Inquest opens into "body in the bag" spy case
LONDON (Reuters) - The sister of a British MI6 agent whose lifeless body was found padlocked inside a sports bag spoke on Monday of how he had complained of office tensions and of London's "rat race" shortly before he met his macabre death.
The naked decomposing corpse of Gareth Williams, 31, was found inside a red bag in a bath at his flat, near the headquarters of Britain's external intelligence service MI6, in central London on August 25, 2010.
Women's dresses and shoes worth around 20,000 pounds were also found at the flat, creating another mystery in an already complex case. They had never been worn.
"He disliked office culture, post-work drinks, flash car competitions and the rat race," his sister, Ceri Subbe, told an inquest trying to understand how Williams died.
"He even spoke of friction in the office," she added, clearly distraught.
A lawyer for the dead man's family said last month that "a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret services" might be responsible for his murder, fuelling speculation that he was killed by foreign spies and that MI6 might have covered it up.
At the time of his death, Williams was on a three-year secondment to MI6, which deals with foreign espionage matters and is headquartered at a large, modern, imposing building on the banks of the River Thames which often features in James Bond films.
But Subbe said her brother had wanted to return to his old post as a code breaker at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the state eavesdropping service which is based in a striking doughnut-shaped modernist building in Cheltenham, western England.
He had wanted to escape London for the countryside and return to a quieter pace of life, she said.
"His enthusiasm had begun to fade," she said. "I think the job wasn't quite what he had expected."
She told the inquest that in April 2010 Williams had sought to end his secondment to MI6. He had been due to return to Cheltenham just days after his body was found.
Bizarrely, there were no signs his flat had been broken into or indications of foul play, even though detectives do not believe he could have got into the bag by himself.
Toxicology tests found no traces of alcohol, drugs or poison in his body.
A SCRUPULOUS RISK ASSESSOR
A keen cyclist and hill-runner, who gained a university first class degree in mathematics at the age of just 17, Williams was single and intensely private.
Subbe, who was in regular contact with her brother, told the coroner that despite his worries about work he had been "very upbeat" and had not given any indication that he had been threatened or followed before his death.
She said he would not have let anyone into his flat who had not been vetted, nor give his keys to anyone apart from close family.
Nor, she said, would he have taken unnecessary risks, an apparent reference to suggestions that his death was an accident.
"Gareth was the most scrupulous risk assessor I have known," she said.
His body was not discovered until his family reported him missing, up to 12 days after he was last seen, raising questions about his employer's apparent lack of concern.
Detective Chief Superintendent Hamish Campbell, the officer in charge of the case, told the inquest that MI6 had been very cooperative. He was unaware that the spy agency had carried out its own probe, he added.
Police said their investigation was ongoing and that charges were possible.
"It's not a straightforward inquiry and it may at some stage result in criminal proceedings," Vincent Williams, a lawyer for London police, said.
The inquest is due to hear from 37 witnesses including four unnamed members of the intelligence services.
Three will give evidence from behind screens to protect their identity from the inquest, which in keeping with the nature of the mysterious case, is accessed from a small entrance guarded by security men, next to a sign saying the building is a health clinic.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn)
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