The long-awaited coroner’s verdict into the mysterious death of a British spy has found that he was probably killed by another person, but has failed to determine how and why he died.
The naked body of Gareth Williams was found curled up inside a locked duffle bag in the waterless bathtub of his London apartment in 2010. Scotland Yard detectives have so far drawn a blank after an investigation that has lasted 21 months. Williams worked as a code breaker for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6.
A number of intelligence officers gave evidence anonymously during seven days of court hearings that have made headlines in Britain.
Coroner Fiona Wilcox has concluded that “most of the fundamental questions in relation to how Gareth died remain unanswered.” Wilcox told a packed court today that she believed somebody else had locked the spy inside the bag, even though no forensic evidence has yet been uncovered as confirmation. Three pathologists advised the inquest earlier this week that asphyxiation or poisoning were the most likely possible causes of death, but the decomposition of his body prevented them from reaching any firm conclusions.
Police are still investigating the unusual and complicated case. New evidence has emerged during the inquest hearing, and traces of DNA found in the apartment that do not belong to the intelligence officer are still being analyzed. The inquest has heard that Britain’s intelligence service failed to hand over belongings to police officers investigating the suspicious death, including computer memory sticks. The spy’s cellphone was mysteriously reset hours before he died.
Det. Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire said after today’s hearing, “I have always been satisfied that a third party may have been involved in his death, and the coroner has confirmed that in her findings today. 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.”
The coroner told the court in her verdict that it remained a “legitimate line of inquiry” that the secret services were involved in Williams’ death, although there was no evidence to suggest this was the case.
She also dismissed speculation that he died in a sex game. Police say thousands of dollars worth of women’s designer clothes were discovered at his apartment, as well as wigs and makeup. Examination of the spy’s computer and phone showed that he made four visits to bondage websites.
The coroner even suggested that evidence of an interest in “auto-erotic activity” might have been leaked to the media “by some third party to manipulate the evidence.” Two friends of the dead man have testified that, to their knowledge, Williams was not gay and had no interest in cross-dressing.
A pathologist told the court that the postmortem was hampered by decomposition of the body, after it took a week for MI6 to report his disappearance. Decomposition was made worse by radiators inside the apartment that were inexplicably switched on in the middle of summer.
MI6 have blamed a “breakdown in communication” for the delay in raising the alarm, which might have resulted in the loss of crucial forensic evidence. The coroner at the inquest has said evidence given by the dead spy’s line manager “begins to stretch bounds of credibility.”
The head of the spy agency, John Sawers, has apologized “unreservedly” for the delay in notifying police of the man’s disappearance.
Another pathologist who gave evidence at the inquest said he believed Williams was probably alive when he entered the sports bag, which was fastened with an outside padlock. No signs of struggle were detected on the body of the intelligence officer, and no hand or footprints were found in the bathtub. The court was told by two experts last week that it was highly unlikely that the spy would have been able to lock himself into the bag.
Although no trace of poison was found in the body of Gareth Williams, a pathologist said it could have disappeared from his system in the 10 days it took for his corpse to be discovered and then examined.
Williams was working in London after being temporarily assigned to the British spy agency by GCHQ, Britain’s secret electronic surveillance agency, where he had previously been employed. His former boss at GCHQ told the inquest that he was a “world class intelligence officer.”
Stephen Gale told the court he was considered “something of a prodigy.” His manager at MI6 has called him “a fully deployable, highly talented officer” who had passed exams to do some of MI6′s toughest covert work six months before he was found dead in August 2010.
Coroner Fiona Wilcox told the inquest that it’s unlikely the mystery “will ever be satisfactorily explained.”