Death of Gareth Williams

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Gareth Williams
Gareth Wyn Williams

(1978-09-26)September 26, 1978
DiedAugust 16, 2010(2010-08-16) (aged 31)
Pimlico, London, England
Cause of deathAssassination/Unlawfully killed (ruled)
Accident (suspected)
OccupationSecret Intelligence Service employee
Known forUnusual death

Gareth Wyn Williams (26 September 1978 – c. 16 August 2010) was a Welsh mathematician and employee of GCHQ seconded to the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) who was found dead in suspicious circumstances at a Security Service safe house flat in Pimlico, London, on 23 August 2010.[1] The inquest found that his death was "unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated."[2] A subsequent Metropolitan Police re-investigation[3] concluded that Williams's death was "probably an accident".[4] Two senior British police sources have said some of Williams's work was focused on Russia – and one confirmed reports that he had been helping the US National Security Agency trace international money-laundering routes that are used by organised crime groups including Moscow-based mafia cells.[5]


Originally from Anglesey, Wales,[6] Williams, who spoke Welsh as a first language, began studying mathematics part-time at Bangor University, while still at Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern, and graduated with a first-class degree at age 17.[7] After gaining a PhD at the University of Manchester, he dropped out from a subsequent post-graduate course at St Catharine's College, Cambridge,[8] and took up employment with GCHQ in Cheltenham in 2001,[9] renting a room for nearly a decade in Prestbury, Gloucestershire. Reportedly an intensely private man and a keen cyclist, Williams was due to return to Cheltenham at the beginning of September 2010 after his annual leave.[10]


Gareth Williams' grave in Ynys Wen Cemetery, Valley, Anglesey.

Police visited Williams's home during the afternoon of Monday 23 August 2010, as a "welfare check" after colleagues noted he had been out of contact for several days.[11] His decomposing naked remains were found in a red The North Face bag, padlocked from the outside, in the bath of the main bedroom's en-suite bathroom.[12][13] The police had gained entry into his top floor flat in Alderney Street, Pimlico at around 16:40.[14] His family alleged that crucial DNA was interfered with and that fingerprints left at the scene were wiped off as part of a cover-up.[1] Inconclusive fragments of DNA components from at least two other contributors were found on the bag.[15] No fingerprints, palm-prints, footprints or traces of Williams's DNA were found on the rim of the bath, the bag zip or the bag padlock.[16] A key to the padlock was inside the bag, underneath his body.[17]

Williams was buried at Ynys Wen cemetery in Valley, Anglesey, on 26 September 2010, following a private funeral service at Bethel Chapel in Holyhead attended by his family, friends, former colleagues in the intelligence services, and also by the head of SIS, Sir John Sawers.[18][19][20]


Williams's date of death was estimated to have been in the early hours of 16 August, one week before he was found.[21]

Vincent Williams from the Metropolitan Police informed the Westminster Coroner's Court that experts were agreed that it was impossible for Gareth Williams to have locked himself in.[citation needed] and indeed it would have been impossible for him to have locked himself in given that he did not wear gloves and left no fingerprints on the bag[16]

Soon after the investigation started, the heads of the Secret Intelligence Service and Metropolitan Police met to discuss how the police would handle the investigation in light of the top secret nature of Williams's work, and who would lead the investigation. Williams had recently qualified for operational deployment, and had worked with U.S. National Security Agency and FBI agents. The U.S. State Department asked that no details of Williams's work should emerge at the inquest. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, signed a public-interest immunity certificate authorising the withholding from the inquest of details of Williams's work and U.S. joint operations.[18]

After launching an investigation, coroner Fiona Wilcox said that there were no injuries on his body and no signs that he had been involved in a struggle; his body was also free of alcohol and common recreational drugs.[22][23][24] The Metropolitan Police considered his death "suspicious and unexplained".[25] The FBI also conducted their own investigation into the case.[26]

In December 2010, police released further details, stating that Williams had visited a number of bondage websites although at the later inquest it was stated these visits were "sporadic and isolated" and accounted for only a small proportion of the time he spent online. It was also noted at the inquest that he never visited any website devoted to claustrophilia – a sexual interest in being confined in small spaces.[27]

An expert brought in to examine the bag in which Williams's body was found concluded that Williams could not have locked it. A police spokesperson stated that: "If he was alive, he got into it voluntarily or, if not, he was unconscious and placed in the bag."[28] There were no gloves found in the bag and no fingerprints on either the padlock nor indeed the bag.[16] This proves third party involvement given that if it had been self-inflicted there would have been no need or intent to wipe such evidence.

The heating in Williams's apartment was found to be turned on.[27] It has been suggested an elevated temperature inside the apartment would have sped up the decomposition of Williams's body.[29]

Subsequently, the police released an E-FIT photo of two people they were seeking, who were seen to enter the communal entrance of his home in June or July 2010.[28]

Coroner's inquest[edit]

The lawyer for the family, Anthony O'Toole, at the Coroner's inquest in March 2012, said that a second person was either present when Williams died, or someone broke in afterwards and stole items. There was no forensic evidence to support this view. No sign of forced entry could be found, but it was also noted that the door and locks had been removed by the time police experts had become involved.

