The spy in the bathtub, part one

The cliché holds that I should begin my article with "It was like the plot to a spy thriller", so I won't.
This is the longest article I have written so far, but I hope you will persevere.

Police line outside 36 Alderney Street, after the discovery

Police broke down the door of Gareth Williams' flat at 36 Alderney Street after he had not been seen for "at least 10 days". Work colleagues had become concerned. At first the story was not heavily-reported, but it soon became clear what "work" this was.

Gareth Williams worked for GCHQ, effectively the UK equivalent of the United States NSA. GCHQ is responsible for SIGINT (signals intelligence) for the British state, i.e. communications interception and the decryption of data collected. The agency has several listening stations, in Britain and abroad in places like Cyprus, and monitors various communications systems.

SIS (MI6) headquarters at Vauxhall Cross in London

At the time of his death, Williams was on secondment to MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. MI6 is responsible for international intelligence-gathering, as opposed to MI5 (the Security Service), which is responsible for internal intelligence-gathering. Both rely mostly on HUMINT (human intelligence), as opposed to GCHQ's electronic surveillance. Together, the three fall under the oversight of the JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee). During his secondment, Williams worked at the MI6's headquarters at Vauxhall Cross, in central London (shown above), half a mile from where he lived.

A red North Face holdall

Williams' naked body was found in a zipped and padlocked bag, a red North Face holdall presumably similar to the one below. The bag was found in an empty bathtub, in the ensuite bathroom of his flat. Toxicology tests revealed no trace of alcohol or other recreational drugs. Nothing appeared to be missing, and there was no sign of a forced entry or disturbance inside.

Interestingly, police officers found a mobile phone and several mobile phone SIM cards laid out at the flat when they entered. It's hard to believe this isn't significant.

The Metropolitan Police classified his death as "suspicious and unexplained". A spokesman said "A post-mortem examination at Westminster Mortuary was unable to provide a cause of death and further tests will take place."

The last CCTV footage of supposed MI6 employee, Gareth Williams

It seems now that Williams may have been dead for less than 2 weeks when the grim discovery was made. The date on the CCTV footage shows the 14th of August, 2010. Williams' body was found on the 23rd of August, according to the BBC. Police are looking to speak to anyone who had seen Williams between the 11th of August and the 23rd of August. Thanks to the saturation of CCTV in London, police have been able to track several of his shopping trips to Harrod's and other upmarket stores after returning from a holiday on the 11th.

The police have also said they are looking for a couple who visited his flat a month before he was found dead. The couple the police are looking to speak to are described as a man and a woman of Mediterranean origin, about 29 or 30 years old. They apparently visited the property in the late evening in June or July.

It is not clear that this murder had anything to do with Williams' work. The police unit investigating the death is the homicide unit, rather than one of the unit which would usually investigate terrorist or espionage incidents.

Some experts such as Professor Anthony Glees, Director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, think otherwise:

In my own opinion, a murder of this kind bears all the hallmarks of a professional killing and not a rage attack, It looks increasingly to me that a hostile intelligence service was responsible. To me this looks like a Russian job - they have killed in London before - but it could also be an Iranian one.

The most recent (suspected) Russian assassination in London was the death of Alexander Litvinenko from polonium poisoning in 2006. The lack of obvious signs of forced entry or a struggle would certainly a suggest a professional operation rather a burglary, in which nothing was taken.

36 Alderney Street at an undefined date, possibly before the murder

I looked up Williams' address on Google Street View and found the same view as in the press photographs of the police-line (see below). You can see the join between two images above. Street View images aren't dated, so I can't say whether this was before or after he died.

Williams lived in the top-floor flat, but zooming in on those windows reveals nothing of interest, not even a plant in the window. Perhaps the Mercedes Benz parked outside belonged to Gareth Williams? Direct link to the Street View of 36 Alderney Street

More to come...

Media coverage:

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