'British spy' found dead in bath
At least the British spies bathe.
'British spy' found dead in bath
Body in bag spy Gareth Williams 'hated London and wanted to leave MI6’
The spy found dead in a padlocked holdall hated the “flash car and drinking” culture of MI6 and complained of “friction” at work, his family told an inquest on Monday.
By Martin Evans, and Tom Whitehead
10:00PM BST 23 Apr 2012
Gareth Williams, 31, told his sister, Ceri Subbe, he wanted to leave London because he did not like the “rat race” lifestyle and was unhappy working for the security services. He had applied to cut short his three-year secondment to MI6 and return to GCHQ in Cheltenham but felt his superiors were “dragging their feet”, Mrs Subbe told the hearing.
Family: Gareth Williams' sister Ceri Subbe said the spy
disliked the office culture at the MI6 headquarters
A date for his return was finally fixed for September 2010. His body was discovered in his Pimlico flat a week before he was due to return.
The spy’s parents, Ian and Ellen, were on holiday in Toronto, Canada, celebrating Mrs Williams’s 50th birthday when they learned of their son’s death.
CHARGES STILL POSSIBLE
The long-awaited inquest was opened at Westminster Coroner’s Court on Monday to investigate the “highly controversial” death of Mr Williams.
Dr Fiona Wilcox, the coroner, has promised a “full, fair and fearless” inquiry in which no evidence will be heard behind closed doors. Up to 40 witnesses are due to give evidence at the hearing, including intelligence officers, police, forensic experts and friends.
The family believe that a third party was involved in Mr Williams’s death. Their lawyer has previously suggested experts in the “dark arts of the secret services”.
The naked and decomposing body of the maths prodigy, who was a cipher and codes expert, was discovered in a holdall that had been locked from the outside and placed in the bath at his Pimlico flat in August 2010.
Police attended the flat, which is less than a mile from MI6 headquarters, after being alerted by his family, who were concerned that they had not heard from him for more than a week. The discovery led to worldwide speculation and conspiracy theories over how he died.
Lawyers for Scotland Yard said there was still a “real possibility” that criminal proceedings could be brought in connection with the death.
DESPERATE TO LEAVE LONDON
The first witness to take the stand was Mrs Subbe, who said her brother had grown increasingly frustrated with his city life and wanted to leave.
Mr Williams joined MI6 on a three-year secondment from GCHQ in 2009 but by March the following year his “enthusiasm had begun to fade”, Mrs Subbe said.
In a statement, she told the hearing: “He disliked office culture, post-work drinks, flash car competitions and the rat race. He even spoke of friction in the office.”
In her oral evidence she added that her brother, a keen cyclist, was a “country boy and the city life did not quite suit him”.
“Also, I think the job was not quite what he had expected,” she said. “There was a lot more red tape than he was comfortable with but more than anything he just wanted to get back to the countryside.”
In an emotional statement, Mrs Subbe told the inquest that her brother had a wide range of hobbies including fell running, cycling, art and fashion.
She said he was happiest when walking in the mountains or riding his bicycle in the countryside.
The hearing was also given a glimpse of the “incredibly close” family life of Mr Williams. Mrs Subbe said her brother returned home once or twice a month and they had a “truly magical time” during her last meeting with him in London. They had champagne in Mayfair before more champagne, cakes and “dainty finger sandwiches” at the Ritz hotel. “In terms of a big brother figure, Gareth was perfect,” she said.
THE £20,000 COLLECTION OF WOMEN’S CLOTHES
Mrs Subbe was unaware of other aspects of her brother’s life, however. He did not tell her that he had completed two six-week fashion courses at St Martin’s College in London or that he had amassed more than £20,000-worth of female clothing at his flat.
Asked if she was surprised, she said: “I am not surprised. He was very generous with gifts.”
Mrs Subbe suggested that he may have simply been collecting the clothing due to his interest in fashion and his desire to buy high-quality items. The hearing was told that the last time Mrs Subbe had spoken to her brother was on Aug 13, when he mentioned that he was planning to visit a comedy club with a friend where a transvestite performer was appearing.
HE PUT SAFETY FIRST
Mrs Subbe described her brother as “the most scrupulous risk-assessor” she had ever known.
She said he would never have let anyone into his flat who had not been security cleared.
He would turn back a few hundred yards from the summit of mountains if there was “the hint of adverse weather conditions”, adding: “Better to be safe than sorry.” She said her brother never told her he was being followed or felt threatened in any way, adding: “I cannot think as to why anybody would want to harm him.”
