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‘Spy in a bag’ likely to have been killed with poison, inquest told

Asphyxiation is said to be the other most likely explanation for the death of Mr Williams

The MI6 officer found dead in a bag may have been poisoned, an inquest heard yesterday.

Poisoning and asphyxiation were the "foremost contenders" for the death, consultant pathologist Benjamin Swift told the inquest. Overcome by carbon dioxide, Gareth Williams would have lost consciousness within two to three minutes if the bag had been sealed.

Yesterday, scientists said they had found traces of "at least" two unknown people who had been in Williams's apartment prior to the death, despite evidence he rarely entertained guests.

The inquest heard that post-mortem examinations were hampered by decomposition of the body caused by heat because the radiators had been left on.

According to the findings, Williams had been dead for 10 days at the time of the post-mortem examination, consistent with the last time he was seen alive on CCTV on 15 August 2010.

His naked body was found in a padlocked holdall in his bath at his top-floor flat in Pimlico, central London, on 23 August 2010. The Home Office pathologist Richard Shepherd said it was "more likely than not" that Williams was alive when he entered the bag, but it was "an extremely difficult call".

Because of the "floppiness" of a newly dead body, it was not easy to place a body as neatly as Williams was found, he said. Hypercapnia – a high level of carbon dioxide in the blood – would be a "reasoned explanation" of what might have happened to Mr Williams, the pathologist noted.

Examinations on August 25, 2010 – two days after Mr Williams was found in a holdall in his bathroom – gave cause of death as "unascertained". But under questioning, Dr Swift said poisoning or asphyxiation such as suffocation were "probably rather than possibly" to blame. Another pathologist, Richard Shepherd, said it was "more likely (Mr Williams) was alive when he entered the bag than that he was dead".

There was, however, "no suggestion" the spy's body had been manhandled into the holdall and were he to have been forced into it either alive or straight after he died, marks on his body would have been expected, Mr Shepherd said. The hearing continues today.