Toronto Star : U.K. spy found dead had complained of friction at work, family says

Monday, April 23, 2012

U.K. spy found dead had complained of friction at work, family says

Cassandra Vinograd | Associated Press | April 23, 2012

LONDON—A British codebreaker had complained of friction at the country’s overseas spy agency before his naked and decomposing body was found inside a padlocked sports bag, his family told an inquest Monday.

Gareth Williams worked for Britain’s secret eavesdropping service GCHQ and was attached to the country’s MI6 overseas spy agency when his body was found in the bag in the bathtub of his central London home Aug. 25, 2010. While detectives have suggested Williams, 31, may have died in a sex game gone wrong, his family has countered that British spy agencies may have been involved in the death.

An inquest being held into his death will investigate whether Williams could possibly have climbed inside the sports bag and locked it from the inside. There were no signs of struggle, and no drugs or poison in Williams’ body, the discovery of which launched a flurry of conspiracy theories.

Women’s dresses and shoes worth around 20,000 pounds ($32,000 Canadian) were also found at the flat, creating another mystery in an already complex case. They had never been worn.

The coroner leading the inquest agreed Monday to allow four intelligence agents to give evidence anonymously.

Coroner Fiona Wilcox acknowledged “there will be a real risk of harm” to national security and international relations if the identities of some of those giving evidence at the inquest are exposed.

Williams’ sister was the first to give evidence to the inquest, saying that her brother was unhappy with the “rat race” in London and had requested to be sent back to GCHQ’s headquarters in Gloucestershire, western England.

“The job was not quite what he expected,” Ceri Subbe said. “He encountered more red tape than he was comfortable with.”

Subbe told the inquest Monday that she did not believe her brother would let a potential killer into his flat, saying he was extremely careful.

A lawyer for the dead man’s family said last month that “a member of some agency specializing in the dark arts of the secret services” might be responsible for his murder, fuelling speculation that he was killed by foreign spies and that MI6 might have covered it up.

At the time of his death, Williams was on a three-year secondment to MI6, which deals with foreign espionage matters and is headquartered at a large, modern, imposing building on the banks of the River Thames which often features in James Bond films.

But Subbe said her brother had wanted to return to his old post as a code breaker at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the state eavesdropping service which is based in a striking doughnut-shaped modernist building in Cheltenham, western England.

He had wanted to escape London for the countryside and return to a quieter pace of life, she said.

“His enthusiasm had begun to fade,” she said. “I think the job wasn’t quite what he had expected.”

A keen cyclist and hill runner, who gained a university first-class degree in mathematics at the age of just 17, Williams was single and intensely private.

She told the inquest that, in April 2010, Williams had sought to end his secondment to MI6. He had been due to return to Cheltenham just days after his body was found.

His body was not discovered until his family reported him missing, up to 12 days after he was last seen, raising questions about his employer’s apparent lack of concern.

Policeman John Gallagher told the inquest how he made the grim discovery of Williams’ body when he went to the man’s apartment to check on the missing spy.

Toxicology tests found no traces of alcohol, drugs or poison in his body.

Experts later consulted by police said Williams could not have locked himself inside the bag.

Police have made no arrests in the case and are still not certain exactly how Williams died. But Scotland Yard raised the possibility that criminal charges could still be filed, telling the inquest Monday that it objected to the release of some material to the media because that could prejudice future criminal proceedings.

The inquest is due to hear from 37 witnesses, including four unnamed members of the intelligence services.

In Britain, inquests must be held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or from unknown causes. However, the coroner’s task is to determine the cause of death, rather than to identify any suspect.

With files from Reuters