The inquest heard how Mr Williams failed to turn up for a meeting at work on Aug 16 but the alarm was not raised until Aug 23 — by his family.
After his death, Mrs Subbe described how she had spoken to a colleague about the missed meeting, adding: “He said Gareth was like a Swiss clock — very punctual, very efficient, and it was very unlike him not to attend a meeting.”
DISCOVERY OF THE BODY
Pc John Gallagher found Mr Williams’s body after being asked to make a welfare check at an address in Alderney Street. He was let in by a member of staff from an estate agent that managed the rented property and found a pile of unopened mail, but otherwise the flat was tidy. In the bedroom, the duvet was half on the floor and there was a pile of neatly folded clothes on the bed.
In the living room he noticed a mobile phone on the dining room table alongside two sim cards, with a woman’s wig hanging on a chair. The lights were on despite it being 5pm on a summer evening.
Pc Gallagher told the hearing that when he entered the en suite bathroom he noticed a smell that he associated with dead bodies and saw a red North Face holdall in the bath. “I lifted the bag up around six or seven inches,” he said. “It was quite heavy and that is when I noticed a red fluid seeping out of the bag.”
He called for assistance and a colleague, Det Sgt Paul Colgan, inspected the bag. The detective told the hearing that after making a small incision in the holdall it was obvious that it contained a body.
At home: Inside the Pimlico flat where Mr Williams was found dead locked inside a North Face holdall in the bath
Mystery: Mr Williams was found dead locked inside a holdall in the bath of his flat (above).
COUNTER TERRORISM OFFICERS CALLED IN
Det Ch Supt Hamish Campbell, from the Met’s homicide unit, said the Met’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit was called to assist, but its officers would not have had access to the flat without permission from the crime scene manager.
He was not aware of any unauthorised inquiries being carried out by any agencies outside the homicide squad.
In a written statement submitted to the inquest, Vanessa Scott, who worked for the estate agent that managed the flat, said it was owned by a company based in St Hellier and “the Secretary of State” took over the tenancy in September 2003.
It was not clear to which department she was referring but the Foreign Secretary has responsibility for MI6. Jack Straw held the post at that time.
ANONYMITY FOR SPIES
Four intelligence officers will be allowed to give evidence from behind a screen in the coming days after Dr Wilcox granted an application to keep their identity a secret. The request came from MI6 and GCHQ, backed by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, amid concerns over a risk to national security if they were exposed.
The coroner will also allow some aspects of the evidence to remain secret, including any information from foreign intelligence agencies, ongoing operations or details of secret service officers, methods and tactics.
Profile: Gareth Williams, the MI6 spy who led a secret double life
Gareth Williams, the MI6 spy who was found dead in a bag in his bath, was a child prodigy.
By Victoria Ward, and Matthew Holehouse
3:50PM BST 23 Apr 2012
He took a maths GCSE at primary school and A-levels at 13, graduating with a first from Bangor University by the age of 17.
He went on to study advanced mathematics at Cambridge, eventually leaving because he felt he had learned all he could.
Williams grew up in Anglesey, north Wales. He was a quiet child from a tight-knit family, whose great passion was cycling.
Friends said that despite his extraordinary mathematical mind, he was "very naive about people". He was a loner, with few social contacts, even among his work colleagues. He struggled to make friends after being catapulted into the company of older people at an early age.
Dylan Parry, 34, from Anglesey, said he was an isolated child. "He never really made friends, either his own age or from those younger than him,” he said.
“He didn't have any of the normal childhood interests or pursuits of teenagers. His only real interest was maths. He was obsessed with his subject. Socially he was very awkward but very nice."
By the time he left Cambridge, Williams’ potential had already been spotted by GCHQ scouts.
In 2001, he took at job as a code expert at the GCHQ "doughnut" building in Cheltenham, working alongside hundreds of mathematicians, cryptologists and analysts going on to develop techniques to speed up data encryption.
For the first time, it is likely Williams felt challenged and comfortable in his surroundings, working with like-minded people in a top-secret environment that suited his personality.
His sparse bedsit was immaculate and devoid of personal belongings and clutter. His former landlady, Jenny Elliot, 71, said that “his life was his work”.
In 2003, Williams spent six months at Menwith Hill, the RAF station in Yorkshire and in 2006 he spent time at Fort Meade in Maryland, home of the United States’ National Security Agency, GCHQ’s partner in global surveillance.
