What we know about 'talented' MI6 agent's mysterious death

Jon Clements

Former Crime Correspondent

CCTV still of codebreaker Gareth Williams, whose family want answers as to his mysterious death. Credit: Police

Someone, somewhere, wanted everyone to know that Gareth Williams had most definitely not been murdered and whatever did happen to him had nothing to do with his top secret work.

The GCHQ and MI6 code breaker had been found decomposing inside a padlocked red bag by police sent round to his flat to check on him during an unscheduled absence from work.

A hit by a foreign power? The work of terrorists or organised criminals? Or the result of a secret lifestyle unknown to his employers?

The 'sources' who briefed newspapers in the aftermath of August 2010 had no doubt and were determined to ensure nobody else did either.

A series of lurid claims were made about Mr Williams personal life and what police had found in his flat:

He had been stabbed to death; his mobile telephone SIM cards had been arranged 'ritualistically'; bondage gear had been found in his top floor Pimlico flat; he was a transvestite; he had telephoned male escorts; large sums of money had been transferred through his bank accounts shortly before his death.

All were either exaggerations and distortions of a complicated picture or simply untrue.

The effect on Mr Williams' shocked and grief-stricken family - who had just returned from a holiday in America - must have been devastating.

For the last 20 months they have maintained a dignified silence from their home near Angelsey, north Wales, where the child prodigy grew up.

Today the inquest into Mr Williams' death, which police still class as 'suspicious and unexplained', re-opened. His sister Ceri was among the 30 witnesses to be called.

It was the first time a member of his immediate family has spoken publicly, though their barrister outlined their suspicions about what happened last month.

Anthony O'Toole told a pre-inquest hearing the family felt the absence of any DNA or fingerprints from inside the flat meant the involvement of those specialised in the 'dark arts of the secret services'.

Not that Mr Williams' family are necessarily hostile to his former employers.

They did not oppose the request for anonymity to be given to three of his colleagues who will be witnesses.

If Gareth had been in their shoes he would have wanted to stay in the shadows too, they reasoned.

Security expert, Dr Sally Leivesley spoke to Daybreak about the challenge of working for the secret services.

But there is little doubt the Williams family are deeply frustrated by the intelligence services' refusal to be more candid with them about his work.

It is hard, they argue, to believe the official 'reassurances' that Mr Williams' death was unrelated to his work without knowing what he actually did.

While the Metropolitan Police seems to share the MI6 view that this was a 'lifestyle death' rather than an assasination by terrorist, criminal or foreign power they too have been frustrated.

Rumours have swirled since the outset that police were not getting the access to GCHQ and MI6 staff they wanted.

It is one thing to asked to take things on trust, another to be told what you do and don't need to know in your pursuit of the answers a distressed family so desperately want.

If it is true the chiefs of MI6 and the Yard met within hours of Williams being found dead to discuss the ground rules you can be sure a promise of full and frank co-operation from the spooks was not on the agenda.

Not that it's entirely surprising.

The threat from al-Qaeda forced Scotland Yard and MI5 to put aside their historic rivalries years ago but there has been no such rapprochement between the police and MI6.

Moreoever, Mr Williams' death has been investigated by detectives from the Met's Specialist Crime Directorate which is simultaneously investigating claims MI6 agents colluded in the torture of terror suspects.

But far more damaging to the police inquiry has been the mistake made by forensic scientists who reported they had found a potentially case-solving clue - a mixed DNA profile extracted from a sample on the red bag Williams was inside. For at least 18 months Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire and her team believed they had a genuine hope of one day establishing who had been in the flat.

It could be a month, it could be a year - but there was always the chance of a hit on the National DNA Database if whoever that person was came to be arrested for an unrelated matter.

But then a shattering blow for the inquiry and the Williams family.

The DNA belonged to a scientist who attended the scene and should have been eliminated automatically by computer but for a mistake by a colleague who inputed the digital code for that sample incorrectly.

The facts left offer little chance of finding out what really happened but for the record this is what is currently known.

Williams was last seen alive on August 15th and was planning to return to GCHQ following a placement at MI6 which involved some trips to the United States.

He was a brilliant mathematician and keen cyclist who had recently taken two MI6 training course to become ready for deployment in the field.

Unknown to his employers he had also developed an interest in ladies fashion attending two course at Central St Martins College, Soho, and spent £15,000 online and in West End boutiques on clothing and shoes by designers including Stella McCartney and Christian Louboutin.

The clothes and shoes were found inside his flat still boxed up and apparently unworn. There were several wigs too.

Williams had four mobile phones and a computer which he had used to access four websites relating to confined spaces.

One was called 'Hogtie', another 'The Art of Constriction'. None are pornographic and most feature women, not men.

In the days before his death Williams went to Bistrotheque restaurant and bar in east London, a fashionable eaterie whose opening was attended by artists including Tracey Emin.

Williams watched drag act Jonny Woo there and police found two pairs of tickets to see similar acts on two dates at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a gay pub a few hundred yards from MI6 headquarters.

Police have stressed there is no evidence Williams was himself gay and detectives are not known to have traced any sexual partners or discovered who the extra tickets were intended for.

Detectives released an eFit of a couple who buzzed the intercom at Williams' four storey flat a month before his death asking to speak to a man called 'Pierpaolo'.

That was described as a 'red herrring ' in court last month - Pierpaolo has been identified a man living in a neighbouring block whose friends simply got the wrong address.

Which leaves the police, through little fault of their own, apparently quite clueless.

The inquest will hear there were no marks of note on the body, no drugs or poisons in the blood, no signs of a struggle in the flat, no signs of a struggle to get out of the bag.

There are no eyewitnesses, no forced entry to the flat, no forensic traces and no suspects.

There is not even a definite cause of death - the pathologists will debate the strengths and weaknesses of suffocation (too little oxygen) or hypocania (too little carbon dioxide).

So many questions and - so far as we presently know - so little hope of getting the answers Mr Williams' family have been waiting so long for.