Daily Mail Comment : The spy in the bag and perils of secret justice

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

DAILY MAIL COMMENT: The spy in the bag and perils of secret justice

By Daily Mail Comment | May 2, 2012

The inquest into Gareth Williams – the MI6 code breaker now known as the ‘spy in the bag’ – raised many deeply disturbing questions.

Why, given the hugely sensitive nature of Mr Williams’ job, did the intelligence service wait eight days to inform the police he was missing from work?

For what reason did MI6 withhold potentially crucial evidence – including nine computer memory sticks – from police investigating his possible murder?

Did the absence of forensic evidence, save for a tiny amount of DNA, suggest his flat had been professionally ‘cleaned’?

In delivering her verdict on this extraordinary case yesterday, Dr Fiona Wilcox said that most of the fundamental questions of how Mr Williams died remained, regrettably, ‘unanswered’.

Nevertheless, the coroner did state that, ‘on the balance of probabilities’, Mr Williams had been unlawfully killed.

She was also able to deliver, in her public judgment, the damning observation that MI6 had not always been helpful in its approach to the investigation.

The coroner added that, while the evidence did not prove suggestions that Mr Williams died at the hands of MI6, ‘it is still a legitimate line of inquiry’.

Of course, the lack of a conclusive verdict is unsatisfactory – not least for the dead man’s family, who fear he was killed by what they describe as a specialist ‘in the dark arts of the secret services’.

They are unlikely ever to forgive MI6 for not bothering to report Mr Williams missing for a week – by which time it was not possible for pathologists to establish if, for example, he had been poisoned.

But it is testament to Britain’s legal system that an inquest has at least endeavoured to hold the authorities to account in public.

As the Mail’s ‘No To Secret Courts’ campaign has highlighted, Ministers want chilling powers to hold such inquests in camera in the future. The hugely troubling case of ‘the spy in the bag’ is yet another reason why their plans must be fiercely resisted.

The mystery may not yet have been solved – but to have avoided publicly asking the questions would have been a terrible betrayal of his family, his service to the public and Britain’s treasured principle of open justice.