LONDON -- A British coroner pronounced the mysterious death of a secret intelligence service employee as unexplainable, and not the result of “unlawful killing,” after eight days of evidence heard before the dead man's distraught family.
In a two-hour narrative verdict that allowed for the laying out of evidence without giving a definitive verdict, Dr. Fiona Wilcox said it was unlikely that the death of Gareth Williams, a code-breaking expert, would ever be satisfactorily explained.
The naked and decomposing body of the 31-year-old Williams, who was described as a brilliant mathematician and code breaker on a temporary contract to MI6, Britain’s central foreign intelligence agency, was found packed in an airtight duffel bag in the bathroom of his apartment in central London on Aug. 23, 2010.
Pathological reports said he had been dead for a week by the time he was reported missing for work by MI6 personnel staff. Press reports on investigations of Williams’ death revealed that, for security reasons, much evidence had not been handed over to London central police by special branch officers working with MI6, included possessions he kept in the workplace and memory sticks.
From press reports over the past week, a picture of Williams emerged as a bachelor, a brilliant mathematician and logician, a cycling enthusiast and a shy colleague. He was 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 there were no signs of any struggle.
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 had heavy criticism for 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 emerged in the last 48 hours.
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.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Gareth Williams worked for Britain's MI6 spy agency. Credit: London Metropolitan Police