Gareth Williams - Murdered MI6 Spy?
23rd August 2009

How did an MI6 codebreaker meet his death - bound and locked inside a holdall that could only be locked from outside?

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Gareth Williams - Murdered MI6 Spy?

Gareth Williams - Murdered MI6 Spy?


31 year old codes and cipher specialist Gareth Williams shot from the anonymity demanded by his job to the front pages of every national newspaper when his body was found in August 2009. An inquest into his death ruled that his death was suspicious, but police controversially decided in November 2013 that there was no evidence to suggest that anyone else was involved in his death.

He died in an MI6 safehouse - itself very unusual - but what was more unusual still were the details surrounding his death. His body was found in a holdall in the bath, where it had lain for anything up to a week. It was immediately apparent that the bag had been zipped up from the outside and that Williams would have been unable to get out. But who would willingly get in a bag to die? Was this some bizarre spy-vs-spy murder, or a sexual game gone wrong?

As more details leaked to the press over the next few months it became evident that Williams had an unusual interest in women's clothing. He was found to have been in possession of 15,000s worth of high-end designer women's clothes. Moreover, he had apparently visited several websites dedicated to crossdressing, BDSM and sado-masochism.

Perhaps the sex-game angle feels right, but what kind of spy would use an MI6 safehouse for his games? Who would zip a man into a bag and leave him there to die?

An efit was issued of a man and a woman believed to have been seen entering his flat around the time of his death, but during the inquest into his death, the couple were discovered and eliminated from enquiries - they were a couple looking for a party and who were simply lost and knocking on doors for directions.

2012 Inquest

The inquest into Williams' death opened in April 2012. Among the first to testify was his sister Ceri Subbe. She spoke of how her brother had come to hate the 'flash' lifestyle of drinking and fast cars that were commonplace among MI6 operatives. Instead, he had applied to return to GCHQ at Cheltenham where he had originally worked as a codebreaker.

Also on the opening day, PC John Gallagher - the first policeman on the scene - spoke of how he had been told to undertake a "welfare check" on Williams, who by that date had not been seen for 12 days. On entering the flat, his attention was taken by a woman's wig hanging on the back of a chair.

The second day of the inquest revealed further details about Williams' last movements. Seen on CCTV at Holland Park underground station and Hans Crescent SW1 on the 14th and 15th of August respectively, there was nothing to indicate that Williams was being followed or acting suspiciously in himself.

It was also disclosed that police forensic examiners had identified fragments of someone else's DNA on the padlock used to seal bag in which he was found. The amount was very small and had not been tied to another individual, but was not Williams'.

Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire told the inquest that:

"My thought or opinion since I went into the scene is that a third party had been involved in the death or in putting the bag in the bath."

She also expressed her belief that Williams had given little sign of having struggled to escape the bag. His arms were folded and overall he was described as being in a foetal position. Despite his youth, strength and physical fitness there was no indication of a struggle, or any tears or fibres under his fingernails that would have indicated an attempt to escape from the bag.

The inquest was shown footage of the interior of the flat (available to view under the 'videos' tab above) which showed it to be neat and tidy - and also the womans' wig mentioned in yesterday's proceedings, still hanging on the back of the chair.

Inquest Findings

At the closure of the inquest, the coroner delivered a narrative verdict saying that Williams' death was "unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated" and that he was "satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that Gareth was killed unlawfully". Despite that, he believed that there was not enough evidence to deliver a verdict of unlawful killing.

He found that someone else was in the flat and put the bag into the bath and probably locked Williams inside. Suicide was ruled out, as was the sexual angle. While Williams had displayed intermittent interest in bondage and cross-dressing there was nothing to suggest that he was especially active in those scenes. In fact, the coroner suggested, the leaking of those aspects to the press was borderline manipulation of the media for some unknown purpose.

As well as this, the Met Police came in for further criticism for not taking formal statements from MI6 officers and for failing to disclose the existence of memory sticks and other equipment in Williams' office to investigating officers.

The coroner concluded that the police would have legitimate reason to investigate the possibility of MI6 involvement in his death. A new police investigation was launched after the inquest and MI6 promised full co-operation - having been criticised at the inquest themselves for failing to disclose information: certain questions about Williams' activities and work were ruled 'off limits' by MI6 for security reasons.

The Kazkhstan Connection

After some months of relative quiet on the story flared into life once more in late December 2012. Investigations by journalists from the Sunday Telegraph revealed that he had connections with the son of a Kazakhstani billionaire and was actually a field operative, rather than a mere analyst as earlier reports had painted him.

Police Rule out foul play

Despite the findings of the inquest, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement in November 2011 in which they described Williams' death as an accident.

"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 at present known, the coroner's verdict accurately reflects the circumstances of Gareth's death."

"With the conclusion of the investigation, 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. But the reality is that for both hypotheses there exist evidential contradictions and gaps in our understanding."

Inevitably questions have arisen about how the police came to such an apparently contradictory conclusion. Hot on the heels of those questions come further questions about whether Williams' death was actually a murder that has successfully been covered up. Certainly it remains unclear how a man could lock himself into a bag and die there, apparently without struggle. 

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 13th November 2013 | © Weird Island 2010-2020
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