He is also reported to have made a number of visits to Afghanistan.
Last year, he was seconded to the London headquarters of MI6, a sign of his steady progress up the hierarchy at GCHQ.
The 31-year-old was assigned to live at 36 Alderney Street, in Pimlico, central London, an MI6 safe house.
Williams died before he could take up his next post in the Cyber Security Operations Centre at GCHQ.
Three months after his death, police revealed he had been pursuing a double life. Unknown to his family he had been visiting bondage websites and drag clubs and owned a £15,000 collection of women's designer clothing.
He had also attended two six to eight week courses in fashion design for beginners at Central St Martin's College in London during evenings and weekends.
He is also known to have visited Barcode, a gay bar in Vauxhall. However police have been unable to visit any sexual partners of Mr Williams, either male or female.
His family said before the police announcement that they were "very, very angry" at "completely false" rumours about the nature of Mr Williams' private life.
Detective: DNA suggests 3rd party in U.K. spy death
Updated 34m ago
LONDON (AP) – A senior British detective said Tuesday that specks of another person's DNA were found on the zipper and lock of a sports bag that contained the body of a U.K. codebreaker, casting doubt on theories the young spy climbed into the bag himself as part of a sex game.
Gareth Williams worked for Britain's secret eavesdropping service GCHQ and was attached to the country's MI6 overseas spy agency when he was found in the bathtub of his central London home in August 2010.
The discovery of the 31-year-old's body launched a media frenzy and a flurry of conspiracy theories — there were no signs of struggle, and no drugs or poison in Williams' body.
While detectives have suggested Williams may have died in a sex game gone wrong, his family has claimed that British spy agencies may have been involved in the death.
An inquest into his death is investigating whether Williams could possibly have climbed inside the sports bag and locked it from the inside. But the new DNA evidence has deepened the mystery of how he died.
Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire told the inquest that "two minor components" of DNA that did not match Williams' were found on the zip and padlock of the North Face sports bag containing his body.
"My thought, or my opinion, since I went into the scene is that a third party had been involved in the death or by putting the body in the bag," she said.
Sebire noted that she would have expected to find Williams' fingerprints on the floor tiles of the bathroom where the bag was found and also that the spy had not damaged the bag or injured his hands.
Williams' body was found in the fetal position inside the bulging bag.
"He was very muscular, he trained regularly," she said. "It is only my opinion, but I would at least expect some tearing to the netting."
Sebire said there's "limited scope" for disovering more forensic evidence. She also acknowledged the investigation had suffered a setback after detectives spent 18 months investigating a DNA sample found on Williams' hand that had actually come from a forensic scientist involved in the case.
In Britain, inquests must be held when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or from unknown causes.
Dead spy once found tied to bed, inquest told
Posted April 26, 2012 06:28:01
A British spy whose naked corpse was discovered padlocked inside a sports bag had years earlier been found tied to his bed and unable to free himself, an inquest was told.
Gareth Williams had shouted out for help in the middle of the night when he was living in an annexe of the home of his then landlady Jennifer Elliot in Cheltenham, western England.
The maths prodigy was at the time a code breaker at the nearby Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the state eavesdropping service.
Mr Williams was found by Ms Elliot and her husband dressed only in boxer shorts with his hands tied to the headboard of the bed. He told her that he had been just "messing about", trying to see "if I could get myself free", the Telegraph newspaper reported.
In a written statement, Ms Elliot said it was likely "to be sexual rather than escapology", the paper added.
Mr Williams later took up a three-year secondment at the headquarters of Britain's foreign intelligence service MI6, whose offices are on the banks of the River Thames in central London.
In August 2010, his naked, decomposing corpse was found in his flat nearby, crouched in a foetal position in a padlocked bag in his bath.
A detective told the inquest on Tuesday that a "third party was involved in that padlock being locked and Gareth being placed in the bag".
The inquest has also been told Mr Williams, who was single and intensely private, would not have let a stranger into his flat and that he would not have given his keys to anyone apart from close family.
There were no signs of a break-in or indications of foul play but small amounts of unidentified DNA were detected on the bag.
Women's clothes and shoes worth about 20,000 pounds ($32,000) were found in the flat. They had never been worn. A woman's wig and new makeup were also inside the flat.
