This Is London : Profile: MI6 spy Gareth Williams

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Profile: MI6 spy Gareth Williams

Paul Cheston | May 2, 2012

Gareth Williams’ life of complexity and contradiction was matched by the mystery of his death.

A brilliant academic prodigy, cherished and honoured as a team man by GCHQ, rejected as an outsider by MI6 colleagues.

“We were very lucky to recruit him”, said Stephen Gale, his former boss at the Government listening post, where he was responsible for “world class work”.

His MI6 line manager could not be bothered to look for him when he went missing.

A cyclist, fell runner, climber and as fit as they come. His family and his closest women friends unhesitatingly considered him straight.

Yet in his spare room, separate from his day clothes he wore to work and social and sporting activities, there was £20,000 of women’s clothing and 26 pairs of women’s shoes and boots.

“For somebody having his rent paid, socialising little and modest in food and drink, it’s possible it would have taken up a large chunk of his salary,” said Mr Gale.

His family insist the clothes were intended as gifts.

But whether they were intended for others or himself, an operational officer in the Special Intelligence Service, even one with such minimal overheads, is less than handsomely paid, despite a 11% pay rise when he transferred from Cheltenham-based GCHQ.

Williams was a hot house academic - a first class honours degree and doctorate by 21 - but also a country boy from North Wales who “longed for the freedom to cycle without running the risk of being run over by a bendy bus,” as his sister Ceri Subbe put it.

He hated the MI6 “culture of post work drinks, flash car competitions, rat race and office friction” and just wanted to go back to Cheltenham and “take his projects with him.”

In scenes closer to Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer than Ian Fleming’s Bond or the Jason Bourne series, he shared with three other colleagues a small 15ft x 12 ft office at Vauxhall Cross with just three tales and four cabinets.

His forte was technology - it was how he won he and his team won GCHQ’s prestigious Mary Church award for significant achievement in cryptic analysis which was awarded to his team in 2009.

Mr Gale spoke of how the director of GCHQ had described “a herculean effort by an extraordinary team.”

MI6 was training Williams to become a support officer to “agents” in the field and, after initial difficulties, he had made impressive strides when he died.

But surely, while he could have been a useful asset if he was turned by a hostile foreign power as a mole in SIS, he was too junior and too far from the frontline to be worth murdering - by either side.

At GCHQ they honoured his memory with a posthumous award for his achievements.

At MI6, where he was never considered one of us, they could not wait to see the back of him.

His friends and sister remembered primarily his kindness, his humour, his intelligence, his loyalty. His line manager at MI6 used similarly warm words, describing him as “a quiet intellectual, very clever at the technical aspects of his job but socially shy and introverted, a very private person”, but in a so-what, almost derogatory sense.

His landlady in Cheltenham, Jennifer Elliot, found him tied to his bedposts in the middle of the night in what she considered some sort of sexual ritual.

“Gareth, we cannot have you doing this,” her husband told him.

But such was the loyalty he engendered, she refused to utter a word about it under a barrage of questions, and money, from Fleet Street reporters, only speaking of it to detectives searching for clues to resolve this inexplicable death.