Police insisted yesterday they have not been duped by the intelligence services after an investigation starkly contradicted a coroner and found that a spy discovered in a locked holdall probably died alone in an accident.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said it was “beyond credibility” that he had “the wool pulled over my eyes” by MI6 and GCHQ, despite his team reaching entirely different conclusions to coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox, who said that it was likely codebreaker Gareth Williams was unlawfully killed.
Dr Wilcox concluded last year that Mr Williams was probably killed by another person in a “criminally meditated act”.
The 31-year-old was found dead in the locked bag in the bath at his flat in Pimlico, central London, on 23 August 2010.
None of his DNA was found on the padlock on the bag and there were no palm prints on the rim of the bath. The heating had been left on in the flat, despite it being summer, and MI6 failed to raise the alarm about his disappearance for more than a week.
Dr Wilcox heard from experts who had repeatedly failed to padlock themselves into bags identical to his. One said Harry Houdini “would have struggled” to pull off the feat.
But a retired army sergeant later showed it was possible to climb into a similar bag and lock it from inside.
Mr Hewitt said: “I do not believe that I have had the wool pulled over my eyes. I believe that what we are dealing with is a tragic unexplained death.
“The Metropolitan Police’s position is that, on balance, it is a more probable conclusion that there was no other person present when Gareth died.”
However, he admitted: “No evidence has been identified to establish the full circumstances of Gareth’s death beyond all reasonable doubt.”
Mr Williams’s family still believe that he was unlawfully killed, and released a statement saying they were disappointed about the lack of conclusions in the case.
They said: “We are naturally disappointed that it is still not possible to state with certainty how Gareth died, and the fact that the circumstances of his death are still unknown adds to our grief.
“We consider that, on the basis of the facts known at present, the coroner’s verdict accurately reflects the circumstances of Gareth’s death. “
In May last year at the end of the inquest, Dr Wilcox found that Mr Williams was probably killed and it “remained a legitimate line of inquiry” that the secret services may have been involved in the death.
She said she was sure a third party locked the codebreaker inside the red holdall in which his naked body was found, and that “the cause of his death was unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated”.
Pathologists said he would have suffocated within three minutes if he was alive inside the 32in by 19in holdall.
Mr Williams worked for GCHQ but was on secondment to MI6 when he died. Police interviewed 27 members of staff from the two agencies as part of their investigation.
Following the inquest, they looked for a second time at the codebreaker’s personnel and vetting files, but found there was no evidence to support the theory that Gareth’s death was related to his work.
Mr Hewitt said: “I am convinced that Gareth’s death was in no way related to his work, either current or previously.”