Daily Mail : Fury of spy in the bag's family: As police dismiss MI6 man's death as an accident, parents insist coroner was right and their son WAS unlawfully killed

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fury of spy in the bag's family: As police dismiss MI6 man's death as an accident, parents insist coroner was right and their son WAS unlawfully killed

Gareth Williams found dead in his Central London flat in August 2010
31-year-old's death was ruled to be 'probably' foul play by a coroner
But Scotland Yard announced that he seems to have locked himself in bag
Family believe he was killed and refuse to accept result of investigation
They accuse MI6 of allowing circumstances of death to be 'covered up'

By Rebecca Camber | November 13, 2013

Serious question marks remained in the spy in a bag mystery last night after a three-year police investigation failed to explain his death.

Scotland Yard chiefs said they thought Gareth Williams died alone – but were forced to admit that gaps in the evidence made it impossible to be sure.

His furious parents rejected that verdict and said they stood by a coroner’s ruling that the brilliant codebreaker was probably killed unlawfully. They also accused MI6 of allowing the circumstances of his death to be covered up.

The body of the 31-year-old lay undiscovered in a red holdall in the bath of his Pimlico flat for a week before security service bosses raised the alarm. Significantly, ten to 15 DNA traces found in the apartment are still unidentified, despite the efforts of leading forensic experts.

Police have also been unable to explain why his DNA was not on the lock on the bag and his prints were not found on the rim of the bath.

In a statement, Mr Williams’ parents Ian and Ellen said: ‘We are naturally disappointed it is still not possible to state with certainty how Gareth died, and the fact that the circumstances of his death are still unknown adds to our grief. We consider that on the basis of the facts at present known, the coroner’s verdict accurately reflects the circumstances of Gareth’s death.

‘We still, however, remain very disappointed over the failure of his employers at MI6 to take even the most basic inquiries concerning Gareth’s welfare when he failed to attend for work on August 16, 2010.’

‘If proper steps had been taken in the same manner as any reasonable employer would have undertaken, further information relating to the cause of his death might have become apparent and not have been lost due to the length of time before Gareth’s body was found.’

Mr Williams’ naked body was found on August 23, 2010.

Last year Westminster Coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox said it ‘remained a legitimate line of inquiry’ that the secret services may have been involved – and Mr Williams was probably killed unlawfully by a third party.

But Martin Hewitt, a deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police, insisted his investigation showed Mr Williams probably locked himself inside the bag without help.

He admitted however that ‘evidential contradictions and gaps in our understanding’ meant no theory – police or coroner’s – could be proved ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’.

Scotland Yard accepted that its investigation had been flawed from the outset.

Detectives were unable to access the spy’s personnel and vetting files and formally interview GCHQ and MI6 staff until after the inquest because all liaison with MI6 was carried out through the counter-terrorism squad.

But Mr Hewitt said it was ‘beyond credibility’ that the secret services had covered up the death.

‘I do not believe that I have had the wool pulled over my eyes,’ he said. ‘I believe that what we are dealing with is a tragic unexplained death.

‘I am absolutely satisfied that every question we have had to ask has been asked, and every person we felt it necessary to talk to we have spoken to.

‘No evidence has been identified to establish the full circumstances of Gareth’s death beyond all reasonable doubt.

‘With the conclusion of the investigation, the Metropolitan Police’s position is that, on balance, it is a more probable conclusion that there was no other person present when Gareth died. I’m convinced that Gareth’s death was in no way related to his work.’

Pathologists said the fitness enthusiast would have suffocated within three minutes if he was alive when he got inside the 32in by 19in North Face holdall.

During his inquest in April last year two experts found it impossible to lock themselves into the bag – despite trying 400 times. However, retired Army sergeant William MacKay has since demonstrated it is possible to squeeze inside the holdall and lock it from the inside.

Mr Hewitt dismissed the theory that the flat had been ‘deep-cleaned’ to remove any evidence of a struggle or a break-in.