A friend, Elizabeth Guthrie, who had known Mr Williams for about a year, said on Wednesday she did not think he would have considered cross-dressing for sexual purposes, the Telegraph said.
She also said he would sometimes go by another name and would call her from different mobile phone numbers. He had never talked of being followed in the weeks before his death.
His sister has said he had become disaffected with London and was due to have returned to the quieter life of Cheltenham just days after his body was found.
The keen cyclist and hill-runner had disliked the "office culture, post-work drinks, flash car competitions and the rat race", Ceri Subbe said on Monday, the opening day of the inquest.
A lawyer for the dead man's family said last month a "member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the Secret Services" might be responsible for his death.
The inquest is due to hear from 37 witnesses including four unnamed members of the intelligence services.
Date rape drug found in the body of spy Gareth Williams
Traces of the date rape drug GHB were found in the body of Gareth Williams, the MI6 spy, an inquest heard on Thursday, as experts said they were unable to rule out poisoning as the cause of death.
By Tom Whitehead, Security Editor
7:43PM BST 26 Apr 2012
Small amounts of the Class C drug, which has sedative effects, were found in post mortem tests.
Denise Stanworth, a toxicologist, told the inquest that the traces had probably occurred naturally, which is common shortly after death, but it was possible that Mr Williams had taken the drug.
A panel of forensics experts which reviewed the post mortem findings was unable to rule out the use of certain poisons, such as cyanide and chloroform, because the body was so decomposed, the inquest heard.
Miss Stanworth said it was unlikely that Mr Williams had been given some “old fashioned poison” but she could not rule out other “volatile agents”.
The inquest at Westminster Coroners’ Court has heard how Mr Williams’s naked body was in a padlocked holdall in his London flat for more than a week before it was discovered in August 2010.
While there were no obvious signs of poisoning, the level of decomposition made it impossible to test for certain substances, the hearing was told.
A number of drugs and poisons were ruled out, but abuse of amyl and alkyl nitrites, such as poppers, and “lots of substances that could have caused poisoning and death” could not be detected nine days after death, the inquest heard.
When asked if the toxicology findings were reliable, Miss Stanworth said: “In terms of many of the drugs, many of the analyses of the drugs, it was reliable. In terms of the more volatile substances, in terms of certain unstable substances, [it was] not that reliable.”
The inquest also heard it was impossible to tell whether Mr Williams was alive or dead when he got into the bag.
At one stage, the inquest had to be halted after a member of Mr Williams’s family broke down when an MI6 manager disclosed that no one had been disciplined over the errors that led to the codebreaker’s body lying undiscovered for so long.
The spy, a meticulous time-keeper, failed to show up for work for a week and should have attended two pre-arranged meetings during that time.
But despite the sensitive nature of his job, his absence led to only cursory attempts to raise him on the phone.
Even when his secret service bosses finally decided he was missing on August 23, it took another four hours before they contacted the police.
A senior manager at MI6, identified only as SIS F, told the hearing from behind a screen: “We are profoundly sorry about what happened. It shouldn’t have happened and we recognise that the delay in finding Gareth’s body has made it even harder for the family to come to terms with his dreadful death and we are truly sorry for that.”
Despite blaming Mr Williams’s line manager for the “breakdown in communication”, SIS F said no one had been disciplined over the incident.
A female member of the family, who was also sat behind the screen, reacted with shock to the disclosure and the hearing was briefly adjourned.
Anthony O’Toole, the lawyer for the family, accused the security agencies of a “total disregard for Gareth’s whereabouts and safety”.
He blamed the delay for denying the family the chance to say goodbye to Mr Williams while his body was in an “acceptable form” and for making it more or less impossible for detectives to establish how he died.
SIS F also disclosed that Mr Williams had carried out several searches of the secret service database without permission. She did not explain what the searches involved, but admitted that if a “hostile or malign” third party knew of his activities, it could “theoretically use that knowledge to put some pressure on Gareth”. However, she said there was no evidence that a breach in security had occurred.
She dismissed family concerns that “dark arts” had been involved in his death, saying that no security officers had been to the flat.
The inquest continues.
Warning call by GCHQ boss to police about Gareth aborting secret mission may hold key to his death
Gareth Williams's spy bosses expressed concerns about his state of mind
He'd been pulled from a case and missing from work for a week
By Robert Verkaik and Stephanie Condron
PUBLISHED: 23:30, 28 April 2012 | UPDATED: 23:32, 28 April 2012
The handlers of ‘body in the bag’ spy Gareth Williams raised concerns about his state of mind on the day he was found dead inside his flat.