DNA found on Williams's hand turned out to be contamination from one of the forensic scientists and the police determined that a Mediterranean couple they had been seeking had nothing to do with the inquiry.[30] LGC, the forensic company, apologized that the error had inflicted such pain on the family, caused by the incorrect data entry of a numerical code.[1]

Evidence at the inquest showed that it would have been virtually impossible for Williams to have locked himself in the bag.[31] Two experts were unable to lock themselves in a similar bag despite making 400 attempts to do so, although one stated there was a small chance Williams had managed the feat.[27] Pathologist Richard Shepherd stated it was more likely that Williams was alive when he got into the bag, due to the difficulty of arranging a corpse in the position Williams's body was found in. Another pathologist stated that Williams would have been overcome by hypercapnia, elevated carbon dioxide levels, after only two or three minutes in the bag.[27] A video surfaced on May 9, 2012, showing "that it is possible for someone to lock themselves in a bag identical to the one MI6 spy Gareth Williams was found in."[32] There were no gloves found in the bag and no fingerprints on either the padlock nor indeed the bag.[16]

Williams's family said they believed that they suspected this person “was a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret services”.[33]

Fiona Wilcox, the Coroner, said that she "follow the evidence" wherever it led.[1]

Evidence given by Williams's former landlady in Cheltenham showed that one night he had awoken her and her husband, screaming for help. Apparently he had managed to tie himself to his bed, and required assistance in releasing himself. The testimony was that Williams had claimed at the time that he had done it just to see if he could free himself and that he promised not to try this again. Nothing further had been said about the incident since between Williams and his landlady.[34]

Evidence was given of £20,000 worth of women's clothing being found in the flat.[35]

Journalist Duncan Campbell reported that the inquest evidence indicated Williams was one of a team of intelligence officers sent to penetrate US and UK hacking networks. He had attended the 2010 Black Hat Briefings and DEF CON conferences. He had started with SIS in London in spring 2009, and after taking a number of training courses started on "active operational work".[9] A few months before his death, he asked to return to GCHQ as he disliked the "rat race, flash car competitions and post-work drinking culture" at SIS and as a keen cyclist and walker wanted to go back to the countryside, and was due to return in September.[36]

Inquest verdict[edit]

The coroner found in a narrative verdict that Williams's death was "unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated". The coroner was "satisfied that on the balance of probabilities that Gareth was killed unlawfully". There was insufficient evidence to give a verdict of unlawful killing. The coroner concluded that another party placed the bag containing Williams into the bath, and on the balance of probabilities locked the bag. No fingerprints were found around the bath nor the bag. The coroner was critical of SIS for failing to report Williams missing for seven days, which caused extra anguish and suffering for his family, and led to the loss of forensic evidence.[3][36][37]

The coroner rejected suicide, interest in bondage or cross-dressing, or "auto-erotic activity" being involved in Williams's death.[38] She said his visits to bondage websites only occurred intermittently and were not of a frequency to indicate an active interest.[36] The coroner condemned leaks about cross-dressing as a possible attempt at media manipulation.[3]

The coroner was highly critical of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command (SO15), who failed to tell the senior investigating officer before the inquest began of the existence of nine memory sticks and other property in Williams's SIS office. SO15 failed to take formal statements when interviewing SIS officers. The coroner said the possible involvement of SIS staff in the death was a legitimate line of inquiry for the police.[3]

Metropolitan Police investigation[edit]

The finding by the coroner prompted a re-investigation by the Metropolitan Police lasting a further 12 months which officers said had been allowed unprecedented access to serving MI6 staff following strong criticism at the inquest of the spying agency's actions following the death of Mr Williams.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt announced that despite a re-examination of all evidence and the investigation of new leads no definitive answers had been obtained as to the cause of Williams's death and the "most probable scenario" was that he had died alone in his flat in Pimlico, central London, as the result of accidentally locking himself inside the bag.[39][40]

2015 developments[edit]

In September and October 2015, Boris Karpichkov, a former KGB agent who defected from Russia and who now lives in Britain, stated during interviews that "sources in Russia" have claimed that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, also known as the SVR, was responsible for Williams's murder. According to Karpichkov, the SVR tried and failed to blackmail Williams into becoming a double agent.[41]

In response to the SVR's attempts, Williams apparently claimed that he knew "the identity of a Russian spy inside the GCHQ." Karpichkov claimed that Williams's threat meant that "the SVR then had no alternative but to exterminate him in order to protect their agent inside GCHQ." Regarding the cause of death, Karpichkov claimed that the SVR killed Williams "by an untraceable poison introduced in his ear."[42][41]

The 2015 BBC Two television series London Spy is loosely based on the Williams case. The miniseries stars Ben Whishaw as Danny, who is accused of murder after his partner, MI6 spy Alex, is found dead inside a locked trunk.[43][44]

2021 developments[edit]

