Sky : Spy Inquest: MI6 'Profoundly Sorry' For Delay

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spy Inquest: MI6 'Profoundly Sorry' For Delay

By Mark Stone | April 26, 2012

An MI6 officer has apologised for failing to raise the alarm about the disappearance of spy Gareth Williams whose body was found in a padlocked sports bag in his London flat.

Relatives of Mr Williams walked out of the inquest into his death in tears after they heard the secret service witness say she was "profoundly sorry" for the pain it had caused.

The senior MI6 intelligence officer, known only as witness 'F', said that Mr Williams' line manager, known as witness 'G', did not report that Mr Williams had been missing for a week.

The family's lawyer accused MI6 of showing "total disregard for Gareth's whereabouts and safety" before he was found dead in his London home on August 23, 2010 - 12 days after he failed to turn up to work.

Witness 'F' said that witness 'G' had not been the subject of any disciplinary action despite the delay.

Mr Williams' naked and decomposing body was found in the large holdall in the bath of his home in Alderney Street, Pimlico.

Some 20-months on his death still remains a mystery.

Giving evidence from behind a screen to protect her identity, witness 'F' said there was no evidence to suggest that Mr Williams' death was connected to his work.

She said when he had been vetted to work - both with GCHQ , the government listening station, and MI6 - he was rated very low risk.

No foreign intelligence agency was aware of Mr Williams or the job he did, so there was no threat to him and neither was he ever a target, she said.

His work was based in the UK, she said, dismissing reports that he had been to Russia and Afghanistan.

The GCHQ codebreaker was working at MI6, where he was just a few days away from finishing a year-long secondment.

Relatives of the 31-year-old have demanded to find out if his death was covered up by secret services - and why the alarm was not raised when he failed to turn up to work.

Officer 'F' told the inquest she had "no knowledge" of a cover-up.

She said no secret agents went into Mr Williams' flat before or after his body was found - and neither had counter-terrorism police or other agencies.

Asked if Mr Williams' flat was an MI6 "safehouse", the witness replied: "It was not."

Toxicologist Denise Stanworth told the inquest that Mr Williams was probably not poisoned or drugged when he died.

But she said she could not "rule out volatile agents" because toxicology tests on Mr Williams were carried out nine days after his death.

The inquest is operating under some unusual restrictions. As well as some of the witnesses appearing from behind screens, some of the witnesses are restricted over what they can say.

Witness 'F' declined to answer specific questions about the vetting process which cleared Mr Williams to work at MI6.

She also hesitated before answering questions about whether intelligence officers should report contact with foreign nationals from certain countries.

When asked whether friendships with US nationals needed to be reported to MI6 bosses, witness 'F' said: "I am not sure I can answer that." She paused and then said that no reporting of US friendships was required.

But when asked about contact with a Kurdish national needed to be recorded, she refused to answer the question.

Mr Williams is thought to have had possible contact with Kurdish man through his friend Elizabeth Guthrie.

Journalists, photographers and editors covering the inquest were also warned again today about not identifying any members of SIS.

On Wednesday, the inquest heard that Mr Williams had once been found tied to his bed, calling for help.

He was working at GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, at the time and had to be untied by his landlady.

Scotland Yard told the hearing on Monday that investigations were on-going and that there was still a "real possibility" of criminal charges over the death.

Mr Williams' sister, Ceri Subbe, revealed that her brother had been due to return to the West Country a week after his body was discovered.

He had complained of "friction" at work and was unhappy with life in the capital, she said.