The inquest into Mr Williams’s death heard that a senior executive at GCHQ, the Government’s secret listening post, told police that the MI6 spy may have reacted badly after being removed from a covert operation.
A transcript of the call revealed that the executive added: ‘We are not sure how he’s taken that.’
The warning was passed on to officers searching for Mr Williams, who had been missing from work for more than a week.
He was expected at MI6’s headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, South London, on Monday August 16, 2010.
But his bosses did not raise the alarm until Friday and waited until after the weekend before deciding to call the police.
Mr Williams’s naked body was discovered in a padlocked holdall in the bath of his flat in Pimlico, Central London, on the evening of August 23.
The GCHQ warning has been seized on by Mr Williams’s parents as possible evidence of a cover-up about the truth of what happened to their son.
The intelligence services have always claimed the spy’s death had nothing to do with his secret work.
But the warning message appears to contradict this, as it suggests they were concerned about him after they had told him to withdraw from a secret operation.
Gareth’s parents, Ian and Ellen Williams, and sister Ceri, from Anglesey, North Wales, believe the ‘dark arts’ of an unnamed secret agency may have been involved in his death.
Evidence submitted to Westminster Coroner’s Court confirms that Mr Williams, who was on secondment to MI6 from GCHQ in Cheltenham, had been involved in covert operations in the months before he died.
The spy worked in a four-man team as an expert code breaker and shortly before his death had been in contact with two secret agents working in the field in the UK.
On August 11 he returned to London following a six-week visit to the US, where he had been part of a contingent of UK spies sent to a computer intelligence conference, known as the Black Hat.
The coroner, Dr Fiona Wilcox, said on Friday that the Las Vegas conference attracted criminal hackers who attend the briefings to keep up with the latest developments in computer technology.
But it is also used by security agencies from Britain and America to target hackers.
The FBI has been reported to have sent teams of undercover agents to the conference to break up hacking cells, and also to mount clandestine operations to recruit criminal hackers as informants.
If Mr Williams had gone to Las Vegas as part of an active intelligence operation he could have been exposed to dangers from criminal hacking gangs.
But GCHQ insists that its officers in the US faced no greater risk than they did in the UK.
His bosses also say Mr Williams, who was due to end his secondment with MI6 in September 2010, had not been working on an undercover operation at the time he went missing.
The eight-day delay in GCHQ and MI6 telling police he was officially missing has provoked accusations from his family that they knew something ‘horrible’ had happened to him.
The inquest heard of a transcript of the call, made at 4.41pm on the 23rd by senior GCHQ officer Helen Yelland, in which she said: ‘He was last spoken to on Friday 13th. He was expected into work all of last week and did not appear.
Both the landline and mobile phones are not picked up. The mobile is switched off. His sister was expecting to stay with him on Wednesday this week and she has not been able to contact him.’
The Metropolitan Police operator asked if there were any concerns, to which Ms Yelland replies: ‘He is going to be coming back to Cheltenham because he’s just been pulled back from a job he’s supposed to do and we are not sure how he’s taken that.’
Police suspect another person was involved in Mr Williams’s death and experts believe he was likely to have been unconscious or dead when he was placed in the bag.
Forensic experts are still examining Mr Williams’s mobile phone after it emerged on Friday that all the data on it had been wiped.
Detective Constable Robert Burrows told the inquest that he was unable to say when the iPhone, which was found in the living room of the flat, had been wiped before or after the spy’s death.
The inquest has also heard how traces of the date-rape drug GHB were found in Mr Williams’s body.
Forensic scientist Denise Stanworth said the traces were ‘probably’ naturally occurring, which is common after death, but admitted she could not rule out that it had been taken.
MI6 has apologised for failing to raise the alarm about his disappearance, conceding the error may have hampered police inquiries.
The inquest will tomorrow be told the results of an investigation into a second post-mortem examination ordered by the coroner’s office in the days after Mr Williams’s death.
The spy’s family want to know why the police were not informed of this post-mortem examination, as they would have been in an ordinary murder inquiry.
During the inquest, spies from MI6 and GCHQ have given evidence behind screens to protect their identities and Foreign Secretary William Hague has signed an order prohibiting the disclosure of details of Mr Williams’s work.
The family’s barrister, Anthony O’Toole, told the inquest that since MI6 performed such an ‘important job’ it was even more vital that Mr Williams’s team leader – known as Witness G – should have done more to raise the alarm about the spy’s absence from work.
