Dead spy Gareth Williams' sister casts new doubt on official account of his death

No alarm was raised over disappearance despite missed meeting, says Williams’ sister

Gareth Williams, the MI6 officer who was found dead in a padlocked holdall in his bath, was so unhappy about "friction" at work and the "rat race" that he had asked for a transfer back to his previous post, his family has disclosed. The 31-year-old cipher specialist died a week before he had been due to return to work at GCHQ, the government listening post.

"He disliked office culture, post-work drinks, flash car competitions and the rat race," his sister, Ceri Subbe, told the inquest into his death yesterday. "He even spoke of friction in the office. The job was not quite what he expected. He encountered more red tape than he was comfortable with."

Mr Williams's family believes that he may have been executed by secret agents specialising in the "dark arts", with a cover-up subsequently organised to ensure the that his killers did not face justice.

Yesterday Ms Subbe insisted it was inconceivable that her brother would have voluntarily allowed anyone who had not been cleared by the security agencies into his home in Pimlico, south-west London. "He was very strict about only allowing people who had been vetted to visit his flat. I cannot emphasise enough his conscientiousness," she stressed.

"Gareth did not tell us what specifically he did as a job. Of course we knew where he worked, but he didn't speak about it in any detail."

On 23 August 2010, Mr Williams's family contacted MI6 after not having heard from him for over a week.

On 16 August, he had failed to turn up to chair a meeting at MI6 and was not seen subsequently until the discovery of his naked and decomposing remains. Ms Subbe said she had later spoken to an officer from MI6 who told her that her brother was extremely punctual "and it was highly unlikely for him to miss a meeting like that". Yet no alarm was raised by MI6 over an operative suddenly going missing.

The coroner, Fiona Wilcox, acknowledged that Mr Williams's death was "highly controversial" and has led to a "great deal of anxiety". Agents from MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service) and GCHQ will be giving their evidence from behind a screen. There would be "a real risk of harm to national security and international relations" if some of those giving evidence were identified, she said.

The inquest heard Mr Williams was a prodigy who took his O-levels aged 10 and began a degree course at Bangor University aged 16. Ms Subbe told the court that her brother "adored music, theatre and the arts, and fashion" and had undertaken two six-week design courses at Central St Martin's in London.

Officers from GCHQ and MI6 had held that Gareth Williams organised his own accommodation privately in the house at Alderney Street, Pimlico, as Anthony O'Toole QC, speaking for his family, pointed out. But there was evidence, he claimed, that it was a "safe house" used by the intelligence service. The inquest heard a statement from Vanessa Scott, who worked for an estate agency, W A Ellis, saying: "The Secretary of State had taken a contract on the property in 2003 and the tenancy would be continued."

The Scotland Yard homicide team carrying out the investigation into Mr Williams's death was not able to talk directly to members of MI6 and GCHQ, the inquest was told. Instead they had to give their questions to SO15, the Metropolitan Police's Counter-Terrorism Command, which carried out the interviews on their behalf.

Detective Chief Superintendent Hamish Campbell, from the Yard's Homicide and Serious Crime Command, stressed that the agencies co-operated fully with Scotland Yard, adding he was not aware of MI5, MI6 or SO15 carrying out their own independent investigations into Mr Williams's death. Asked by Dr Wilcox whether she was surprised that women's clothes worth £20,000 had been found at her brother's place, Ms Subbe said they were "possibly a gift", as her brother had been generous.

She had not, however, been given any clothes herself and did not know of anyone else who had received any items.

PC John Gallagher, who found Mr Williams's body, said his attention was caught on entering the flat by a woman's wig hanging on a chair as well as a mobile phone and two SIM cards on a table.

On going into the bathroom he noticed a bulging red holdall in the bath with the zip padlocked together. "I am realising it is something serious and my concern was to not damage anything in a crime scene." He lifted the bag up, when he could see red fluid seeping out. "Then there was the smell," he said. "Probably as a result of moving the bag. It is unusual because normally you would expect to smell it earlier," he said.

The inquest continues.

Williams's death: Timeline

11 August 2010 Mr Williams returns to Britain from a fly-drive holiday to the West coast of the United States.

15 August He is captured on CCTV in London's Knightsbridge after shopping at Harrods.

16 August He fails to turn up at MI6 to chair a meeting. No alarm is raised.

23 August Mr Williams's family alerts the police after not hearing from him for a week. His body is discovered padlocked inside a holdall in a bath in his top-floor flat at 36 Alderney Street in Pimlico.

1 September Westminster Coroner's Court hears a post-mortem examination has failed to establish the cause of death.

30 March 2012 A pre-inquest review hears that Mr Williams's family suspects an agent specialising in the "dark arts" may have covered up his death.