Gareth Williams inquest: ‘Legitimate to ask if secret services did it’
DETECTIVES are to “refocus” their investigation into the death of the spy found naked in a holdall, in light of new evidence that emerged during his inquest.
Coroner Fiona Wilcox yesterday concluded he was probably unlawfully killed. She said she was sure a third party padlocked 31-year-old Gareth Williams inside the red bag in which he was found dead in 2010.
However, she criticised the 21-month investigation into his death, and said it was unlikely the riddle “will ever be satisfactorily explained”.
Only on the penultimate day of the hearing was the detective leading the investigation made aware of potential evidence in the form of nine memory sticks and a black holdall found at Mr Williams’s office at MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall, central London. Detective Inspector Jackie Sebire said they would now “refocus” and pursue new lines of inquiry uncovered by the inquest.
“I’ve always been satisfied a third party may have been involved in his death, and the coroner has confirmed that in her finding,” she said.
“The inquest has raised several new lines of inquiry, and the investigation will now refocus and actively pursue all the evidence heard and all the new lines of inquiry.”
Delivering a narrative verdict following the eight-day inquest, Dr Wilcox said the cause of the spy’s death was “unnatural, and likely to have been criminally mediated”.
She concluded: “I am therefore satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that Gareth was killed unlawfully.”
The MI6 code-breaker, a fitness enthusiast, was discovered in the foetal position inside the North Face bag, his arms folded across his chest and with two keys to the bag’s padlock underneath his buttocks.
His family called for a police review of the case in light of failings of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit, SO15. The family also criticised the spy’s employers at MI6, who failed to alert anyone of his disappearance for a week.
Sir John Sawers, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, apologised “unreservedly” to the family yesterday, saying it should have acted more swiftly.
Dr Wilcox told a packed Westminster Coroner’s Court that “on the balance of evidence” Mr Williams was probably alive when he was put in the bag.
She said it remained a “legitimate line of inquiry” that the secret services were involved in Mr Williams’s death.
But she said “there was no evidence to support that he died at the hands of” spies.
She moved to dispel theories that have swirled around the case – insisting there was no evidence of a sexual encounter gone wrong, of suicidal intent, or that Mr Williams’s death was linked to a supposed interest in bondage.
“I find on the balance of probabilities that if he had got into the bag and locked himself in, he would have taken a knife in with him,” Dr Wilcox said. “He was a risk assessor.”
She questioned why details of Mr Williams’s private life were leaked to the press, and ruled out a supposed interest in bondage and drag queens as having any bearing, before adding: “I wonder if this was an attempt by some third party to manipulate the evidence.”
She said “many agencies fell short” during the inquiries into his death.
The Williams’s family’s lawyer, Robyn Williams, read a statement that said: “Our grief is exacerbated by the failure of his employers at MI6 to take even the most basic inquiries as to his whereabouts and welfare, which any reasonable employer would have taken.
“We are also extremely disappointed at the reluctance and failure of MI6 to make available relevant information.
“We would like to ask Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe to look into and review how this investigation will proceed in light of the total inadequacies of the SO15 investigation into MI6 during the course of this inquiry.”
The family described the brilliant code-breaker as a “special and adored son and brother” who they missed “every single day”.
In a statement, MI6 lawyer Andrew O’Connor said: “On behalf of the whole organisation, Sir John [Sawyers] regrets this deeply and apologises unreservedly.”
Mr Williams, originally from Anglesey, North Wales, was found curled up in the padlocked holdall in the bath of his flat in Pimlico, central London, on 23 August, 2010.
Pathologists said he would have suffocated within three minutes if he was alive when he got inside the 32in by 19in bag. Poisoning and asphyxiation were the “foremost contenders” in solving the riddle, they said.
Experts said even escapologist Harry Houdini would have struggled to lock himself in the bag, while Mr Williams’s family lawyer has suggested the “dark arts” of the secret services were behind the mystery.
Police recovered no evidence of a third party being present and have no suspects in their inquiry. The lack of hand and footprints in the bathroom was “significant”, Dr Wilcox said, telling the court: “In relation to the prints found within the bathroom, what was more significant was what was not found rather than what was found.”
Several years before his death, Mr Williams tied himself to his bed and had to be cut free by his landlord and landlady, the inquest heard. It also emerged that the bachelor stored £20,000-worth of women’s clothes in his immaculate flat and was fascinated by drag queens.
But Dr Wilcox said yesterday there was no evidence to suggest the spy was a transvestite “or interested in any such thing”. Make-up found in his flat was more likely to reflect his interest in fashion, she argued. Wigs that were found were also “far more consistent with dress-up such as attendance at a manga [comic] conference,” she added.
There was some suggestion that his interest in female footwear could have been of a sexual nature, but this was not unusual.
“Gareth was naked in a bag when he was found, not cross-dressed, not in high-heeled shoes,” she said.
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