Following the inquest, police launched a full review of the case, interviewing 27 staff from the security services for the first time.

The spy worked for GCHQ but was on secondment to MI6 when he died.

Mr Hewitt added: ‘We didn’t get it right at the beginning and the way that we did it was cumbersome and didn’t allow us to do the investigation in the way that we wanted to.

'We recognised that fact and we changed it fundamentally for the subsequent two years of the investigation. I don’t think that process stopped us getting any evidence that we needed to get.’
He said police had re-examined the spy’s telephones and laptops.

The agent had used the internet to search bondage websites before his death but there were no specific searches around getting into a bag, Mr Hewitt said.

He also said a stash of designer women’s clothing found at the flat had no bearing on his death. Although police are not pursuing any more active lines of inquiry, the case will remain under review.

12 crucial questions that still need an answer

The three-year police investigation into Gareth Williams’ death has left a number of crucial questions unanswered, including:

Why did a week elapse before he was reported missing by MI6?

Gareth Williams was meticulous about timekeeping and attendance at work.

Yet despite being based in an office of just four people at MI6 headquarters, it took a week before his employers contacted police to say he was missing.

This potentially allowed evidence to be lost as the body decomposed – or for the scene to be tampered with.

On MI6’s failure to report the codebreaker’s absence, Dr Fiona Wilcox, the coroner who presided over the inquest into Mr Williams’ death, said that evidence given anonymously by Mr Williams’ MI6 line manager, known only as Witness G, had ‘stretched the bounds of credibility’.

Even after Mr Williams’ bosses decided he was missing there was a further four hours delay before raising the alarm.

Why was the death scene so spotless?

When a police officer finally arrived at the flat in Pimlico where Mr Williams lived on August 23, 2010, he was struck by how ‘extremely tidy’ the property was.

His mobile phone and two SIM cards were neatly arranged on a table and a laptop was on the floor. Could the scene have been cleaned up after he died?

The smell of the decomposing body became apparent only when the bathroom door was opened. In the bath was a bulging, padlocked holdall from which it was noticed that red fluid was seeping into the bathtub.

Could he have locked himself in the holdall?

The naked body of 5ft 8in Mr Williams was discovered inside the 32in by 19in North Face holdall. The Metropolitan Police concluded yesterday his death was an accident – he must have placed himself inside the bag, locked it and died from suffocation.

But during the inquest last year Dr Wilcox watched video footage of expert witnesses attempting – and failing – 400 times to perform this feat.

There were no signs that once inside the bag Mr Williams had violently struggled, despite the fact that it could have taken him three minutes to lapse into unconsciousness from the build-up of carbon dioxide within.

In stark contrast to the police, Dr Wilcox concluded a third party placed the bag in the bath and locked it.

Could he have been poisoned?

The coroner found that Mr Williams probably died rapidly from hypocapnia, the fatal accumulation of carbon dioxide in the blood.

But she also refused to rule out that he was killed by a mystery poison such as cyanide, insulin, laughing gas, chloroform or amyl nitrate.

None of these could be detected if they had been used because of the terribly decomposed state of his body.

Where were his fingerprints?

Mr Williams’ DNA was not found on the bag’s lock and there were no foot or finger prints left on the bath and tiles – something that would have been expected had he climbed into the holdall while it was in the bath.

Forensic experts said at least one unidentified person may have been in the bathroom between the time the bag was put in the bath and its discovery by police eight days later.

Commenting on the lack of prints, the coroner added: ‘In relation to the prints found within the bathroom, in my view what was more significant was what was not found rather than what was found.’

Elsewhere in the flat there was a similar lack of clues with police finding all the fingerprints belonged to Mr Williams or his close family.

Of the DNA found, ten to 15 traces cannot be developed into full profiles, including those found on a green hand towel in his kitchen.

There was no sign of a break-in, but police found that the front door latch could be reached and raised through the letterbox.

Why was the heating on in mid summer?

