She said he would turn back a few hundred yards from the summit of mountains if there was the hint of adverse weather conditions.

Mrs Subbe said her brother never told her he was being followed or felt threatened in any way, adding: “I cannot think as to why anybody would want to harm him.”

Family members want to know why the alarm was not raised when Mr Williams initially failed to turn up to work.

By the time officers arrived at his flat, his body was so decomposed that evidence had been lost. Dr Wilcox has indicated she may want to see a practical demonstration of how Mr Williams might have got into the bag and locked it himself.

The inquest continues.