This Is London : Secret agents will give evidence behind screen at inquest of spy-in-the-bag Gareth Williams

Monday, April 23, 2012

Secret agents will give evidence behind screen at inquest of spy-in-the-bag Gareth Williams

‘No evidence will be taken in closed hearing... all will be presented before this court’ - Coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox

Paul Cheston | April 23, 2012

Four secret service witnesses will give evidence anonymously from behind a screen at the inquest into the death of MI6 spy Gareth Williams, the coroner said today.

Mr Williams, 31, was found padlocked inside a sports bag in the bath at his home in Pimlico in August 2010.

His parents have suggested that the “dark arts” of intelligence agencies could have been involved in the death and a possible cover up.

The inquest into his death, described by coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox as “highly controversial”, opened today. She emphasised that all evidence to the inquest in Westminster will be heard in open court.

But she granted public interest immunity certificates to confer anonymity on three MI6 witnesses known as K, F and G, and on a “corporate witness” known as SIS F.

The first three will give evidence from behind a screen protecting their identity from the court, including from Mr Williams’s family. The corporate witness, however, will be visible to the family.

A further witness, Stephen Gale of GCHQ, will give evidence without a screen or anonymity.

Dr Wilcox said she was taking these steps because of the risk “to national security and therefore the public interest”.

Mr Williams’s parents Ian and Ellen and his sister, Ceri Subbe, were at the hearing today. The inquest, which is expected to last five days, is not being heard by a jury and the coroner alone will record a verdict.

Mr Williams, a maths prodigy worked as a cipher and codes expert for the government listening station GCHQ and had been on secondment with MI6. His naked and decomposing body was found inside a large holdall sealed by a padlock in the bath at his top-floor flat. A series of post-mortem tests failed to discover exactly how he died.

Dr Wilcox told the inquest: “Unlike other courts no one is on trial, least of all the deceased. This inquest, like all others, is an inquiry to answer four important but limited factual questions: who was the person who died, and how, when and where did the death come about? “The question ‘How’ will lead to an examination of a direct sequence of events that led to the cause of death.

“I intend to conduct this inquest as a full, fair and fearless inquiry into the evidence of this highly controversial death. No evidence will be taken in closed hearing and all evidence I deem relevant and all the material I have seen will be presented before this court.”

Family lawyer Anthony O’Toole told an earlier hearing at Westminster coroner’s court that “the impression of the family” was that “an unknown third party [in the flat at the time] was a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret services, or evidence has been removed post-mortem by experts in those dark arts”.

The hearing continues.

Six key questions

Was there someone else in the room with Gareth Williams?

Police say it would have been impossible to get into the locked bag alone. Mr Williams’s body had no signs of defence injuries from a struggle.

Why did it take so long to raise the alarm?

Mr Williams was last seen on August 15, 2010 and police believe he died in the early hours of the following day. But he was not reported missing by anyone until his sister rang police seven days later.

Were the black arts of the spooks involved?

Mr Williams’s family suspect members of an intelligence service were involved in what they see as a possible murder and cover-up.

Was Mr Williams being followed?

His friend Elizabeth Guthrie is said to have told police he had told her he feared he was under surveillance. But he did not reveal by whom.

Was Mr Williams’s work behind his death?

He had just returned from holiday in the United States but neither MI6 nor GCHQ have wanted to make public what the codebreaker was involved in at the time of his death.

Did a sex game go wrong?

Mr Williams had visited a number of bondage websites. There was no trace of alcohol or recreational drugs in his body. But if he was interested in auto-eroticism why was it not picked up when he was vetted?