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There May Never Be An Explanation In Death Of MI6 Agent Found In Locked Bag

Gareth Williams, 31, worked for Britain's secret eavesdropping service GCHQ but was attached to the country's MI6 overseas spy agency.
Gareth Williams, 31, worked for Britain's secret eavesdropping service GCHQ but was attached to the country's MI6 overseas spy agency.

Gareth Williams was a talented agent for Britain's secretive and renowned foreign intelligence agency. Williams was a codebreaker for MI6, until he was found dead in his apartment.

Now, the circumstances weren't that simple: Williams was found naked and stuffed in a padlocked sports bag that was placed inside his bathtub. According to seven days of evidence given at an inquest hearing, Williams was a shy 31-year-old professional who didn't receive visits from very many people. Those who did visit had been previously cleared by the spy agency. But the investigation also found that Williams led a secret life. "He was said to have an extensive wardrobe of women's clothing and had explored websites linked to bondage," The Los Angeles Times reports.

Today, after a 21-month police investigation, a coroner in London said Williams was probably killed in a criminal act, but his death will likely remain a mystery.

Here's the AP, rounding up the findings:

"Coroner Fiona Wilcox said Wednesday it was unlikely that the demise of codebreaker Gareth Williams, 31, would "ever be satisfactorily explained," despite a 21-month police inquiry, and seven days of expert evidence to an inquest hearing. ...

"Wilcox said the spy was likely killed either by suffocation or poisoning in a 'criminally meditated act.'"

As you might expect, the BBC reports that Williams' family was "distressed at the verdict."

"To lose a son and a brother at any time is a tragedy. To lose a son and brother in such circumstances as have been outlined in the course of this inquest only compounds the tragedy," Robyn Williams, the family's solicitor, said according to the BBC.

"Our grief is exacerbated by the failure of his employers at MI6 to take even the most basic enquiries about his whereabouts and welfare which any reasonable employer would have taken," Williams continued. "We are also extremely disappointed over the reluctance and failure of MI6 to make available relevant information."

If you're interested in digging deeper into the mystery, The Telegraph has a good piece about the case today. They explain that Williams was a "scrupulous risk-assessor" and as "meticulous as a Swiss clock." So finding "£20,000 worth of exclusive designer women's clothing and shoes" was a surprise for a man who made £40,000 a year. A neighbor, adds the Telegraph, also once found him tied up to his bed posts in nothing but his boxers.

The Telegraph seems to imply that Williams' interest in bondage might have had something to do with his death. The one concrete thing the inquest found was that it was probably impossible for Williams to close the bag he was found in and lock himself up.

Of course, that would be the simple explanation.

The Guardian's story today focuses on how much information was kept from police by the MI6. The investigating officer, for example, did not know until Tuesday that "nine memory sticks and a holdall bag had been found at Williams's office in Vauxhall Cross, London."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.