Gareth Williams: the key unanswered questions
Could Williams’s death be linked to his work?
Few details were made public about Gareth Williams’s work, except that he designed “practical applications for emerging technologies” and was deemed “low risk”. Although he had passed the course to become “fully deployable” six months before his death, he was only operational in the UK and not overseas. He had contact with two “undercover” agents, but according to SIS that did not increase his risk. A witness identified only as SIS F said an internal review had confirmed: “There was no evidence of any specific threat to Gareth and we concluded there was no reason to think his death was anything to do with his work.”
His flat, according to the letting agent he rented through, had been leased by the secretary of state since 2003. MI6 said it had not arranged the let. GCHQ said it was a private rental through an approved letting agency. Williams was due to move back to Cheltenham the week after his death, and another GCHQ employee was trying to contact him to view the flat in the week he was missing. No details were given of who previously rented it. SIS denied it was a safe house. But Anthony O’Toole, lawyer for the family, said: “We are concerned that if this had been in continuous occupation by a member of the services since 2003, then whilst it is not a ‘safe house’ it may be known to certain parties as being the residence of SIS.”
Williams had carried out a small number of searches on the SIS database that were “unauthorised” and not apparently operationally linked, which, “theoretically” could have exposed him to pressure from “malign” persons unknown, but it was thought unlikely by his SIS bosses. His most recent assignment had been a “hackers” conference in Las Vegas, known to have been attended by criminal hackers, from which he returned on 11 August 2010.
He had requested a move back to GCHQ in Cheltenham from MI6. Among reasons he gave to his sister was “friction” at the MI6 London HQ.
Could his death be linked to his private life?
Williams’s wardrobe included £20,000 of “high-end” women’s clothing, size small to medium, and 26 pairs of women’s shoes, size six and six-and-a-half. Female wigs and makeup were also found. He had accessed “bondage” websites. There was video footage on one phone of him posing naked apart from leather boots.
The landlady of the annex flat he had rented in Cheltenham for 10 years said she and her husband had found him shouting for help, with his hands tied to his bedposts, three years before his death. He said he was seeing if he could get free. They cut him free, believing it “sexual rather than escapology”.
He had visited a transvestite act two days before he failed to turn up for work, and had accessed drag queen websites. He had taken two fashion design courses at Central St Martin’s college without telling MI6. But, the inquest was told, the visits to the bondage websites were “sporadic and isolated”, making up a tiny percentage of his time online. O’Toole suggested the bedpost incident coincided with his first, failed attempt to join MI6, and the website access coincided with his future successful application, and then preparation for training courses. Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire agreed it was possible he was “preparing” for courses in “escaping from being tied”, and has asked for information on the courses, “but no information has come back”.
She confirmed he had not visited “sadomasochism” or “claustrophilia” sites. At 60kg (9.5st) and 1.72 metres (5ft 8in), Williams could “possibly” have fitted into the clothes and, she thought, the shoes too. Friends did not believe he bought them for himself, but as “gifts”. The shoes would have also fitted his sister. There were unverifiable reports of him visiting gay bars. Police found no sexual partner.
Could a “third party” be involved, or was he alone?
Sebire said she had always believed a “third party” was involved, either in the death or in locking Williams in the bag. Inconclusive fragments of DNA components from at least two other contributors were found on the bag. Two experts tried, and failed, a total of 400 times to lock the holdall from inside. One would not rule it out. “There are people around who can do amazing things and Mr Williams may well have been one of those persons,” said one expert, William MacKay. No prints were found on the tiled bathroom walls where police expected he would have steadied his balance if getting into the bag alone.
No other conclusive DNA has yet been found in the flat, with tests ongoing on a crumpled towel found in the kitchen. A bag expert, Peter Faulding, said Williams would have to be “dead or unconscious” when placed in the bag. The pathologist Richard Shepherd said it “more likely than not” he was alive because it was “not easy” to place a floppy, newly dead body in as neat a position as Williams was found in. If in the bag alive, he would have been overcome by CO2 toxicity within two to three minutes “at most”, said another pathologist, Ian Calder. Keys to the padlock were found under Williams’s right buttock.
There were no signs of a break in, but if the mortice lock on the front door was off, someone could open the other lock by reaching through the letterbox, the inquest heard. No data on his laptops or phones revealed contact with anyone suspicious. But an iPhone at his flat had been reset to factory settings just before his death. There were no signs of struggle on his body.
Was he drugged or poisoned?
The degree of decomposition made it impossible to rule out. The body had deteriorated due to heat. It was summer. For some unknown reason the heating was on in the flat.
Were “secret agents” specialising in the “dark arts” involved?
O’Toole said: “The impression of the family is that the unknown third party was a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret service, or evidence has been removed postmortem by experts in those dark arts.” Each organisation was granted permission to withhold sensitive evidence from other parties and the public.
One iPhone found on the table in the flat had been wiped on or before the last day he was seen and it was impossible for tell if it was done manually or remotely. Police said the service provider had “no data history”, which they took to mean no calls or website browsing had taken place.
Williams’s belongings at MI6 were in a shared cabinet with a combination lock used by others, and only examined three days after his death. GCHQ equipment was examined shortly afterwards. SO15 officers said they had requested the items be secured prior to police examination and were assured they had been. Detective Constable Simon Warren, who examined Williams’s laptops, memory sticks, CDs and DVDs said “any data even at the lowest levels can be changed or deleted”. But he said there was no evidence files had been amended since his death.
By the time his line manager reported him missing, Williams had not been seen for eight days, and chances of retrieving viable forensic evidence were much reduced because of decomposition.
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