Wales Online : Spy Gareth Williams' inquest verdict prompts 'independent investigation call

Friday, May 04, 2012

Spy Gareth Williams' inquest verdict prompts 'independent investigation call

By David Williamson, WalesOnline | May 4, 2012

EVENTS surrounding the death of MI6 officer Gareth Williams and the actions of the Secret Intelligence Service must be independently investigated to protect national security and ensure justice is done, Welsh politicians have claimed.

The coroner’s verdict this week that the 31-year-old codebreaker from Anglesey was “on the balance of probabilities” unlawfully killed has heightened concerns about his death and the investigation following the discovery of his body in a bag in the bath of his London flat.

Former foreign minister and Pontypridd MP Kim Howells said there was now a “very good case” for the Intelligence and Security Committee – of which he is a former chairman – to examine the relationships between the difference agencies involved in the case.

Mr Howells said it was clear there had been “very serious breakdowns in communication” and he wants to know why Mr Williams’ absence from work was not reported earlier.

The coroner said the explanation for the delay began to “stretch bounds of credibility”.

Mr Howell said: “I think we need to be clear about who was responsible and why his absence was not reported... There has been quite clearly a problem of line management here.

“That’s not good enough. It caused the family tremendous grief; it set back the investigation quite seriously.”

Plaid Cymru Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd demanded an inquiry headed by a high court judge.

It was reported that police strongly suspect a member of MI6 or GCHQ was in his flat the day Mr Williams died and will take DNA samples from up to 50 of his colleagues.

The coroner said on Wednesday that while there was no evidence MI6 was responsible for his death “it is still a legitimate line of inquiry”.

Mr Llwyd described these as “very, very strong words”.

The MP called for greater scrutiny of MI6 and said that the present system of oversight by the Intelligence and Security Committee may no longer be sufficient.

He said: “I’m sure they have the best interests of parliament, the people and government at heart but I think we should be opening it up a little bit more now.”

Deborah Coles, of the campaigning group Inquest, told WalesOnline: “This case demonstrates once again how crucial the inquest process is in holding the state to account and how vital it is that this process is open and transparent. All the more reason why the proposals for inquests to be held behind closed doors, contained in the Government’s Justice and Security green paper, should never be implemented.”

The coroner noted that inquiries had been hampered by breakdowns in communication by her own office, a DNA mix-up by forensics and the late submission of evidence by MI6 to police.

A solicitor representing the relatives of Mr Williams read out a statement saying they were “extremely disappointed” at “total inadequacies” in the probe into the death of their son and brother, who was on secondment to MI6 from GCHQ at the time.

The 21-month investigation has yet to yield a culprit but forensic experts are hoping for a breakthrough from DNA tests on a green towel discovered in his kitchen.

Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire, who is leading the police investigation, said the inquest had raised “several new lines of inquiry and the investigation will now refocus and actively pursue all the evidence heard and all the new lines of inquiry”.

Former Labour MP Mr Howells said all employers had a “duty of care” to their staff and he would have expected Mr Williams’ managers to be “doubly careful” because of the intelligence-related skills he possessed.

He described the official explanations as “pretty feeble”.

Plaid’s Mr Llwyd said: “I’m afraid it’s not good enough. It insults the family and I think it insults the intelligence of the public.”