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Gareth Williams, an employee of GCHQ seconded to the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6), was found dead in suspicious circumstances at a Security Services safe house flat in Pimlico, London, on 23 August 2010. The inquest found that his death was "unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated". The police investigation is continuing.
Originally from Anglesey, North Wales, Williams, who spoke Welsh as a first language and was born c. 1979, began studying mathematics part-time at Bangor University, while still at Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern school and graduated with a first-class degree at age 17. After gaining a PhD at the University of Manchester, he dropped out from a subsequent post-graduate course at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and took up employment with GCHQ in Cheltenham in 2001, renting a room for a decade in Prestbury. Reportedly an intensely private man and a keen cyclist, Williams was due to return to Cheltenham at the beginning of September 2010 after his annual leave.
Police visited Williams' 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. His decomposing naked remains were found in a red North Face bag, padlocked from the outside, in the bath of the main bedroom's en-suite bathroom. The police had gained entry into his top floor flat in Alderney Street, Pimlico at around 16:40. His family believe that crucial DNA was interfered with and that fingerprints left at the scene were wiped off as part of a cover-up.
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 secret services, and also by the head of SIS, Sir John Sawers.
Vincent Williams from the Metropolitan Police informed the Westminster Coroner's Court that experts were agreed that it was impossible for Gareth Williams to have locked himself in. Williams' date of death was estimated to have been in the early hours of 16 August, one week before he was found.
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' 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' 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' work and U.S. joint operations.
After launching an investigation, the coroner Dr. 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. The Metropolitan Police considered his death "suspicious and unexplained". The FBI have also conducted their own investigation into the case.
In December 2010, police released further details, stating that Williams had visited a number of bondage websites. An expert brought in to examine the bag in which Williams body was found, concluded 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."
Lawyer for the family, Anthony O'Toole, at the Coroner's inquest in March 2012, said that a second person was either present when Williams died, or someone broke in afterwards and stole items. There is 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 the hand of Williams turned out to be contamination from one of the forensic scientists and the Mediterranean couple sought by police had nothing to do with the inquiry. LGC, the forensic company, apologized that the error had caused the family such pain, caused by the incorrect data entry of a numerical code.
Evidence at the inquest showed that it would have been virtually impossible for Williams to have locked himself in the bag. Williams' family said they believed that a secret service agency was involved in his death.
Dr Fiona Wilcox, the Coroner, said that she would "follow the evidence" wherever it led.
Evidence given by Williams' former landlady in Cheltenham showed how one night he had awoken her and her husband, screaming for help. Apparently he had managed to tie himself to his bed, and required assistance in releasing himself. The testimony was that Williams had claimed at the time that he had done it just to see if he could free himself and that he promised not to try this again. Nothing further had been said about the incident since, between Williams and his landlady.
Evidence was given of £20,000 worth of women's clothing being found in the flat. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9228651/Interest-in-womens-clothing-and-sadomasochism-would-not-have-prevented-Gareth-Williams-joining-MI6-inquest-hears.html)
The 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". 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.
The coroner found in a narrative verdict that Williams' 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. No fingerprints were found around the bath. 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.
The coroner rejected suicide, interest in bondage or cross-dressing, or "auto-erotic activity" being involved in Williams' death. She said his visits to bondage websites only occurred intermittently and were not of a frequency to indicate an active interest. The coroner condemned leaks about cross-dressing as a possible attempt at media manipulation.
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' 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.