MI6 codebreaker Gareth Williams was probably killed but the “spy in the bag” case might never be solved after mistakes by investigators, an inquest has heard.
The deceased’s relatives attacked failures by secret services and police after coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox ruled “many agencies fell short” in their investigation of the holdall death riddle.
She said she was sure a third party locked the 31-year-old mathematics prodigy inside the red holdall, probably while he was alive.
She criticised the 21-month investigation, saying it was unlikely the mystery “will ever be satisfactorily explained”.
“The cause of his death was unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated,” she said during a two-hour narrative verdict at Williams’s inquest.
“I am therefore satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that Gareth was killed unlawfully.”
As the eight-day hearing ended, relatives spoke out for the first time about their grief being “exacerbated” by MI6’s “reluctance and failure” to assist the police inquiry.
In a statement read out by their solicitor, they said they were “extremely disappointed” at “total inadequacies” in the inquiry.
Scotland Yard vowed to explore new evidence that has come to light, while John Sawers, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, apologised “unreservedly” for delays in raising the alarm about the death.
Williams, a fitness enthusiast originally from Anglesey, north Wales, was found naked, curled up in the padlocked holdall in the bath of his flat in Pimlico, central London, on Aug 23, 2010.
Pathologists said he would have suffocated within three minutes if he was alive when he got inside the 32-inch by 19-inch bag.
The coroner agreed that Williams was suffocated by carbon dioxide, possibly as an onset of a short-acting poison.
She dismissed speculation that Williams died as a result of some kind of “auto-erotic activity”, also denying there was any evidence to suggest claustrophilia, the love of enclosed spaces, was of any interest to him.
His sister, Ceri Subbe, looked on as Dr Wilcox told a packed Westminster Coroner’s Court that it “remained a legitimate line of inquiry” that the secret services may have been involved in the death.
But she said “there was no evidence to support” that he died at the hands of spies.
Despite a 21-month police inquiry and seven days of evidence, “most of the fundamental questions in relation to how Williams died remain unanswered.”
Dr Wilcox said several factors hampered inquiries, including breakdowns in communication by her own coroner’s office, a DNA mix-up by forensics and the late submission of evidence by MI6 to police.
She went on to question why details of Williams’s private life were leaked to the press, adding: “I wonder if this was an attempt by some third party to manipulate the evidence”.
The lack of hand and footprints in the bathroom was “significant”, Dr Wilcox said, telling the court: “In relation to the prints found within the bathroom, in my view what was more significant was what was not found rather than what was found.”
Dr Wilcox found it “highly unlikely” that Williams died alone, saying: “If Gareth had been carrying out some kind of peculiar experiment, he wouldn’t care if he left any foot or fingerprints.”
She said the “highly unusual circumstances” of his death immediately raised the possibility of foul play, which had prompted “endless speculation”.
But the coroner added that “taking all these shortfalls together, I am satisfied that the evidence is reliable and that we do not have to adjourn at this point”.
Detective chief inspector Jackie Sebire, who is leading the investigation, 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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