It took Witness G five days before he visited Mr Williams’s flat.
The team leader has told the inquest he had been preparing to go into the field on a secret operation in the week the Welsh spy went missing.
The coroner has heard the dead spy was considered a ‘world-class’ intelligence officer by GCHQ. Stephen Gale, Mr Williams’s boss in Cheltenham, said the maths prodigy had won two awards for his code-breaking work.
Dr Wilcox has intimated that she is prepared to consider a verdict of unlawful killing if she believes another person was involved in the death.
The family want the coroner to explore the possibility that Mr Williams’s flat may have been wiped of other people’s DNA and the spy’s office computers tampered with.
The electronic equipment was handed to Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, SO15, on August 27, four days after the death came to light, the inquest heard.
Mr O’Toole noted there was not ‘any statement from any person at GCHQ to say that equipment was not tampered with’ in the interim period.
But Superintendent Michael Broster, who was responsible for SO15’s involvement in the investigation, insisted Mr Williams’s workplace had been ‘sealed and taped’.
10 facts about Burt Reynolds’ nude Cosmo centerfold
All over the country, there are offices, schools, workshops, banks, pharmacies, IT departments and factories where the failure of a colleague to arrive at work and thus miss a scheduled meeting would arouse some immediate questions. Such as: "Where is he?"
But not at MI6, apparently. When Gareth Williams didn't turn up at the office on 16 August 2010, there was not so much, initially, as an attempt to track him down, an inquiry of his family, or even a casual: "Strange, not like old Gareth to go Awol."
Instead, within the Vauxhall Cross headquarters of these guardians of national security, there was a bewildering lack of curiosity about the whereabouts of this super-fit, "world-class" code-breaking mathematician who had been seconded to the service from GCHQ, Cheltenham, had just completed a course enabling him to carry out covert operations, was hardly ever late, never had a day off sick, and had a journey to work that was but 1.7 miles.
Life at MI6 went seamlessly on. Mr Williams's line manager, known as "G" when he gave evidence at the inquest last week, merely "had a gut feeling that he was away doing something I was unaware of" – an explanation which suggests absenteeism in the service might be somewhat higher than is generally realised. "G" did try his phone, and also later went round to Williams's flat to give a tentative ring on his doorbell. But one, two, three, four, five, six days went by before, finally, on the seventh, the official alarm was raised.
That day, police entered his flat, and there in the bathroom, they found a large, red, zipped and padlocked North Face sports bag. And inside it was a very dead Gareth Williams. He had probably been there at least a week, the last known sighting of him being on the CCTV of Harrods on the day before he was due back at work.
This mysterious delay in taking any concerted action – and thus the non-discovery of his body for fully seven days – continues to trouble his family greatly, and has proved crucial. Williams had lain, in a bathroom and inside a plastic bag, for a week in August. By the time he was found, his body had significantly decomposed, as had any reliable forensic evidence. If he was drugged or poisoned, we shall never know. One of his superiors, deploying a nice line in understatement as she gave evidence behind a screen, conceded: "I appreciate the delay had some impact on the police investigation."
Mystery number two is how did he get there? Despite an apparent passing interest (if web searches are anything to go by) in bondage and the sexual thrills of being in a confined space, it seems inconceivable he could have placed himself in the bag, then zipped and locked it unaided. Police gave evidence to this effect, as did two experts in Houdini-like matters who have tried a total of 400 times to replicate such a manoeuvre. Fit and supple young men of the same build as Mr Williams – a keen cyclist and climber – could get into the bag, but could not find a way of closing the zip.
Small specks of another person's DNA have been found on the bag, adding to the obvious conclusion by police that Gareth had an assistant – or an assassin. It also seems likely that he was dead or unconscious before he went into the bag. The coroner's court heard from Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire that he was in the foetal position, and there was no sign that he had scrabbled to get out. She said: "In my opinion he was very calm. His face was very calm. His hands were resting on his chest." There was no damage to the bag or his fingernails.
...snip... There were, in his apartment, female wigs, 26 shoes by designers including Stella McCartney and Christian Dior, a quantity of cosmetics and, in his bedroom, some £20,000 worth of designer women's clothes.
