Did spy's killer steal state secrets? MI6 agents search for 'missing' laptop or MP3 player after body-in-bag murder case
By DAVID WILLIAMS, CHARLOTTE GILL and TOM KELLY
Last updated at 12:12 AM on 26th August 2010
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Intelligence officers are investigating whether state secrets were stolen by the killer of a British spy.
The MI6 agent, whose body was found in a sports bag in the bath of his flat, was named yesterday as Gareth Williams.
He was a cipher and codes specialist on secondment to the Secret Intelligence Service from the GCHQ listening station, and often took his work home.
Bizarre murder: Gareth Williams, from Cheltenham, who has been found dead in a flat in Pimlico. His body was discovered stuffed in a large sports bag in his bath in a flat just a few hundred yards from the MI6 HQ
Security services fear that his murderer could have taken classified material - possibly held on a laptop or MP3 player - which could be sold on to Britain’s enemies.
The partially decomposed body of the talented 31-year-old loner was discovered in his top-floor flat at a Georgian townhouse in Pimlico, central London.
It is thought to have lain there for two weeks before it was found on Monday. Detectives yesterday spent a second day in the two-bedroom flat - believed to be one of several ‘safe houses’ in that area used by MI6 - looking for clues and trying to check if anything was missing.
Removing the body: Forensic experts removing Williams's body from the Alderney Street property. So far the cause of death remains a mystery - although police have ruled out earlier reports of stabbing
Police guard: Alderney Street remains cordoned off and Met police stand guard outside the property as an investigation into the death of Williams continues
A security source said: ‘Whatever the motives for this killing, there is the strong likelihood that items will have been taken and that is potentially a real problem because it may be difficult identifying exactly what he had at home.’
With much of the focus of MI6 on the terror threat posed by fanatics linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, one theory was that Mr Williams had been targeted because of his work.
In the flat in Alderney Street, a mobile telephone and a collection of SIM cards had been carefully laid out - in what was described as a bizarre ritualistic scene - and officers are researching each number called.
Police said the results of a post-mortem examination were inconclusive.
Toxicology tests have been ordered to see if Mr Williams had been poisoned. Another possibility is that he was smothered or strangled before being bundled into the bag.
But lurid speculation that he had been stabbed or even dismembered was discounted by police sources.
They said the telephone numbers of escort agencies were found on one SIM card while pornographic material had also been discovered in the flat.
Intelligent: Williams graduated from Bangor University at the age of 19, and went on to Cambridge
It is not known exactly when Mr Williams was reported missing - but one suggestion is that he had taken some time off and had been due to return to work on Monday.
Officers from Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, with assistance from their counter-terrorist and security service colleagues, are delving into the private life of Mr Williams, seeking to discover whether he had relationship or money problems.
Another possibility is that he was the victim of a dangerous sex game gone wrong.
Tight security controlled the entrance to the flat, which is just a few hundred yards away from the MI6 headquarters across the Thames at Vauxhall.
Such were the precautions, it is believed, that eye scanners could have been used to gain entry.
Eileen Booth, 73, who lives opposite the flat, said detectives had come round and asked neighbours for their eye colour and height.
Mr Williams, a bachelor who had been subjected to security clearance before he was given the job, was described as a mild-mannered fitness and cycling fanatic dedicated to his work.
He was due to leave London and return early next month to his job at Cheltenham.
Finance worker Gemma Wingfield Digby, 26, who moved into the basement flat of Mr Williams’s building three weeks ago, said: ‘I saw him only once but he was such a sweet guy. All I wanted to do was give him a hug.’
Public documents reveal current and former residents of the freehold block where Mr Williams lived have links to London and Cheltenham.
One fear is that an area used by MI6 to house operatives - and where two former senior Tory politicians are neighbours - had now been compromised.
Former MI6 officer Harry Ferguson said: ‘There are lots of flats in this area owned by MI6 and their big worry will be that a terrorist group or intelligence group was involved.’
As Alderney Street remained cordoned off last night and forensic experts continued to search for clues, police were releasing little about the case.
First picture of British spy found dead in his bath yards from MI6 HQ
Land Registry documents reveal that the block at number 36 is owned by a private company, New Rodina, whose details are hidden because it is registered in the British Virgin Islands and is not listed with Companies House.
The word rodina means motherland in Russian and Bulgarian. Several other residents were also linked to Cheltenham leading to suggestions the flats may have been used regularly by MI6.
Central London address: This map shows where Alderney Street is in Pimlico, central London, where the body was found. The street remains cordoned off
The property was bought for £675,250 in 2000 with a mortgage from the Royal Bank of Scotland and has been remortgaged twice, in September 2005 and February 2006.
