West End Extra : MI6 chiefs say sorry to family of Gareth Williams, the spy found dead in a locked holdall

Friday, April 27, 2012

MI6 chiefs say sorry to family of Gareth Williams, the spy found dead in a locked holdall

by JOSH LOEB | April 27, 2012

SENIOR member of the security services apologised to the family of spy Gareth Williams yesterday (Thursday) for MI6’s delay in raising the alarm until a week after the code-breaker first failed to show up for work.

Speaking from behind a screen, the witness, known only as “F” due to the sensitive nature of her work, said she was “profoundly sorry”.

She added that the 31-year-old’s absence should have become a matter of concern within hours of him failing to appear at his desk on August 16 2010. “F” added: “We acknowledge that the delay in finding Gareth’s body has made it even harder for the family to come to terms with his tragic death.”

Mr Williams’s body was found curled up in the foetal position inside a padlocked sports holdall in the bath of his top-floor, two-storey flat in Alderney Street, Pim­lico, on August 23.

The case remains shrouded in mystery despite a 21-month investigation and the inquest which today (Friday) enters its fifth day.

Westminster Coroner’s Court heard the dead body of the prodigious computer expert, who was known to colleagues as “the Swiss watch” because of his punctuality, could have lain undiscovered for as long as nine days.

“F” told the court that under MI6 protocol an investigation into the whereabouts of Mr Williams, who was on a secondment to the organ­isation from the GCHQ listening station in Cheltenham, should have been launched as early as two hours after he failed to appear for work.

Anthony O’Toole, a lawyer for Mr Williams’s family, said the delay had produced “horrendous results” as the family had been unable to “say goodbye properly” because the corpse had not been “in an acceptable state”.

He added: “Because of the decomposition of the body, any forensic evidence that could have been derived from it has disappeared, so the police investigation has in effect been defeated.”

Mr Williams’s family walked out of court in tears as “F” said no one had been disciplined for what Mr O’Toole called “this total disregard for Gareth’s whereabouts and safety”.

When coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox suggested there had been a “complete breakdown in communication” between Mr Williams and his line manager, “F” told the court she agreed.

She also said she did not believe that Mr Williams’s job – the details of which have been excluded due to national security – had been a factor in his death.

The court heard that Mr Williams, originally from Wales, had wanted to leave London to return to GCHQ and had received clearance to do so shortly before his death.

He had also recently returned to London from an annual digital security event, The Black Hat Conference, in Las Vegas.

“F” was asked by Dr Wilcox whether there was evidence from Mr Williams’s work compu­ter that indicated he had used restricted databases improperly to search for information unconnected with his work.

“F” said such searches had potentially taken place. But she said it would be better to describe the searches as “unexplained”.

Somewhat cryptically, Dr Wilcox also asked “F” whether contact with anyone from the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan was something M16 employees were expected to report – but “F” said she was unable to answer for national security reasons.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Michael Broster, of the SO15 counter terrorism command, whose job was to liaise between homicide investigators and the secret services, said he had received “assurances” from his contact in MI6 that nothing on Mr Williams’s desk or computer had been tampered with prior to it being seized by police on August 27.

Mr O’Toole replied: “So, almost under the old boys act – they tell you that and you accept it, do you?”

The inquest continues.