Camden New Journal : Feature: A spook story that’s stranger than fiction

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Feature: A spook story that’s stranger than fiction

by JOSH LOEB | May 10, 2012

The death of MI6 agent Gareth Williams was not the result of a sex game.

He was not a transvestite.

And aspects of his personality suggest he may have had Asperger’s syndrome or something similar.

These are my personal views, but having attended all seven days of evidence at the inquest into his death, which concluded last week, I have more of an insight than most.

The inquest was like no other. Stairwells at Westminster Coroner’s  Court were bristling with guards wearing high-visibility vests, who eyed reporters suspiciously; and members of the public – shifty old ladies who looked like they’d read too many spy thrillers scuttled in and out.

No one knows what Gareth did for MI6; because of concerns about national security, details of his work were not divulged in court.

What everyone knows is that the 31-year-old was found dead inside a padlocked holdall in a bath at his Alderney Street flat in Pimlico on August 23, 2010.

He was naked and was lying on his back, curled up in the partial foetal position.

There were no signs of a break-in or struggle, and there was no evidence of his footprints or fingerprints on the bathroom tiles or sides of the bath.

Coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox said Gareth’s death – his family asked for him to be referred to by his first name throughout the proceedings – was “unnatural and is likely to have been criminally mediated”.

In other words, an unknown person or persons had a hand in it, though Dr Wilcox said she believed Gareth had been complicit to some extent.

She accepted evidence from a pathologist that, given the position in which Gareth’s body was found and the lack of marks or bruising, it was virtually impossible someone could have manhandled him into the bag either after he was deceased or if he were still alive and resisting.

The evidence suggests he got into that holdall either willingly or having been coerced, and died within it. Someone else placed the lock and lifted the bag into the bath.

Gareth apparently only ever let vetted people inside his flat, so the third party was either someone he knew or someone who had entered uninvited.

So, what of the theory that he died during a sex game?

Prior to the inquest, stories appeared in the tabloids suggesting Gareth had an interest in claustrophilia, the love of confined spaces, but this was not borne out in evidence.

He had a collection of female clothing – surely an indication he liked to dress up as a woman?

Well, more likely not, actually.

From the evidence it seems pos­sible that Gareth was a high-functioning autistic, which may have made him easy to manipulate.

He had virtually no friends and was a prodigious whiz with maths and computers.

An intellectually brilliant oddball, when a subject gripped his attention, it consumed his every thought.

Such was the case with fashion. He had enrolled on a fashion course, and experts who analysed his computers said 50 per cent of his internet browsing time consisted of him looking at websites about women’s clothes.

Compare this with 0.1 per cent of the time he spent looking at sites about bondage and you hardly walk away with an image of a slavering pervert.

Tellingly, Gareth appears never to have looked at material of an outright pornographic nature. One acquaintance said: “I did not think of him as being sexual at all.”

Prior to Gareth’s latest, all-consuming interest, he had been obsessed with maps, and he was mad on cycling, of which he had an encyclopedic knowledge down to the lowest sprocket.

He also exhibited a preoccupation with cleanliness sometimes associated with obsessive compulsive disorder.

None of the women’s fashion items Gareth owned showed much evidence of having been worn.

Most were found in their packaging.

He owned no female undergarments, nor a realistic wig – the wig found at his flat was florescent orange.

All this suggests he was not a transvestite.

The annexe of Marylebone Council House, the building that hosted the inquest, is located just steps from Sherlock Holmes’s fictional home in Baker Street, but perhaps even someone of the calibre of Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective might lack the ability to unravel what has already become known as The Alderney Street Mystery.

However, what if important clues were hidden in moments that have gone unreported?

On the third day of evidence, Dr Wilcox asked “F” – one of the secret service spooks giving evidence anonymously and behind a screen – whether, if Gareth had been in contact with anyone from the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, he should have reported this to service’s vetting team. ­“F” said she could not answer for security reasons.

Cryptically, the coroner asked another witness whether Gareth had been in touch with someone by the name of Ibragimov.

And it emerged Gareth had told this witness that he would produce a fake degree certificate for a friend of hers as part of a prank.

I don’t know if these moments are of any relevance. They went unreported because they seemed to lead nowhere.

But who knows?

They might provide the army of amateur detectives now speculating about this most haunting case with another piece of the puzzle.