LONDON -- A British coroner pronounced the mysterious death of a secret service employee as unexplainable because of limited evidence, but concluded a dramatic hearing Wednesday by saying he was probably "killed unlawfully."
Dr. Fiona Wilcox, who early during her two-hour narrative verdict said there was insufficient evidence to declare the death of Gareth Williams an "unlawful killing," later described the death as "unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated."
"I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Gareth was killed unlawfully," Wilcox said.
She said it was unlikely that Williams' death would ever be satisfactorily explained.
The narrative verdict allowed for the laying out of evidence without giving a definitive verdict. It came after a week of evidence presented at the hearing, which was attended by members of the dead man's distraught family.
Scotland Yard is reportedly looking into "new lines of inquiry" regarding Williams' death.
The naked and decomposing body of the 31-year-old Williams, who was described as a mathematician and code breaker on a temporary contract to MI6, Britain’s intelligence agency, was found packed in an airtight duffel bag in the bathroom of his apartment in central London on Aug. 23, 2010.
By the time he was reported missing for work by MI6 staff after a week’s absence and failing to attend three meetings, pathological reports said, he had been dead for a week. Press reports on investigations of Williams’ death revealed much of the evidence that had not been handed over to London central police by special branch officers liaising with MI6 for security reasons, including possessions he kept in the workplace and memory sticks.
From press reports since his death a picture of Williams emerged as a bachelor, a cycling enthusiast and a shy colleague. He was also said to have an extensive wardrobe of women’s clothing and had explored websites linked to bondage.
His only visitors were close friends and family who had been vetted by MI6, the BBC reported during the verdict. There was little forensic evidence found in his apartment, owned by MI6, to show that other people had visited him and no signs of any struggle.
The bag in which his body was discovered was locked on the outside and several attempts by experts deemed it impossible to lock the bag from the inside.
Police were uncertain as to the cause of death as the few wounds found on his body could have resulted from attempts to escape. They did not rule out poisoning, which could have included a buildup of carbon dioxide and an eventual asphyxiation, according to one of the three pathologists quoted in the BBC.
But the coroner told the court that although it was likely Williams entered the bag alive, there was no proof that he had got into the bag alone and unaided.
While she said it was not her job to apportion blame, and his death may not have been related to his work, Wilcox criticized MI6 staff. She judged that they had withheld vital evidence from the police and that the police inquiry was still open as new evidence such as nine memory sticks with data had recently emerged.
After the verdict, Robyn Williams, the family lawyer, said the family's "grief was exacerbated by the failure of .... MI6 to make even the most basic inquiries about his welfare."
Williams had told a few close friends and family that he was unhappy at MI6 and had asked to return to his original job as a decoder at GCHQ in Cheltenham, west England, Britain’s central listening post.
The secret intelligence service issued an apology for failing to act more swiftly when Gareth Williams missed work and contributing "to the anguish and suffering of his family."
"The lessons have been learned, in particular the responsibility of all staff to report unaccounted staff absences," the agency said. "And this is being reinforced at all levels in SIS."
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: A composite of undated video grabbed images issued by Metropolitan Police of a video reconstruction, showing a yoga specialist trying to lock himself in a sports bag unaided, shown to the jury during the inquest of MI6 spy Gareth Williams. Credit: Metropolitan Police / PA Wire