Scotsman : Gareth Williams inquest: Crucial evidence lost as MI6 dithered

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Gareth Williams inquest: Crucial evidence lost as MI6 dithered

May 3, 2012

The bizarre circumstances of Gareth Williams’s death left detectives faced with a perplexing case, but mistakes made after he died hardly helped in the quest for answers.

A week elapsed before MI6 raised the alarm over the spy’s disappearance. With his undiscovered body decomposing, crucial evidence could well have been lost.

Various reasons for the delay were offered, based on false assumptions about the agent’s whereabouts. One MI6 line manager said he thought Mr Williams must be stuck on a train when he missed a meeting seven days before his remains were found.

Other colleagues believed for days he might be packing for his return to GCHQ from his MI6 secondment.

Scientists were left with little to go on when trying to establish how the spy died and could not rule out poisoning, despite lacking hard proof.

The slow response of the secret services was not the only error feared to have hampered the inquiry. As the inquest neared its end, MI6 and a senior detective were accused of failing to disclose vital evidence.

Nine computer memory sticks and a black bag were overlooked for 21 months after the death. The North Face bag – similar to the one in which the agent was found dead – was discovered by officers under his desk at MI6’s London HQ.

MI6 also examined computer equipment belonging to Mr Williams without telling police.

Det Con Colin Hall, of the Met’s counter-terror SO15 branch, said his search of headquarters offices was called off shortly after the death was discovered.

The case was then plagued by further false steps when forensic teams mistakenly identified what they thought was a significant spot of DNA on Mr Williams’s hand in 2010. It took them until March this year to realise it matched a scientist at the crime scene. Human error was blamed, with the wrong number for the sample being logged on a computer.

Scientific adviser Ros Hammond, of LGC Forensics, said she had never witnessed this sort of mix-up.