GCHQ overhauls staff procedures after death of Gareth Williams
July 16, 2012
GCHQ has overhauled its staff procedures following the death of spy Gareth Williams whose body was found locked in a holdall.
The coroner was critical of management failures at MI6 – to which the 31-year-old code-breaker was seconded at the time – that led to a week-long delay before action was taken over his failure to turn up for work.
This has been branded "extraordinary" by an influential committee of MPs and peers, which oversees the work of the intelligence services, given spies are "inevitably at risk due to the nature of the work they are involved in".
The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said: "There is no doubt that determining the cause of death was made more complex by the unnecessary delays in reporting Mr Williams' unexplained absence from work."
The Secret Intelligence Service had apologised for this.
They dedicated a chapter of its annual report into the case of Mr Williams, whose decomposing body was found in the bath of his top-floor flat in Pimlico, London, on August 23 2010. He was curled up in a large holdall, sealed with a padlock. The discovery sparked a painstaking investigation, worldwide media frenzy and several conspiracy theories.
An inquest into his death ruled Mr Williams was "on the balance of probabilities" unlawfully killed.
The committee noted that both MI6 and the Cheltenham intelligence base had reviewed their absence reporting arrangements, including for staff on secondment.
But it concluded: "We consider that the agencies must exercise a far greater duty of care in relation to their employees than other organisations, owing to the nature of the work they are involved in."
The committee also referred to the extensive media coverage given to Mr Williams' death, much of which contained allegations over his personal life.
As well as being "deeply distressing" for his family, the committee also said: "This speculation has also made understanding any implications of Mr Williams' death for the agencies more difficult."
They also revealed it had been a source of real annoyance to GCHQ director Iain Lobban, who told the committee he found the media coverage "deeply frustrating and irritating… I am frustrated by the fact that getting a single truth about activities he may or may not have been involved in… is quite difficult".
The report also showed that security vetting by GCHQ had consistently given Mr Williams a "very low" risk assessment.
GCHQ did not wish to comment further.