Calgary Herald : Inquest may unravel truth of spy in a bag

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Inquest may unravel truth of spy in a bag

Killing could be personal or professional

By Patrick Sawer | The Telegraph | January 29, 2012

It remains one of the most baffling mysteries in the history of the secret services.

When the body of an MI6 spy was found locked in a large gym bag in the bath of his apartment in August 2010 it led to a rash of conspiracy theories, from the disturbing to the bizarre.

Nearly 18 months on, police have been unable to establish what led to the death of Gareth Williams, despite toxicology tests and an exhaustive investigation into his background.

But Dr. Fiona Wilcox, the recently-appointed coroner for Westminster, has decided that the time is right to attempt to record the first official account of what happened to the 31-year-old spy.

She will hold a Pre-Inquest Review (PIR) on March 29 at Horseferry Road Coroner's Court. A full inquest will begin three weeks later, probably at a larger venue, and is expected to last three to four days.

The PIR is required to establish who will give evidence and, crucially, in what form. Attending will be a member of Scotland Yard's investigation team and legal representatives of GCHQ and MI6. A solicitor is understood to have been appointed by Williams's parents, Ian and Ellen, to represent his family.

It is expected that some or all of the evidence from as many as 40 of Williams's colleagues will be held "in camera" to protect their identities and the content of their statements.

The spy's badly decomposed body was found on Aug. 23 at his flat in Pimlico.

The property was used by MI6 as a safe house. In what was apparently a secret services in-joke, the building was owned by a British Virgin Islands-registered company called New Rodina, meaning "new motherland" in Russian.

Williams had missed work for several days, but it was only when his sister, Ceri, called police from her home in Chester to say she had not heard from him in more than 10 days, that a constable went to the top-floor apartment.

He made a gruesome discovery. The flat was "spotless," but in the bath was a red holdall from which red liquid was seeping. It had been padlocked.

Inside, the officer found a body so contorted that he initially assumed the "legs and arms had been cut off." There were no signs of a struggle.

On a table were two iPhones, a number of SIM cards and an Apple notebook computer, suggesting it was not a robbery. News of the find - and its description by detectives as "a tidy job" - prompted speculation that Williams had fallen victim to a hit instigated by a foreign power.

Williams, a brilliant mathematician who took a degree course at Bangor university while in his early teens, had been seconded from GCHQ - the government's listening centre in Cheltenham - to MI6 to work on secret computer systems to detect and prevent cyber-attacks on Britain's banks and infrastructure and eavesdrop on terrorist communications.

At the time of his death it is believed he was researching British vulnerability to Russian, Turkish and Chinese gangs - any one of them capable of targeting him.

There was even talk that a couple, who appeared to be Mediterranean and claimed to have a key to his flat weeks before Williams's death, were Mossad agents. Police have been unable to trace the pair.

But in December 2010, Det. Chief Supt. Hamish Campbell, head of Scotland Yard's homicide command, said the killing was not linked to the spy's work, but his private life.

It was disclosed that Williams had viewed websites on bondage and visited gay clubs and detectives turned to the possibility that he died as a result of a sado-masochistic game, perhaps after his partner panicked and fled.

"We are very sure that someone else was in that flat," said Campbell.

Williams's family angrily denied suggestions that he would have behaved in that way. He was known to have attended drag shows and police disclosed that unworn women's dresses and wigs had been found in the wardrobe.

Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, said Williams did "really valuable work with us in the cause of national security."

Some question what it was that he did for "the cause," and if it got him killed.

His family hopes the inquest will help answer that question.

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