Daily Mail : Mystery of meetings with couple in a cafe five miles from home

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mystery of meetings with couple in a cafe five miles from home [scroll down]

By ABUL TAHER and IAN GALLAGHER | September 12, 2010

Gareth Williams had a series of mysterious meetings at a cafe in the weeks leading up to his death.

Witnesses said the MI6 codebreaker’s late-morning encounters at Patisserie Valerie in Holland Park, West London, took place twice a week and never lasted longer than a few minutes.

Mr Williams, who lived five miles away in Pimlico, usually met a man and a dark-haired woman in their early 30s, although the man occasionally turned up alone.

Polish waitress Magdalena Kolakowska, 24, recalled that Mr Williams would sit at the back of the dimly lit cafe ‘so he could keep an eye on the door’.

Ordering an Americano coffee, he then ‘waited for the couple to approach his table and speak to him’. Miss Kolakowska added: ‘They would come up to him as if they had suddenly just seen him and say, “Hi.” They would speak to him for two or three minutes and go. They would never sit down or have a coffee with him.’

In all, she recalls about eight such encounters. She could not remember any items passing between them and heard nothing of their conversations because all three spoke in low voices.

But it was the brevity of the meetings – coupled with their regularity – that struck staff as odd. They assumed that Mr Williams, who was dressed casually, was local.

Last week, police announced they were seeking a man and a woman, both of Mediterranean appearance, who called at Mr Williams’ home late one evening in June or July.

Although the man and woman at the cafe are roughly the same age as the couple being sought by police, staff say they did not look Mediterranean.

Patisserie Valerie is next to Holland Park Underground station, where Mr Williams was caught on CCTV on August 14, some 24 hours before he was last seen alive.

Inquiries by this newspaper have established that he visited Holland Park up to four times a week in the two months before his death.

Besides Patisserie Valerie, he went to other cafes and was seen at a nearby Hilton Hotel. He invariably arrived on his bicycle and was always seen between 10am and 1pm.

Holland Park is primarily an upmarket residential district, although a number of countries, including Russia and Uzbekistan, maintain embassies there.

Another Polish waitress at Patisserie Valerie, 29-year-old Susana Ribeiro, also recalled seeing Mr Williams there – the last occasion just after he had returned from a holiday in the US on August 11.

‘If he wasn’t sitting inside at the back, he would park his bike at the lamp-post, sit at the middle table outside and have a coffee,’ she said.

Miss Kolakowska added: ‘Some days he would bring a device with him that looked like an Apple iPad, but was much bigger, and he would watch news or some moving picture on it.’

Vanessa Riley, a pensioner in her 60s who lives in a flat behind Holland Park station, said she saw Mr Williams in two other cafes near the station over the summer.

Mrs Riley became so concerned after she heard of his death she reported what she saw to police. ‘All I can say is I saw him meeting people at these cafes,’ she said.

Last night police refused to be drawn on the significance of the sightings.

Detectives have already tracked Mr Williams’ movements to Holland Park, apparently by checking his journeys on his Oyster ticket, the plastic travel card commuters use on the Underground.

They took away CCTV footage from 29 different cameras at Holland Park station and have since released footage of Mr Williams arriving at the station on August 14 and, the following day, shopping in Harrods.

There were reports yesterday that Mr Williams’ family, upset at the slow progress of the police investigation into his death, want to commission their own post-mortem examination.

Meanwhile, security sources said that Mr Williams was recruited by GCHQ after it became aware of his ‘extraordinary prowess at computer games’.

‘He was achieving rare high scores on these espionage and war games that are played on the internet,’ said a source. ‘I know it sounds daft, but this is how he was discovered.’

Two years ago, GCHQ ran an advertising campaign in online games, including Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent, to tempt web-savvy graduates to become spies.