Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gareth Williams : The Perfect Murder

It is nearly two weeks since the body of MI6 code-breaker Gareth Williams was found padlocked in a sports bag in his flat, and normally by now police would be hoping to make an announcement of an arrest.

Scotland Yard detectives have been working closely with MI6 agents to uncover the truth about how the maths genius and cipher expert was found dead, apparently without a single mark on his body.

Yet, far from nearing a breakthrough in the inquiry, the Standard understands that detectives are increasingly frustrated at the course the investigation is taking.

In a twist that could come from the plot of a Sherlock Holmes story, it is understood that officers can find no obvious sign that anyone else was in the flat at the time of his death.

The conclusion, if proved, raises the possibility that Williams died alone or, alternatively, his killer was so skilful that he left no clues; he — or possibly even they — may have committed the perfect murder.

One highly respected pathologist told the Standard today it was possible that the cause of his death may never be fully known.

Police officers were first called to Williams's home — the top-floor flat of a MI6 “safe house” in Alderney Street, Pimlico — at approximately 6.30pm on Monday, August 23, when his MI6 employers became concerned for his “welfare” after he failed to turn up for work.

In the large en-suite bathroom off the master bedroom, officers found a large red hold-all in the bath, containing William's curled-up body. The bag, believed to be from the North Face adventure company, had been padlocked from the outside and placed in the bath tub.

(However, there are media reports that Williams was covered with a liquid  (not water) to enhance decay , maybe this should not have been reported ?)

Yet what puzzled detectives was that nothing else seemed out of place in the £400,000 flat which Mr Williams had rented for a year while on secondment to M16 from Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). There was no sign of a struggle, forced entry or theft; everything was “spotless” and in order, according to one officer who has been inside.

Personal possessions — including two iPhones and Sim cards — had been laid out neatly on a table. There were laptops, one an expensive Apple Mac.

So far pathologists have carried out two post-mortems, but both have failed to establish how Williams died, though the examination was complicated by the fact that the body was said to be in an “advanced state of decay”.

What is known, however, is that Williams, a 31-year-old cycling fanatic, had not been shot or stabbed and did not appear to have been strangled.

Detectives must now wait for the results of numerous toxicology tests to find out whether he was drugged, poisoned or even smothered.

Detectives and specialists working on the case know that asphyxiation is sometimes difficult to trace and privately fear the possibility that an exact cause of death may never be found and thereby denying them one of the most important clues for solving any murder investigation.

Dr Stuart Hamilton, one of 36 Home Office pathologists covering England and
Wales, said that some more subtle forms of asphyxiation left few marks and therefore sometimes could not be discovered.

The Scotland Yard inquiry into Williams's death has focused on several main strands, including the scene at his flat when officers first arrived, and tracing the code-breaker's movements in the days before he is thought to have died.

In suspicious cases such as these, the police will also look into the dead person's background, but, it is understood, Williams's preference for keeping his personal life a secret from colleagues, family and friends has made this task incredibly difficult.

Detectives hold out hope that someone will come forward with information to help them piece together Williams's “four mystery days” between Wednesday, August 11, when he was in
London and spoke to his sister Ceri Subbe on the phone, and Sunday, August 15 — the last time he was seen alive.

Ceri, a physiotherapist in Wrexham, raised the alarm after her brother failed to return her calls and has since travelled to London to help police.

Officers, extremely sensitive to the Williams family grief, nonetheless are of the view that the riddle of how Williams died most probably lies with his private life — even though there are no firm leads in that direction nearly two weeks after his death. His parents, who live in
Anglesey, describe their son as extremely reserved but they are adamant he was not gay.

Rumours that bondage gear and gay escort agency numbers were found at Williams's flat have been flatly denied by his family, who say these more lurid claims may be smears, intended to discredit him.

There are reports that he frequented a gay bar near the MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall, but detectives can find no trace of a boyfriend, or girlfriend, and there is nothing to suggest he was a secret drinker or drug taker.

In fact, the opposite is true: Williams lived for his job and his cycling, regularly riding with his father around Anglesey and in local competitions with his club.

