Death of Gareth Williams

Gareth Wyn Williams (26 September 1978 – c. 16 August 2010) was a Welsh mathematician and Junior Analyst for GCHQ seconded to the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) who was found dead in suspicious circumstances at a Security Service safe house flat in Pimlico, London, on 23 August 2010.[1] The inquest found that his death was "unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated."[2] A subsequent Metropolitan Police re-investigation[2] concluded that Williams's death was "probably an accident".[3]

Gareth Williams
Gareth Wyn Williams

(1978-09-26)26 September 1978
Died16 August 2010(2010-08-16) (aged 31)
Pimlico, London, England
Cause of deathAssassination/Unlawfully killed (ruled)
Accident (suspected)
OccupationSecret Intelligence Service employee
Known forUnusual death

Two senior British police sources have said some of Williams's work concerned Russia – and one confirmed reports that he had been helping the US National Security Agency trace international money-laundering routes that are used by organised crime groups including Moscow-based mafia cells.[4]

Background edit

Originally from Valley, Anglesey, Wales,[5][6] Williams, who spoke Welsh as a first language, began studying mathematics part-time at Bangor University, while still attending his secondary school, Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern, and graduated with a first-class degree at age 17.[7] After gaining a PhD at the University of Manchester, he dropped out from a subsequent post-graduate course at St Catharine's College, Cambridge,[8] and took up employment with GCHQ in Cheltenham in 2001,[9] renting a room for nearly a decade in Prestbury, Gloucestershire. Reportedly an intensely private man and a keen cyclist, Williams was due to return to Cheltenham at the beginning of September 2010, following his annual leave.[10]

Death edit

Gareth Williams' grave in Ynys Wen Cemetery, Valley, Anglesey.

Police visited Williams's home during the afternoon of Monday 23 August 2010, as a "welfare check" after colleagues noted he had been out of contact for several days.[11] His naked, decomposing remains were found in the bath of the main bedroom's en-suite bathroom, inside a red bag that was padlocked from the outside, with the keys inside the bag.[12][13] The police had gained entry into his top floor flat in Alderney Street, Pimlico at around 16:40.[14] His family alleged that crucial DNA was interfered with and that fingerprints left at the scene were wiped off as part of a cover-up.[1] Inconclusive fragments of DNA components from at least two other contributors were found on the bag.[15] A forensic examination of Williams's flat, a security service safe house, has concluded that there was no sign of forced entry or DNA that pointed to a third party present at the time of the spy's death.

Scotland Yard's inquiry also found no evidence of Williams's fingerprints on the padlock of the bag or the rim of the bath, which the coroner said supported her assertion of "third-party involvement" in the death. Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said it was theoretically possible for Williams to lower himself into the bag without touching the rim of the bath.[16] A key to the padlock was inside the bag, underneath his body.[17]

Williams was buried at Ynys Wen cemetery in Valley, Anglesey, on 26 September 2010, following a private funeral service at Bethel Chapel in Holyhead attended by his family, friends, former colleagues in the intelligence services, and also by the head of SIS, Sir John Sawers.[18][19][20]

Investigation edit

Williams's date of death was estimated to have been in the early hours of 16 August, one week before he was found.[21]

Soon after the investigation started, the heads of the Secret Intelligence Service and Metropolitan Police met to discuss how the police would handle the investigation in light of the top secret nature of Williams's work, and who would lead the investigation. Williams had recently qualified for operational deployment, and had worked with U.S. National Security Agency and FBI agents. The U.S. State Department asked that no details of Williams's work should emerge at the inquest. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, signed a public-interest immunity certificate authorising the withholding from the inquest of details of Williams's work and U.S. joint operations.[18]

After launching an investigation, coroner Fiona Wilcox said that there were no injuries on his body and no signs that he had been involved in a struggle; his body was also free of alcohol and common recreational drugs.[22][23][24] The Metropolitan Police considered his death "suspicious and unexplained".[25] The FBI also conducted their own investigation into the case.[26]

