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Poisoning and asphyxiation are the “foremost contenders” in the sports bag death riddle of MI6 spy Gareth Williams, an inquest has heard.
Williams was probably suffocated or killed by a poison which disappeared in his system during decomposition, pathologist Benjamin Swift said.
Williams’ family have said they believe secret agents versed in the “dark arts” tried to cover up the cause of his death.
Swift said his postmortem examination was hampered by levels of heat within the bag after radiators were mysteriously turned on in Williams’ top floor flat in the middle of summer.
Examinations on Aug 25, 2010 — two days after Williams was found in a holdall in his bathroom — gave the cause of death as “unascertained”.
Experts who carried out experiments with a bag told the inquest last week it would have been extremely difficult for Williams to lock himself in the holdall alone, after speculation he might have done so as part of a sex game.
Under questioning at Westminster Coroner’s Court, Swift said poisoning or asphyxiation such as suffocation were “probably rather than possibly” to blame.
Swift said the two causes of death “were certainly two of the more prominent” beliefs as he conducted examinations.
When family lawyer Anthony O’Toole asked if there were any other possible causes of death, Swift replied: “I would never say never, but those are the foremost contenders.”
There were no injuries indicating Williams had struggled to get out of the bag in which he was found naked and in the foetal position, the pathologist added.
But no tablet deposits were found in his system and there was no bruising consistent with strangulation.
Swift said he believed Williams died shortly after his last known movements on Aug 15.
The evidence from pathologists comes after bag experts said even Harry Houdini would have struggled to lock himself in the red North Face holdall.
Another pathologist told the inquest it was “more likely [Williams] was alive when he entered the bag than that he was dead”.
There was, however, “no suggestion” the spy’s body had been manhandled into the holdall and were he to have been forced into it, either alive or immediately after he died, marks on his body would have been expected, Richard Shepherd said.
Shepherd, who performed a third postmortem examination, said: “I think it would have been a very difficult process to achieve, getting a body so neatly into a bag.
“Were he to be alive and struggling I would anticipate there to have been injuries.”
Getting a body into a bag straight after death would be impeded by the “floppiness” of the corpse in this period, the court heard.
Pathologist Ian Calder, who performed the second postmortem, observed that the build-up of carbon dioxide would have become poisonous to Williams within about two or three minutes, had he been alive when he entered the bag.
“The toxic effect of the carbon dioxide... plays some considerable havoc with the chemistry of the body and so, as a result of that, the accumulation of carbon dioxide has quite a considerable effect on the wellness of the individual,” he said.
The results would include headaches, then confusion, and eventually unconsciousness and cardiac arrest, he added.
And a soporific state would have been induced before the spy lost consciousness, which could have prevented him from trying to escape, he explained.
The inquest heard last week that Williams’ previous landlady once found him after he tied himself to a bed, while records on his home computer showed he had visited websites about claustrophilia — the love of enclosure — and bondage and sadomasochism.
High-end women’s clothing and shoes worth some €24,500 (€30,000) were also found in the spy’s flat.
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