NPR : Death Of British Spy Found Shoved Into Bag Ruled Accidental

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Death Of British Spy Found Shoved Into Bag Ruled Accidental

November 19, 2013

In 2010, British spy Gareth Williams was found dead, naked, and stuffed inside a duffel bag in his bathtub. Although a coroner initially suspected foul play, London police have determined that his death was probably an accident. Robert Siegel talks to spy historian Nigel West about the case.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


The peculiar circumstances surrounding the death of British spy, Gareth Williams, in London three years ago is bound to provide endless material for the writers of spy stories, detective novels and crime lab thrillers. Williams was a mathematician on assignment to MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA. His dead body was discovered in his apartment, in the bathtub, inside a duffle bag. The Brits call it a holdall. And the bag was padlocked shut and the key was inside with Williams.

Police ruled that Williams' death was accidental, overruling an earlier coroner's judgment that indicated foul play. And joining us to talk about this case is Nigel West. That's actually a penname for Rupert Alason. He's been writing about spies for over 30 years and he attended the coroner's inquest and wrote about it for the British paper The Telegraph. Welcome to the program.

NIGEL WEST: Thank you.

SIEGEL: First, what do we know about Mr. Williams, the deceased here?

WEST: He was a geek. He was a technician with GCHQ, which was his employer.

SIEGEL: That's the British equivalent of the NSA, we should say.

WEST: Correct. He was extremely fit. He was very much a loner and had very few friends.

SIEGEL: So this loner is discovered under these bizarre circumstances, and you would say that the police got it right, that the coroner had been wrong, no foul play. You suspect it was an accidental death.

WEST: Anybody sensible listening to the evidence would have to come to that conclusion. The evidence was very distressing. What you didn't mention was that he was naked in the holdall and that the key to the padlock, which had been closed outside the bag, was underneath his body. And it is also the case, as we heard in the inquest evidence, that about 85 percent of his Internet browsing was to self-bondage sites, to claustrophilia sites.

SIEGEL: Claustrophilia. You...

WEST: A proclivity I had not heard about.

SIEGEL: Yes. You've said that as though you're familiar with it. I haven't met anyone who was familiar with claustrophilia until reading this story.

WEST: It is the pleasure gained from being confined in a very small space. It is not the same as autoerotic asphyxiation, which I'm sure many of your listeners will be very familiar with.

SIEGEL: Well, familiar, anyway. I don't know about very familiar. But, you know, a spy dies, even a loner, somebody who is not fitting in quite well, and there's a tendency to suspect, you know, something very, very unusual must be happening here. You say something was unusual but it was psychologically unusual, inside this man's life, is what you're saying.

WEST: Well, when the police searched his apartment, they discovered a very large and expensive collection of women's frocks that fitted him and his last purchase was of a red wig, a long-haired woman's wig, fitted to him.

SIEGEL: But there seem to be two questions here, though. First, was Gareth Williams inclined to, for whatever reason, lock himself into a bag in the bathtub? And second, is it possible to do that? Could he have done that alone?

WEST: Yes. I think you have to understand that the circumstances where somebody has been practicing this for a long period, then it is perfectly possible, as was demonstrated, for somebody to climb into the duffel bag, to close the zips. That's not the difficult part. The tricky part is to have the hasp of the padlock over the handles and then to use the fabric of the bag like a glove, if you like, to close the padlock.

SIEGEL: Well, you've spent a lifetime ferreting out fact from fiction about espionage in Britain and elsewhere. Wouldn't you say that fiction will have a lot of fun with this one over the years?

WEST: I think that any self-respecting novelist will completely reject this particular plot as being so bizarre that you really put at risk a suspended disbelief of the reader.

SIEGEL: Nigel West, thank you very much for talking with us about the case of Gareth Williams.

WEST: A pleasure.

SIEGEL: Author Nigel West, actually a penname for Rupert Alason. He is the author most recently of the "Historical Dictionary of Chinese Intelligence."

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Coventry Telegraph : Play looks at truth about lies

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Play looks at truth about lies

Ciphers, which runs at Warwick Arts Centre, is based on the true story of MI6 agent Gareth Williams found dead in a sports bag.

By Catherine Vonledebur | November 19, 2013

Inspired by the true story of the MI6 agent Gareth Williams found dead, padlocked in a sports bag, new spy thriller Ciphers asks how well you can really know someone who lies for a living.

When Justine is found dead her sister Kerry sets out to find out what happened, and stumbles into a world of secrets and subterfuge that makes her question who Justine really was.

Ciphers is a smart, provocative thriller about spies, double agents and the opaqueness of the human soul.

It was written by Dawn King, and directed by theatre’s rising star Blanche McIntyre – recently named Best Director at the TMA UK Theatre Awards 2013 for Headlong’s The Seagull – reunited following their work together on Dawn’s first play, Foxfinder.

Max Stafford-Clark, artistic director of Out of Joint theatre company, said: “Since Blanche worked at Out of Joint as my associate in 2008, I have watched the extraordinary success of her glowing career with enormous interest and pride.

“I am delighted she is returning to Out of Joint to continue her excellent work with Dawn King.”

As one of 10 writers chosen for the BBC Writersroom 10 scheme in 2012, Dawn wrote Ciphers as West Yorkshire Playhouse’s writer-in-residence. She is currently taking part in Channel 4’s TV writing scheme, 4 Screenwriting 2013.

Out of Joint returns to Warwick Arts Centre, following its hit production of Top Girls. Ciphers is a joint production with Bush Theatre and Exeter Northcott Theatre.

The production is suitable for ages 14+ and runs until to Saturday. There is a post show talk tonight. For details visit

Southwest Business : Experts dispute claims on GCHQ codebreaker Gareth William’s death

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Experts dispute claims on GCHQ codebreaker Gareth William’s death

by Phil Norris | The Gloucestershire Echo | November 19, 2013

Experts who tried to recreate GCHQ officer Gareth Williams’ death have rebuffed police suggestions that he died by accident.

The MI6 codebreaker was found dead in his London flat three years ago.

His decomposing body was found in a large holdall in the bath of his flat in Alderney Street in Pimlico.

The bag was locked from the outside.

A Metropolitan Police report issued last week concluded he was probably alone when he died.

But witnesses who worked closely with the investigation said Dr Williams could not have got into the bag and locked it from the inside alone.

When Mr Williams’ naked body was found, the handles of the holdall had been fastened with Velcro, there was no sign of him struggling to escape, and the eyelets on the locks had been perfectly aligned.

Despite attempting to recreate the scene more than 400 times, nobody has been able to replicate it solo.

No one has ever come forward who has been able to recreate the scene.

There was also no prints or DNA from the mathematician on the rim of the bath, padlock or zipper and he was not wearing any gloves.

Despite the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death and an inquest finding that he was unlawfully killed, police have decided that Mr Williams most likely got into the bag by himself and died after failing to get out again.

Confined spaces expert, William MacKay, who gave evidence at and inquest into Mr Williams’ death, said he still believes that someone else was involved.

"The likelihood that one person could do it is slim," he said.

Dr Williams was coming to the end of a three-year secondment to MI6 in London in August 2010, when he was reported missing by GCHQ, just days before he was due to return to Cheltenham.

Dr Williams, who rented a flat in Bouncers Lane for many years and was a keen cyclist and member of Cheltenham and County Cycle Club, was originally from North Wales.

His family said they believed the coroner’s view "accurately reflects the circumstances of Gareth’s death.

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

"This lack of concern for Gareth’s wellbeing remains an overriding feature of our thoughts following the death of a dear son and brother."