Gareth Williams: The Verdict
Over eight days at Westminster Coroners’ Court, involving more than 40 witnesses including anonymous spies speaking from behind a screen, an incredible story emerged - one that asks more questions than it answers.
Coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox vowed to carry out a “full, fair and fearless” inquiry to determine how Gareth came to die.
25 August 2010: The body of Mr Williams was discovered naked, in a foetal position in a padlocked North Face hold all measuring just 81cm by 48cm.
It was found in the bath of the Pimlico flat in London where he lived alone while on secondment to MI6 from GCHQ on August 23, 2010.
When found it had been sitting there for a week and was badly decomposed.
Because of the sensitive nature of his job a police investigation began.
Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire led the Met team investigating the death. But because neither she nor her officers were suitably cleared for national security data, officers from the Met’s counter terrorism unit acted as a conduit between her and MI6.
His last known activity was browsing a cycling website in the early hours of Monday August 16.
The first question was how Mr Williams could have been missing for a week at one of the country’s most sensitive organisations without anyone raising the alarm.
The codebreaker was known for his meticulous time keeping and professionalism and should have been back at work from a foreign trip on Monday August 16. He worked in a small office with just three others.
He did not show up all that week and missed two pre-arranged meetings with other intelligence officers.
His line manager, known only as witness G, thought he must have 'missed the train' or forgotten he was on a course or something similar and made only the most cursory attempts to contact him by phone.
There was confusion over who was responsible for his whereabouts as he was due to return to GCHQ, having cut short his secondment, the week after he was found.
He was not officially classed as missing until Monday August 23 and even then it took another four hours before the police were notified and his body discovered.
Alive or dead
Central to the case was whether he could get in to the bag himself and, if not, whether he was alive or dead when placed in it.
Two experts in confined space rescue or “unusual occurrences” tried and failed more than 400 times to climb in to a bag unaided and lock it.
Videos of their attempts were shown to the hearing.
|Videos of attempts to lock bag|
One concluded even Harry Houdini would struggle and that Mr Williams was “dead or unconscious” when he went in to the bag.
Pathologists would later estimate that “poisoning or asphyxiation” were the most likely causes of death and that he would have been overcome by carbon dioxide within three minutes of being placed in there.
But because the body was so badly decomposed several poisons, including cyanide and chloroform, could not be tested for.
The third party
No usable DNA was recovered from the flat and police spent more than 18 months chasing one encouraging sample before discovering it belonged to one of the forensic officers who attended the scene.
DCI Sebire is convinced a third party was involved and that the death is “suspicious”.
Weak traces of DNA of at least two other people were found on the bag.
The issue of how much help DCI Sebire received from MI6 and the counter terror officers acting as the link was also a constant focus.
Anthony O’Toole, the family lawyer, raised concerns over Mr Williams’ work equipment and belongings and the delay in being handed over to police.
In dramatic events, Dr Wilcox accused Det Supt Michael Broster, who headed up the counter terror team, of not being “completely impartial”.
It emerged nine memory sticks possibly belonging to Mr Williams and a sports bag similar to one he was found in were discovered at MI6 but never passed to the investigating team.
DCI Sebire has insisted the investigation will continue until answers are found.
Results are expected within weeks as to whether a DNA sample has been recovered from a towel found in the kitchen.
A full review of the case will be carried out in light of all the evidence that has emerged during the inquest.
No evidence that his death was linked to his work or his private life has been unearthed and the inquest has failed to answer many key questions.
Final verdict: Dr Fiona Wilcox delivered a narrative verdict after saying evidence is not available for a ruling of unlawful killing.
Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire, said the inquest had 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”.
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