This extensive and costly wardrobe was raised in court with a female friend, Sian Jones. She told the inquest she did not think he was a transvestite. "I feel he would have been able to confide in me ... and I would not have judged him." She said she saw him every few days and he "showered" her with gifts. Another friend, Elizabeth Guthrie, suggested the clothes might have been "Gareth's attempt at a support strategy for someone. They certainly would not have been for him".
The wigs were kept neat in netting; none of the cosmetics had been used, and many of the clothes – and they were of varying sizes, the inquest heard – were kept pristine in tissue. They may indeed have been a store of gifts for as-yet unidentified girlfriends, but there could be another interpretation. After all, if the hoard was not the collection of a fetishist, it was a very good imitation of it.
Could this be connected to his death? The bathroom was evidently a venue for at least one sexual climax for Mr Williams, traces of his semen were found on its floor. Did he have some companion in sexual, or pseudo-sexual, meanderings which involved being put into a confined space such as a sports bag?
Six months before his death he had completed an intensive course which would allow him to undertake what were described to the court as very tough operational tasks. But, according to his boss, he had applied for his three-year secondment at MI6 to be cut short – a request that was granted. There are also the unauthorised searches he made of security service databases about which the inquest heard. This was not, it seems, a settled man.
Neither police nor security services say they have reason to believe that his death was connected to his work for MI6. And, if any practitioner of "the dark arts" – as the lawyer for his understandably still-distressed family put it – wanted to kill him, surely it would have been a road "accident" while he was out cycling, an assignation on a bridge that would have ended with him "falling" into the Thames, or a simple bullet to the head? But not a modus operandi so outré that it would keep the media panting for an answer 20 months later.
Whatever the truth in the case of Gareth Williams, details of women's underwear and cross-dressing regularly emerge in the "presentation" of the deaths of intelligence agents.
Nicholas Anderson, former MI6 officer turned author, told The Independent on Sunday: "I am on verbal record to my own family, close friends and select lawyers that if anything ever happened to me – a straight man and a positive thinker – it would likely be made to look either like a suicide or that I died dressed like a woman.
"Over the years, it seems to me a favourite way of presentation. I, of course, am not suicidal in any remote way nor do I like to dress so. When I read in the press about Gareth Williams, women's clothes, and a wig, it all fits the usual scenario."
The IoS has come across at least 17 mysterious deaths – some dubbed suicides, others freak accidents – of MI6 agents, workers at GCHQ, or those linked to the defence or intelligence services over the past 50 years. Sexual overtones, asphyxia, or both, feature in a third of cases, and they are just the ones that are in the public domain and "open source", as spooks would say.
Stephen Drinkwater, 25, a clerk employed in a department at GCHQ where highly classified documents were copied, was found dead in his parents' house at Cheltenham in September 1983. A plastic bag was over his head and he had died from asphyxiation.
In March 1990, British journalist Jonathan Moyle, 28, who had been investigating claims that US civilian helicopters were to be converted into gunships for sale to Iraq, was found hanged inside a hotel wardrobe in Santiago, Chile. Eight years later, an inquest concluded that he had been "unlawfully killed" by a "person or persons unknown". Speaking in September 2010, his former fiancée said: "The British intelligence services tried to smear Jonathan suggesting he was sexually deviant."
Four years later, in February 1994, Conservative MP Stephen Milligan, 45, was found tied to a chair wearing women's underwear and with a bag over his head and a satsuma stuffed into his mouth. He was the parliamentary private secretary to the then defence minister Jonathan Aitken. Mr Aitken has since denied media reports that he also worked for MI6.
The same month that Mr Milligan's body was discovered, James Rusbridger, 65, ex-MI6 agent turned journalist, was found hanged at his house on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. He was dressed in a green protective suit, green overalls, a black plastic mackintosh and thick rubber gloves. His face was covered by a gas mask and his body was surrounded by bondage pictures. Consultant pathologist Dr Yasai Sivathondan said he died from asphyxia due to hanging "in keeping with a form of sexual strangulation".
In another case, an inquest in July 1997 heard how GCHQ worker Nicholas Husband, 46, was found dead wearing women's clothing after a bizarre sex ritual. Mr Husband, from Tewkesbury, had a plastic bag over his face and was wearing a nightie and a bra. He was found dead after he failed to show up for work in December 1996.
In March 1999, Kevin Allen, a 31-year-old linguist at GCHQ, was found dead in bed by his father at his home in Cheltenham. He had a plastic bag over his head and a dust mask over his mouth. An post-mortem revealed that death was due to asphyxiation.
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