In December 2010, police released further details, stating that Williams had occasionally spent between 30 minutes and an hour on bondage websites, but added there was no evidence that he was "obsessed" with bondage and no other pornography was found. Williams's wardrobe included £25,000 of "high-end" women's clothing.[27]

The landlady of the annex flat he had rented in Cheltenham for 10 years said she and her husband had once found him, three years before his death, shouting for help, with his hands tied to his bedposts. He said he was seeing if he could get free. They cut him free, believing it was "sexual rather than escapology".[28]

An expert brought in to examine the bag in which Williams's body was found concluded that Williams could not have locked it. A police spokesperson stated that: "If he was alive, he got into it voluntarily or, if not, he was unconscious and placed in the bag."[29]

The heating in Williams's apartment was found to be turned on.[28] It has been suggested an elevated temperature inside the apartment would have sped up the decomposition of Williams's body.[30]

Subsequently, the police released an E-FIT photo of two people they were seeking, who were seen to enter the communal entrance of his home in June or July 2010.[29]

Coroner's inquest edit

Anthony O'Toole, the lawyer for the family, said at the coroner's inquest in March 2012 that a second person was either present when Williams died, or someone broke in afterwards and stole items. There was no forensic evidence to support this view. No sign of forced entry could be found, but it was also noted that the door and locks had been removed by the time police experts had become involved.

DNA found on Williams's hand turned out to be contamination from one of the forensic scientists and the police determined that a Mediterranean couple they had been seeking had nothing to do with the inquiry.[31] LGC, the forensic company, apologized that the error had inflicted such pain on the family, caused by the incorrect data entry of a numerical code.[1]

Evidence at the inquest showed that it would have been virtually impossible for Williams to have locked himself in the bag.[32] Two experts were unable to lock themselves in a similar bag despite making 400 attempts to do so, although one stated there was a small chance Williams had managed the feat.[28] Pathologist Richard Shepherd stated it was more likely that Williams was alive when he got into the bag, due to the difficulty of arranging a corpse in the position Williams's body was found in. Another pathologist stated that Williams would have been overcome by hypercapnia, elevated carbon dioxide levels, after only two or three minutes in the bag.[28] There were no gloves found in the bag and no fingerprints on either the padlock nor indeed the bag.[16]

Williams's family said they believed that they suspected this person “was a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret services”.[33]

Fiona Wilcox, the coroner, said that she would "follow the evidence" wherever it led.[1] Fiona Wilcox was also the coroner for the death of William Broeksmit who was an auditor at Deutsche Bank at the time the bank was underwriting the Danske/Estonia Russian money laundering operation.[34]

Journalist Duncan Campbell reported that the inquest evidence indicated Williams was one of a team of intelligence officers sent to penetrate US and UK hacking networks. He had attended the 2010 Black Hat Briefings and DEF CON conferences. He had started with SIS in London in spring 2009, and after taking a number of training courses started on "active operational work".[9] A few months before his death, he asked to return to GCHQ as he disliked the "rat race, flash car competitions and post-work drinking culture" at SIS and as a keen cyclist and walker wanted to go back to the countryside, and was due to return in September.[35]

Inquest verdict edit

The coroner found in a narrative verdict that Williams's death was "unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated". The coroner was "satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that Gareth was killed unlawfully". There was insufficient evidence to give a verdict of unlawful killing. The coroner concluded that another party placed the bag containing Williams into the bath, and on the balance of probabilities locked the bag. The coroner said that Williams was probably alive when he was put in the bag and that he probably died shortly afterwards from CO2 poisoning or from a short-acting poison.[2] No fingerprints were found around the bath nor the bag. The coroner was critical of SIS for failing to report Williams missing for seven days, which caused extra anguish and suffering for his family, and led to the loss of forensic evidence.[2][35][36]

The coroner rejected suicide, interest in bondage or cross-dressing, or "auto-erotic activity" being involved in Williams's death.[37] She said his visits to bondage websites only occurred intermittently and were not of a frequency to indicate an active interest.[35] The coroner condemned leaks about cross-dressing as a possible attempt at media manipulation.[2]

