Sky : Spy Death: Unlawful Killing Verdict Ruled Out

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Spy Death: Unlawful Killing Verdict Ruled Out

Mark Stone, Sky reporter | May 2, 2012

A coroner investigating the death of MI6 spy Gareth Williams has said there is insufficient evidence to consider a verdict of unlawful killing.

Dr Fiona Wilcox said a narrative verdict was the most appropriate option available to her as an open verdict "would not do justice" to her findings.

Mr Williams' body was found curled up naked in a padlocked holdall in the bath of his flat in Pimlico, central London, in August 2010.

Dr Wilcox, who has spent seven days listening to evidence from 39 witnesses, is due to deliver her verdict later today over his mysterious death.

A narrative verdict is an option open to a coroner when other verdict options do not fit the case. It is a short factual statement outlining the facts.

It does leave open the option to include any failures by any party relevant to the circumstances of a death.

The lawyer for Mr Williams' family, Anthony O'Toole, believes that in the balance of probability, to use his words, the codebreaker's death was unlawful killing.

However, he accepts there is perhaps insufficient evidence to come categorically to that conclusion.

The very fact that Mr Williams' body was found locked in a bag would lead some to believe that perhaps there was a third party involved.

Indeed, the police have said all along that it is their belief that a third party was involved.

Dr Wilcox has questioned all of those who appeared in person and listened as lawyers for Mr Williams' family, as well as lawyers representing both the Metropolitan Police and MI6 cross-examined the witnesses.

Evidence included some surprising revelations, including the disclosure that MI6 had failed to pass over some of Mr Williams' belongings from his office at MI6.

The officer in charge of the investigation into his death only found out about the existence of some of the items on Tuesday.

"Had I known about their existence, I would have expected them to be disclosed and any relevant information to be sent to my team. I would have expected to have been told," DCI Jackie Sebire told the court.

A senior Metropolitan Police officer also admitted that he had relied on MI6 to decide which of Mr Williams' belongings was relevent to the investigation into the death.

Detective Superintendent Michael Broster said that he trusted MI6 to give him all the information he needed.

Responding to that admission, the coroner said: "Shouldn't the investigators be examining the items, not the people providing them?

"I would suggest that you are not being an impartial investigator in this case. An impartial investigator would have seized the items themselves."

Mr O'Toole put it more directly to Supt Broster.

"If the person who killed Gareth was a member of the Secret Intelligence Service, you did nothing to investigate because you believed that the organisation was trustworthy?"

The wide range of witnesses in this inquest began with Mr Williams' sister Ceri Subbe who talked fondly of her brother.

She described him as "a country boy" who had expressed frustration with his secondment from GCHQ in Gloucestershire to MI6 in London.

Friends of Mr Williams also gave evidence. Among them was Sian Jones, a fashion consultant.

"We were childhood sweethearts and I would just say we were very, very close," she told the court last week.

She, and other witnesses were asked how they could explain the fact that £20,000 of women's clothes and shoes were found in the flat where Mr Williams' body was discovered.

Ms Jones and Ms Subbe both told the inquest that Mr Williams was a very generous man and that the clothes were likely to be gifts. Ms Jones said he had frequently bought her clothes and handbags.

"He was a truly generous person. It wouldn't surprise me if they were gifts," she said.

His family listened as other uncomfortable details about his private life were discussed. He had visited bondage websites, the court was told, but only on four occasions in two years.

The inquest was also told he had once tied himself to a bed and had to rely on his landlord to free him.

Mr Williams' professional life was examined in minute detail as well. He was described as a brilliant man, highly intelligent and part of a team whose "Herculean efforts" in cryptology had won departmental awards at GCHQ.

Staff at MI6 gave evidence anonymously from behind a screen. They were pressed on why it took them eight days to report Mr Williams missing.

One MI6 officer, identified only as witness G said he first thought Mr Williams was stuck on a train, then thought perhaps there had been a mix up with holiday.

"In hindsight, knowing what I know now, should I have taken action? Absolutely," witness G said.

Another witness, SIS-F, apologised for Witness G's lack of action.

"SIS are profoundly sorry about what happened. It shouldn't have happened. We recognise the delay (of a week) in finding Gareth's body has made it harder to come to terms with his death," SIS-F said.

The delay in reporting him missing made the pathologists work very hard, the court heard. When Mr Williams' body was eventually discovered it was badly decomposed.

The three post-mortem examinations could not establish the cause of death. Three pathologists told the inquest that the decomposition hindered their work.

Benjamin Swift, a Home Office pathologist, said that although the cause of death was "unascertained", he believed that poisoning or asphyxiation such as suffocation were "probably rather than possibly" to blame.

The police officer in charge of the investigation said at the start of the inquest that she believed the crux of the case surrounded the bag Mr Williams was found in.

The police still do not know how Mr Williams came to be in that bag. If he was alone, they do not know how he locked it from the outside.

If he was not alone, then who else was there and what motive did they have for killing him?

The police investigation had drawn a succession of blanks.

New evidence heard in this inquest for the first time might help them draw new leads in the coming months.

The police have repeatedly said there is still a chance of the breakthrough they need.