The Australian : Elusive truth of MI6 code-breaker Gareth Williams

Friday, May 04, 2012

Elusive truth of MI6 code-breaker Gareth Williams

by: Fay Schlesinger and Fiona Hamilton | from: The Times | May 4, 2012

FOR a man whose private life rivalled the machinations of his employer in its layers of secrecy, it was a hard task for investigators to piece together the real Gareth Williams.

Each nugget of evidence uncovered by forensic scientists, computer analysts and escapology experts seemed to deepen the mystery, raising many questions that, the coroner said on Wednesday, may never be answered.

The women's clothes and wigs, the bondage websites and an episode in which his landlady found him tied to his bed - all were red herrings, the inquest concluded.

There was no suggestion that details were either planted to smear, or part of a blackmail plot, or even linked to a lover or another acquaintance. They were just elements of a life that Williams, a child maths prodigy and fitness enthusiast, lived happily - aside from frustrations with the "red tape" of MI6 and the "rat race" existence of London life.

His tutor at Central Saint Martins college where, unknown to his family, Williams completed two courses in fashion design less than a year before his death, described him as guarded about his private life but open and loquacious in his manner. It is a paradox also reflected in the spy's understated love of expensive and luxurious things.

Asked whether Williams dreamt of moving into the fashion industry, Celia Wain-Heapy told The Times: "A lot of people are quite guarded, they don't want to put their hopes and aspirations out there. They tell you they enjoy it but no more. Gareth was quite private.

"He ended up being painted as a bit of a loner, but that wasn't how I saw him at all. He didn't lack social skills. He was milder-mannered and quiet ... [but] he seemed quite guileless."

Half of all Williams's internet activity concerned women's fashion, the inquest was told, and he had a £20,000 collection of unworn women's clothes, many bought from the couture store Dover Street Market, supposedly for a "tall, slim girlfriend", though Williams was single. There were also 26 pairs of designer shoes, four of them worn, a lot of unused make-up and several wigs, though no women's underwear.

The coroner, Fiona Wilcox, said there was no evidence that he was a transvestite. If the wigs were for himself, she said, they would have been quality specimens rather than the garish orange one found in his flat. A video on a work iPhone, which was deleted but retrieved by police, showed him gyrating naked but for a pair of leather boots, and suggested that he might have derived sexual pleasure from shoes, Dr Wilcox said.

He was not alone in that view, the coroner suggested, and she ruled that this had nothing to do with his death. "Gareth was naked in a bag when he was found, not cross-dressed, not in high-heeled shoes," she said. By contrast with fashion browsing, a "tiny, tiny, tiny" percentage of Mr Williams's web searches were on the subject of bondage or claustrophilia. Four searches in two years was a negligible number, the coroner said, and certainly not enough to suggest that bondage played any part in his death.

His family's lawyer has pointed out that such searches coincided with training courses or potential moves within the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), though police could find no explanation that would put them down to research.

Witness reports that Mr Williams visited gay bars around Vauxhall Bridge, near the MI6 headquarters where he was based, could not be verified by police. Only two friends were identified as being close to Williams. Sian Jones, a former teenage sweetheart who grew up with him in Anglesey, North Wales, said: "I feel he would have been able to confide in me ... and I would not have judged him."

The other friend, Elizabeth Guthrie, 27, seemed a more complex character, who gave different names in a police statement. The name "Misa Guseiri" was dismissed by officers as an administrative error, and they confirmed that she had co-operated with the investigation. Ms Guthrie did not respond to attempts to contact her.

His closest friend was his sister, who described him as the perfect brother and a "scrupulous risk-assessor" on whom no one would wish harm.

Williams was "exceedingly intelligent", the coroner said. He passed a maths GCSE while still at primary school and graduated from university at 17, before joining the government listening post, GCHQ, at the age of 21. As well as cycling, fell running and mountaineering, he loved collecting: maps, CDs, climbing equipment and women's clothes, all stored neatly in his flat, in a trait that matched his "Swiss clock" precision. A bathrobe and duvet, discarded on the floor when Mr Williams was found dead, stood out like a sore thumb, it was said.

So the manner of his death: the lurid speculation, the destruction of privacy and the unknowns, must exacerbate the pain felt by Williams's family. The waste of life seemed to be summed up by his brother-in-law, Chris Subbe, at his funeral in Holyhead. Describing how Williams took his sister and him for tea at the Ritz Hotel in London to celebrate their wedding anniversary, he said they sat listening to a Welsh harpist as the sun set. He said: "It seemed as though the world was there for the taking and yet here we are, trying to describe your rich life with our poor words."