The coroner was highly critical of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command (SO15), who failed to tell the senior investigating officer before the inquest began of the existence of nine memory sticks and other property in Williams's SIS office. SO15 failed to take formal statements when interviewing SIS officers. The coroner said the possible involvement of SIS staff in the death was a legitimate line of inquiry for the police.[2]

Metropolitan Police investigation edit

The finding by the coroner prompted a re-investigation by the Metropolitan Police lasting a further 12 months, which officers said had been allowed unprecedented access to serving MI6 staff following strong criticism at the inquest of the spying agency's actions following the death of Mr Williams.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt announced that despite a re-examination of all evidence and the investigation of new leads, no definitive answers had been obtained as to the cause of Williams's death, and the "most probable scenario" was that he had died alone in his flat in Pimlico, central London, as the result of accidentally locking himself inside the bag.[38][16]

2015 developments edit

In September and October 2015, Boris Karpichkov, a former KGB agent who defected from Russia and who now lives in Britain, stated during interviews that "sources in Russia" had claimed that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, also known as the SVR, was responsible for Williams's murder. According to Karpichkov, the SVR tried and failed to blackmail Williams into becoming a double agent.[39]

In response to the SVR's attempts, Williams claimed that he knew "the identity of a Russian spy inside the GCHQ." Karpichkov claimed that Williams's threat meant that "the SVR then had no alternative but to exterminate him to protect their agent inside GCHQ." Regarding the cause of death, Karpichkov claimed that the SVR killed Williams "by an untraceable poison introduced in his ear."[40][39]

