Sky : Spy Death: The Evidence Behind The Theories

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Spy Death: The Evidence Behind The Theories

May 2, 2012

Three general theories have been put forward to explain the death of MI6 spy Gareth Williams, with evidence to support each one.

:: Suicide

The theory that Mr Williams' chose to take his own life is perhaps the most prosaic explanation for his death and the inquest has heard evidence that suggested he was unhappy with his work.

He had passed an exam to become fully operational with MI6 just months before his death but his sister said he disliked office culture and the rat race - and had spoken of friction among colleagues.

One common theme throughout the inquest has been Mr Williams' prodigious intelligence, which saw him secure a first-class mathematics degree at the age of 17 before his eventual fast-tracking through the ranks at GCHQ.

Correlations have often been drawn between depression and the high levels of perfectionism evident in Mr Williams - an impression his intense fitness regime and pristinely tidy flat did little to dispel.

Irrespective of his state of mind, however, no-one has been able to fully explain how he would have been able to lock the bag his body was found in from the outside.

Stephen Gale, his boss at GCHQ's Cheltenham base, said Mr Williams stunned fellow intelligence specialists with his codebreaking talents when he landed his first job at 21.

"He was considered something of a prodigy and it was quite remarkable that he had achieved those levels of qualifications at such a young age," he said.

It could be argued that such outstanding achievement at such an early age could lead to the kind of listlessness later in life that can eventually develop into suicidal thoughts.

But Mr Williams' reputation as a "world-class" codebreaker may also give rise to the more outlandish theory that he took his own life while deliberately leaving an apparently inextricable riddle.

:: Accident

Mr Williams' interest in women's clothing - on which receipts showed he spent around £20,000 during 2008 and 2009 - has been among the most prominently-reported details of the case.

His curiosity with drag queen culture has also been a focus for the media, as has his apparent interest in bondage footage.

The inquest heard that in 2007, Mr Williams' landlord and landlady had to rescue him in the middle of the night after he apparently tied his wrists to the headboard of his bed to see if he could "get free".

Such revelations could contribute to a theory that Mr Williams' death was an accident, even the result of a sex game gone-wrong.

However, close friends say he never mentioned cross-dressing and he is only known to have been to see a drag act once.

Detective Constable Simon Warren also moved to quell speculation around the 31-year-old's private life, saying his interest in bondage footage on his computer was "an isolated (incident) among a sea of other data".

And it is not entirely inconceivable that a third party may have manufactured an image of someone with flamboyant personal habits in order to distract from a more sinister truth.

Indeed, this possibility was acknowledged by the coroner in her summing up, when she questioned whether leaks to the media about Mr Williams' cross dressing were attempts to manipulate evidence.

She pointed out that most of the women's clothes found would have been too small for him and said the lack of female underwear was "inconsistent".

Mr Williams was described as a cautious risk assessor by his sister, which the coroner said did not "square" with the suggestion of an interest in bondage.

:: Murder

Despite having no suspects, the police have said from the outset that they believe a third party was involved in Mr Williams' death.

Found naked, curled up in a padlocked North Face holdall in the bath of his flat in Pimlico, central London, bag experts have said that even renowned escapologist Harry Houdini would have struggled to lock himself in the bag.

One even tried and failed to carry out the task more than 300 times before saying they were "unbelievable scenarios".

Lawyers for his family have suggested "dark arts" of the secret services were responsible.

The recent emergence of the news that MI6 failed to hand over nine computer memory sticks from Mr Williams' office to Scotland Yard has done little to confound such claims.

Conspiracy theories are fuelled by the fact that the force's counter-terror SO15 branch, which has specialist security clearance and acted as a conduit between MI6 and the investigation team, only took three items from Mr Williams' office - his phone, some notes and a copy of his birth certificate.

Detective Superintendent Michael Broster, who was the main liaison from SO15, said: "I have seen no information or evidence that someone is involved. I am not saying that a member of SIS is not involved. I don't know."

Poisoning and asphyxiation are the "foremost contenders" in causing Mr Williams' death, pathologists said.

But experts believe there would have been signs of damage to his fingers and hands if he had struggled to get out of the bag within the three minutes it would have taken to suffocate.

The fact that Mr Williams was dead for up to 10 days before his post-mortem examination meant many poisons and/or bruise marks could have disappeared from his body.

Another matter to have attracted suspicion is MI6's failure to report his absence for more than a week after his disappearance.

Forensic experts hope ongoing DNA tests on a green towel discovered in his kitchen may still yield a breakthrough.

But given the assumed capabilities of MI6, the fact that no physical evidence has yet been found to establish the involvement of a third party is unlikely to halt speculation that secret service agents were to blame.