In February 2021 it was reported that a single hair found on Williams' hand could solve the mystery of his death. At the time of the investigation, forensic scientists said that the hair belonged to a person other than Williams, but could not extract a DNA profile. Professor Angela Gallop, the leading forensic scientist who founded the laboratory that carried out the testing, announced that, with technical advances, a profile could now be extracted from two millimetres of hair. She said she would be "happy" to help the police. The Metropolitan Police responded that there were no plans to review of the case since both an investigation and an inquest has been completed.[45] However on 22 February, the Metropolitan Police stated they were assessing whether new information and techniques could help the case.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter "Was MI6 spy-in-a-bag Gareth Williams killed by 'secret service dark arts'?" Archived 31 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, The Telegraph, 30 March 2012.
  2. ^ Davies, Caroline; Laville, Sandra (2 May 2012). "MI6 and Met condemned over Gareth Williams' death". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 February 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d Caroline Davies; Sandra Laville (2 May 2012). "MI6 and Met condemned over Gareth Williams's death". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  4. ^ "MI6 spy Gareth Williams death 'probably an accident', police say" Archived 14 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 13 November 2013.
  5. ^ Warren, Tom; Leopold, Jason; Campbell, Alex; Holmes, Richard; Bradley, Jane; Blake, Heidi (20 June 2017). The Secrets Of The Spy In The Bag. BuzzFeed News. Archived from the original on 30 June 2020. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  6. ^ "Dead MI6 worker is Welsh". ITV News. 25 August 2010. Archived from the original on 30 August 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  7. ^ "MI6 worker Gareth Williams was an 'exceptional' pupil". BBC North West Wales. 26 August 2010. Archived from the original on 23 August 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  8. ^ Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy "Who was Gareth Williams?" Archived 12 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine The Guardian, 20 November 2010.
  9. ^ a b Duncan Campbell (3 May 2012). "GCHQ's spy death riddle shines light on UK hacker war". The Register. Archived from the original on 5 May 2012. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
  10. ^ Vikram Dodd, et al "MI6 worker murdered, stuffed in a bag and dumped in a bath" Archived 26 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 25 August 2010.
  11. ^ "Exclusive: new details on MI6 spy's death" Archived 30 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Channel 4 News, 28 August 2010.
  12. ^ "Spy last seen alive eight days before body was found in bag" Archived 16 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian (Press Association), 28 August 2010.
  13. ^ "Body of MI6 worker Gareth Williams 'locked in bag'". BBC News. 1 September 2010. Archived from the original on 1 September 2010. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  14. ^ Helen Pidd "'British spy' found dead in bath" Archived 18 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 25 August 2010.
  15. ^ "Gareth Williams: the key unanswered questions". The Guardian. 2 May 2012.
  16. ^ a b c d "MI6 spy found dead in bag probably locked himself inside, Met says". The Guardian. 13 November 2013. Retrieved 7 February 2021.
  17. ^ Clarke-Billings, Lucy (24 October 2015). "'Spy in bag' Gareth Williams was 'murdered by Russian hitmen after sexual photo blackmail plot'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 25 October 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
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  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 31 July 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ Tom Pettifor (10 March 2012). "Was body-in-the-bag spy Gareth Williams betrayed by a double agent? – Mirror Online". Archived from the original on 22 April 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  21. ^ "Profile: MI6 spy Gareth Williams" Archived 25 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 23 April 2012.
  22. ^ Lutwyche, Jayne (24 September 2010). "Police appeal for information in MI6 worker, Gareth Williams, death inquiry". ITV. Archived from the original on 26 September 2015. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  23. ^ Sam Jones and Matthew Taylor "Gareth Williams's parents identify body" Archived 20 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 26 August 2010.
  24. ^ Caroline Davies (6 September 2010). "Police issue CCTV footage of dead MI6 worker". London: Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 November 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  25. ^ "More tests due on body of MI6 worker Gareth Williams" Archived 26 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 26 August 2010.
  26. ^ Thomas, Gordon; Sawer, Patrick (25 September 2010). "FBI joins investigation into MI6 spy's death". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 26 September 2010.
  27. ^ a b c d Davis, Caroline (2 May 2012). "Gareth Williams: the key unanswered questions". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  28. ^ a b "Dead MI6 spy Gareth Williams 'visited bondage websites'". BBC News. 22 December 2010. Archived from the original on 23 December 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2010.
  29. ^ Editor, David Collins, Northern. "Gareth Williams: evidence revealed in the case of the spy's body in the bag". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 7 February 2021.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
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  32. ^ [1]
  33. ^ Blake, Tom Warren, Jason Leopold, Alex Campbell, Richard Holmes, Jane Bradley, Heidi. "The Death Of The Spy In The Bag Is One of 14 Suspected Hits Linked To Russia". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 7 February 2021.
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  41. ^ a b Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith (28 September 2015) MI6 spy Gareth Williams was ‘killed by Russia for refusing to become double agent’, former KGB man claims Archived 8 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Independent.
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  43. ^ Ryan, Gary (16 November 2015). "'London Spy' – Writer Tom Rob Smith On The Real-Life Inspiration Behind The Dark BBC Spy Drama". NME. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
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Coordinates: 51°29′25″N 0°08′44″W / 51.49016°N 0.14553°W / 51.49016; -0.14553