Mr Williams, an extremely fit cyclist and lover of the outdoors, died during August, when the central heating would normally be switched off.

The fact that it was on in his top floor flat has raised a suspicion that it is linked to his death – or at least an attempt to destroy evidence by speeding up the decomposition of his body inside a sealed holdall.

The fact that the holdall was placed in a bath meant fluids released from the bag drained away.

Was there a phone call to a killer?

An iPhone left lying on a table in Mr Williams’ flat was one of the key lines of inquiry after the inquest.

The £500 device, one of four owned by the MI6 officer, was ‘restored to factory settings’, in the late evening of August 15, 2010, just hours before Mr Williams died.

A mobile phone operator told police it had not been used over the previous three months.

Investigators believed the phone might have somehow been used to contact whoever might have killed him.

What took MI6 so long?

After the inquest Dr Wilcox said it remained ‘a legitimate line of inquiry’ that the secret services were involved in Mr Williams’ death, noting however that there was no evidence to show that he died at the hands of spies.

But his family remain convinced that MI6 undermined the inquiry, whether deliberately or by unintentional errors.

In the initial investigation, Scotland Yard created a ‘firewall’ between MI6 and the murder squad by insisting all inquiries must go via the force’s counter-terror branch, which has specialist security clearance.

MI6 failed to provide formal, sworn statements to the inquest because the counter-terror branch did not press for anything more than anonymous summaries of informal interviews.

The inquest also heard that Mr Williams’ GCHQ computer was not handed over until six days after his body was discovered and the MI6 one four days later.

Did the police bungle the investigation?

Police missed potentially vital clues by failing to recover Mr Williams’ possessions from a shared locker in his office.

Two counter terrorism officers were criticised for failing to document or seize the items, which include nine computer memory sticks and another bag. Incredibly, they also failed to tell the murder squad about the evidence.

Was there a false trail?

While family and friends portrayed Mr Williams as a very private man of conventional tastes, a different picture emerged following his death.

Police discovered a £20,000 collection of women’s designer clothing and shoes in his flat, and a video on one of his phones showed Mr Williams ‘gyrating’ in nothing more than a pair of women’s calf-length boots while a former landlady told how she had once found him tied to his bedposts wearing only his boxer shorts.

Police also found evidence that Mr Williams looked at bondage websites and visited transvestite clubs and gay bars – but they could not identify a single sexual partner.

The family raised concerns about how such material appeared to be being leaked to the media – so fuelling speculation that Mr Williams was a transvestite who was the victim of a sex game that went wrong.

During the inquest Dr Wilcox concluded that Mr Williams was not a transvestite and that his collection of women’s clothes were probably gifts for friends.

She dismissed claims that Mr Williams had entered the sports bag seeking sexual gratification.

The coroner said: ‘I wonder what the motive was for the release of this material to the media. I wonder whether this was an attempt by a third party to intimate a sexual motive.’

Could he have been blackmailed?

The question of whether Mr Williams’ death connected to his work is complicated by the fact that MI6 obtained a public interest immunity certificate keeping secret details of the work he carried out for them and GCHQ.

They have been keen to paint a picture of Mr Williams as a ‘low risk’ official, whose academic skills kept him deskbound.

But during the inquest it became clear he was a highly skilled computer scientist who had recently met two informants and was ready to be deployed on an active mission.

One manager said he made a ‘small number’ of unauthorised searches on the MI6 database which could have left him open to blackmail.

A Knightsbridge waitress recalled how the reclusive loner regularly came to her café.

When she reported him missing, GCHQ’s human resources chief told a police worker that Mr Williams had been ‘just taken off an operation’ and was unhappy.

Why was he in Las Vegas?

Just days before his death Mr Williams was sent by GCHQ to attend a secretive conference in Las Vegas.

Called DefCon, the event is a magnet for spies from agencies across the world and included classes in opening padlocks without keys, escaping from handcuffs, tampering with objects without leaving traces and confounding drug tests.