The documents show that the owner operated through a law firm known as Park Nelson, a firm which once occupied a rented office block in Bell Yard, off Fleet Street, but no longer appears to exist.
One Frenchman who lived at the flat between 2005 and 2006 is an expert in global satellite positioning, radio communications and high sensitivity antennae.
The spy they called the quiet man: Maths genius, loner and cycling fanatic at the centre of mystery
Few who crossed Gareth Williams’s path would have been surprised to learn that he was a spy.
A mild-mannered loner, who preferred cycling on gruelling lone runs to the pub or clubs, acquaintances knew him as ‘the quiet man’.
His landlady for a decade, Jenny Elliott, yesterday recalled how the 31-year-old bachelor lived without a TV in the annexe of her home, often hearing him working alone on the tapes she knew were part of his work.
‘There was never noise, never a problem,’ she said. ‘He was the perfect person to have in your home... a genuinely nice, decent man.’
Perfect tenant: The one-bedroom flat in Cheltenham where Gareth Williams also lived. His landlady of 10 years, Jenny Elliott, said he was like a member of the family
Retired office worker Mrs Elliott, 71, and her husband Brian came to know Mr Williams well during the ten years he spent with them at their £500,000 home in the Prestbury area of Cheltenham, while he worked for GCHQ, the government’s listening centre.
‘It’s a real tragedy,’ she said. ‘Gareth was a really nice guy who was polite and mild-mannered and wouldn’t hurt a fly.
‘When someone has lived with you for ten years you get to know them really well, and Gareth almost became a part of the family.
Spartan living quarters: Inside the Cheltenham self-contained flat. Mrs Elliott said Mr Williams did not have a TV in his room, and she was not aware of him bringing guests to stay
‘Gareth was a very likeable person but didn’t really have any friends as such. He was a cycling fanatic and was forever off on some bike ride or another but never really had friends round.
'He was an extremely intelligent person but would not talk about his job as it was a secret, on account of working for GCHQ. All he told me was it was something to do with codes.’
The last time Mrs Elliott spoke to Mr Williams flat was two weeks ago, when he called to confirm when he would be returning to Cheltenham from London.
He was a keen cyclist with the Cheltenham and County Club and took part in uphill races - coming eighth in a recent event.
Codes and cyphers: Mr Williams was employed as a communications officer at the Government's 'listening post' - better known as GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Seconded: Mr Williams had been working for MI6 when he went missing. His body was discovered stuffed in a large sports bag in his bath in a flat just a few hundred yards from the headquarters
Mrs Elliott said she did not remember him ever bringing a girlfriend back to the self-contained flat, comprising a bathroom, bedroom and kitchen, above her garage.
’That’s not to say he didn’t meet girls. But if he did, he certainly didn’t talk about them to me.
‘Gareth occasionally said he was meeting some of the guys from work for a quiet drink but he wouldn’t tell me who they were or where they were going and I never pried.
'He never had a television and I never heard music coming from the flat. He was the perfect tenant and I doubt I’ll be able to find one as good as him again.’
Mr Williams had a close friendship with former GCHQ colleague Raphael L’hoste-Morton, who now works for a young people’s charity in Gloucester.
Mr L’hoste-Morton denied having had a relationship with Mr Williams, and his mother Maryse said she would not comment on her son’s private life.
Mr Williams, a Welsh speaker, was raised in Holyhead on Anglesey by his father Ian, who worked at the nuclear power plant, and mother Ellen, together with sister Ceri.
Friends recall how it was his father who led Gareth to a love of cycling and together they were a frequent sight - even recently - pounding the roads of Anglesey.
According to his uncle William Hughes, it was always apparent that Gareth was an outstandingly bright boy.
‘The family knew this from a very, very young age. He was a very clever lad. When he was at secondary school he would go to university one day a week.’
According Mr Hughes, Gareth graduated at the age of only 19 from Bangor University and went on to Cambridge to continue his studies.
‘He was quiet, unassuming. When he came home on his weekends and holidays he’d be on his bicycle riding around the lanes of Anglesey.
‘He worked for GCHQ for many years. We knew he was working in London, but he’d never talk about his work and the family knew not to ask really. We didn’t know what he was doing. He never spoke about it.’
Mr Hughes added that to learn of the murder was a terrible shock.
‘I got a phone call... I couldn’t believe that such a thing had happened.’
John Barnes, who once worked with Gareth Williams’s father and who regularly cycled with the two men, said: ‘Gareth was brilliant at maths - a genius.’
Mr Williams’s parents were abroad on holiday when their son’s death was discovered and were said to be staying last night in London. Scotland
Yard detectives were at the family home in Holyhead, where they were speaking with the dead man’s sister, Ceri Subbe, who lives with her doctor husband, Christian.