One line of inquiry is that Mr Williams died in an accident, a sex game that went wrong perhaps. But police say that if this was so why is it taking so long to find the “suspect”, who, if he panicked and fled the scene, should have left clues to his identity.

Police have combed the flat for fingerprints and DNA and searched CCTV in the area, but they are not believed to have identified a prime suspect. They are also sifting through his Sim cards to trace every call he made, but still have not found a motive.

One detective said: “The fact that no one has come forward could mean that no one was there. It could mean someone is frightened or it could be more sinister.”

Police have spoken to colleagues in MI6 and examined Williams's bank accounts for details of extraordinary payments, but again they have found nothing suspicious.

Williams's skills as a cipher expert and code-breaker were so highly valued that he regularly travelled — it is rumoured to
Afghanistan to monitor codes between the Taliban, and to America, where he liaised with the National Security Agency and the CIA.

Of course, the possibility remains that he was the target of a foreign espionage agency, and murdered with a deadly toxin or even gas unidentifiable by toxicologists, but two weeks on, Scotland Yard is not even classifying Williams's death as murder. And if it is murder, it is one executed without trace.

Three experts look at the next stage

Nigel McCrery

A former murder squad detective who devised the
BBC1 drama Silent Witness, McCrery said the pathologist would be vital in solving the mystery surrounding the death of Gareth Williams. “That's the only person who can really give an indication to police in cases like this,” he said. “If the case isn't solved within 48 hours, the chance of it being solved goes down by 70 per cent. After that it's foot-slogging and good old-fashioned detective work.
“The first thing is to establish where he died. If he is naked, where are his clothes? Has anything disappeared from his flat? There is a famous adage that every contact leaves a trace. I think there is a very good chance it will get solved. I don't think it's anything to do with the Russians or spies — perhaps it was a sexual encounter that got out of hand (Williams's family has denied he led a homosexual lifestyle). People are fascinated by other people's lives. It's also a puzzle — we are great puzzle-solvers. That is why
Dr Stuart Hamilton
Home Office pathologist
One of 36 Home Office pathologists covering England and Wales, Dr Hamilton said a key factor would be the state of the decomposition of the body.
“The worse the state of the body, the less likely it is that the post-mortem will be conclusive,” said Dr Hamilton. “We will tend to get all of the trappings' — the clothes and any possessions — that were found with the body. All of these things can help you work through to what the police are asking: is this a homicide or not? But a body in a bag is suspicious. Sometimes you just have to conclude that you can't identify a cause of death. Figures show that one case in 20 will not yield a cause of death at autopsy, although my experience is that it's considerably lower than that.”

Is there the perfect crime? “I have no doubt that they happen. I suspect that people are poisoned subtly, but that won't be picked up if there is an autopsy without a toxicology report. People could be getting smothered without others ever knowing about it. I try to frighten my trainees by telling them I have done 2,500 to 3,000 autopsies and there is probably a homicide I have missed. But you have to be pretty smart to get one past us.”

David BlackNovelist
The writer who based his book The Great Satan on his 11 years in the SAS said that nerve gas should be counted among the possible causes of death.
“I know for a fact that one of the security services around the world made inquiries to see if they could get hold of paintballs filled with nerve gas,” he said. “If you were going to assassinate somebody, there are a couple of options. The guy could just disappear. The next one is to make it look like an accident. If you push a guy down the stairs and break his neck, when he hits the ground, the chances are it will look like an accident.

“We don't know yet how Gareth Williams died. They didn't find any blows to his head. He must have been dead when they put him in the bag — but why put him in there? If it is some bizarre poison that some secret service in the world has developed, that will be a big clue to why he was killed. That is if he was killed at all. Secret services will kill to defend their own secrets — we will and so will everybody else. Was it our own people that did it? Who knows? If there was such a thing as a perfect crime, we would never know. If it's a matter of national security, nothing is beyond being swept under the carpet.”
Ross Lydall
Agatha Christie was so successful. It is a bit like an episode of Silent Witness meets Spooks.”