The 2015 BBC Two television series London Spy was loosely based on the Williams case. The miniseries stars Ben Whishaw as Danny, who is accused of murder after his partner, MI6 spy Alex, is found dead inside a locked trunk.[41][42]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter "Was MI6 spy-in-a-bag Gareth Williams killed by 'secret service dark arts'?" Archived 31 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, The Telegraph, 30 March 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Caroline Davies; Sandra Laville (2 May 2012). "MI6 and Met condemned over Gareth Williams's death". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  3. ^ "MI6 spy Gareth Williams death 'probably an accident', police say" Archived 14 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 13 November 2013.
  4. ^ Warren, Tom; Leopold, Jason; Campbell, Alex; Holmes, Richard; Bradley, Jane; Blake, Heidi (20 June 2017). The Secrets Of The Spy In The Bag. BuzzFeed News. Archived from the original on 30 June 2020. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  5. ^ "Who was Gareth Williams?". the Guardian. 20 November 2010.
  6. ^ "Dead MI6 worker is Welsh". ITV News. 25 August 2010. Archived from the original on 30 August 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  7. ^ "MI6 worker Gareth Williams was an 'exceptional' pupil". BBC North West Wales. 26 August 2010. Archived from the original on 23 August 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  8. ^ Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy "Who was Gareth Williams?" Archived 12 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine The Guardian, 20 November 2010.
  9. ^ a b Duncan Campbell (3 May 2012). "GCHQ's spy death riddle shines light on UK hacker war". The Register. Archived from the original on 5 May 2012. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  10. ^ Vikram Dodd, et al "MI6 worker murdered, stuffed in a bag and dumped in a bath" Archived 26 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 25 August 2010.
  11. ^ "Exclusive: new details on MI6 spy's death" Archived 30 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Channel 4 News, 28 August 2010.
  12. ^ "Spy last seen alive eight days before body was found in bag" Archived 16 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian (Press Association), 28 August 2010.
  13. ^ "Body of MI6 worker Gareth Williams 'locked in bag'". BBC News. 1 September 2010. Archived from the original on 1 September 2010. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  14. ^ Helen Pidd "'British spy' found dead in bath" Archived 18 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 25 August 2010.
  15. ^ "Gareth Williams: the key unanswered questions". The Guardian. 2 May 2012.
  16. ^ a b c "MI6 spy found dead in bag probably locked himself inside, Met says". 13 November 2013. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  17. ^ Clarke-Billings, Lucy (24 October 2015). "'Spy in bag' Gareth Williams was 'murdered by Russian hitmen after sexual photo blackmail plot'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 25 October 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  18. ^ a b Patrick Sawer; Gordon Thomas (22 April 2012). "Secret meeting between MI6 and police hours after discovery of spy Gareth Williams's death". Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  19. ^ "Daily Post North Wales - News - North Wales News - Funeral of Anglesey MI6 code-breaker Gareth Williams in Holyhead". Archived from the original on 31 July 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
  20. ^ Tom Pettifor (10 March 2012). "Was body-in-the-bag spy Gareth Williams betrayed by a double agent? – Mirror Online". Archived from the original on 22 April 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  21. ^ "Profile: MI6 spy Gareth Williams" Archived 25 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 23 April 2012.
  22. ^ Lutwyche, Jayne (24 September 2010). "Police appeal for information in MI6 worker, Gareth Williams, death inquiry". ITV. Archived from the original on 26 September 2015. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  23. ^ Sam Jones and Matthew Taylor "Gareth Williams's parents identify body" Archived 20 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 26 August 2010.
  24. ^ Caroline Davies (6 September 2010). "Police issue CCTV footage of dead MI6 worker". London: Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 November 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  25. ^ "More tests due on body of MI6 worker Gareth Williams" Archived 26 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 26 August 2010.
  26. ^ Thomas, Gordon; Sawer, Patrick (25 September 2010). "FBI joins investigation into MI6 spy's death". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 26 September 2010.
  27. ^ "Dead MI6 spy Gareth Williams 'visited bondage websites'". 22 December 2010 – via
  28. ^ a b c d Davis, Caroline (2 May 2012). "Gareth Williams: the key unanswered questions". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  29. ^ a b "Dead MI6 spy Gareth Williams 'visited bondage websites'". BBC News. 22 December 2010. Archived from the original on 23 December 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2010.
  30. ^ Collins, David. "Gareth Williams: evidence revealed in the case of the spy's body in the bag". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 7 February 2021.
  31. ^ Press Association (23 April 2012). "Gareth Williams: coroner's inquest over spy found dead in bag". London: Guardian. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  32. ^ "MI6 officer inquest hears claim of third party role". BBC News. 27 April 2012. Archived from the original on 30 April 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  33. ^ Blake, Tom Warren, Jason Leopold, Alex Campbell, Richard Holmes, Jane Bradley, Heidi (20 June 2017). "The Death Of The Spy In The Bag Is One of 14 Suspected Hits Linked To Russia". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 7 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  34. ^ "Ex-Deutsche banker left notes before killing himself: London inquest". Reuters. 25 March 2014 – via
  35. ^ a b c Tom Whitehead; Martin Evans (2 May 2012). "Coroner: MI6 spy's death was probably a crime". Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 3 May 2012. Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  36. ^ "MI6 death: Gareth Williams 'probably' killed unlawfully". BBC News. 2 May 2012. Archived from the original on 2 May 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  37. ^ Caroline Davies; James Meikle (2 May 2012). "Gareth Williams's death was 'criminally mediated', says coroner". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  38. ^ Raphael Satter (13 November 2013). "Gareth Williams, British Spy, Likely Died in Bag By Accident, opposite of what the coroner had stated". Huffington Post. AP. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013.
  39. ^ a b Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith (28 September 2015) MI6 spy Gareth Williams was ‘killed by Russia for refusing to become double agent’, former KGB man claims Archived 8 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Independent.
  40. ^ Barbara Tasch (28 September 2015) KGB defector: Russia killed the British spy found in a duffel bag Archived 29 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Business Insider.
  41. ^ Ryan, Gary (16 November 2015). "'London Spy' – Writer Tom Rob Smith On The Real-Life Inspiration Behind The Dark BBC Spy Drama". NME. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  42. ^ Starling, Boris (12 November 2015). "Drama feeds off real-life crime, but has London Spy gone too far? | Boris Starling". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 February 2019.

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