MI6 inquiry will ask why it took two weeks to find murdered officer

MI6 is investigating why it took two weeks to discover that a GCHQ officer on secondment to the agency had been murdered.

Gareth Williams's body was found stuffed into a sports bag in the bath at his home in central London by Metropolitan Police officers. They forced their way into the flat on Monday afternoon after colleagues reported he had not been seen for some time.

While police and MI6 officers do not believe the 31-year-old's murder had anything to do with his work as a codes and ciphers expert, they are concerned that any agent could go missing for such a long time without checks being made on their whereabouts.

Investigators suspect Mr Williams may have known his killer as there was no sign of forced entry at his top-floor flat in a smart street in Pimlico where his neighbours included wealthy bankers and politicians, including former home secretaries Michael Howard and Lord Brittan.

Scotland Yard's Homicide and Serious Crime Command was investigating whether the victim's private life or relationships offered any clues that could identify his murderer. As a fingertip search was conducted on the property, police have been examining his telephone and financial records, as well as CCTV footage from the area. A post-mortem examination proved inconclusive and detectives are now awaiting the result of toxicology tests.

Before gaining his post at the national "listening post" Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Mr Williams would have undergone strict vetting including a nine-month process of interviews, background checks and a medical. As well as examining his family history and personal circumstances, it would assess whether he had the character for the secret world of intelligence work.

However, there were questions raised last night as to whether he may have held something back from his employers. Family and friends painted a picture of an athletic young man, a keen cyclist and runner, who was deeply private and rarely socialised.

His mother's cousin, William Hughes, said: "I knew he worked at GCHQ and he had been working in London but I didn't know what he did. It wasn't said that we shouldn't talk about it, I simply never asked and he never told me. He was a bright boy from a young age and his parents were very proud of him."

Mr Hughes added that his parents, Ian and Ellen, as well as his younger sister, Ceri, were deeply shocked and devastated by the news. His mother and father, from Wales, were picked up by police upon their return from a holiday in America on Tuesday and taken to identify his body in London.

A childhood friend, Dylan Parry, 34, described Mr Williams as academically gifted but socially naive, an isolated boy fascinated by mathematics and computers. Mr Parry, who went to school with Mr Williams at Uwchradd Bodedern secondary in Anglesey, said that he travelled to Bangor University every week aged 16 to study for a mathematics degree part-time. He later graduated from the university with a first class degree.

"It was clear he was going to go far, but we all assumed he would end up in academia. Finding out he became a spy was a shock," he added.

Keith Thompson, of Holyhead Cycling Club, said he had known Mr Williams since he joined the club at the age of 17. He said: "It's true that he was very quiet. He wasn't a great conversationalist. We were club mates but Gareth wasn't the sort to go to the pub after a race so he didn't have any close friends in the group. I never spoke to him about his job or his private life. Nobody did with Gareth."

Charles Cumming, author of A Spy by Nature, who was approached himself for recruitment by the SIS after university, said the secretive nature of the work and the long hours could prove a real burden on relationships and many chose to mix within the services.

But he added: "I think the pressure that spies are put under has been exaggerated by programmes like Spooks. People who go into the work are highly intelligent, highly motivated and well aware of the sacrifices they are making. To a man or woman they don't find the restrictions all that difficult."

While MI6 remained an "alpha male" culture, he added, GCHQ was a very different environment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most