David Randall: Baffling death, a bluffer's demise, BP's mates, and the banality of evil

Four corners of the world

Share
Related Topics

Surprisingly little attention – given the international hoo-ha his death caused – has been given to Thursday's results of toxicology tests on the body of MI6 mathematician and code expert Gareth Williams. He was found, remember, naked, in a kneeling position, inside a large sports holdall which had been padlocked. The tests showed no trace of poison, alcohol, or drugs in his body, which knocked on the head the idea that Mr Williams had been sedated, bagged up, and left to die.

Other theories, however, continue to flourish, among them the persistent one that Mr Williams was afflicted with a sexual kink only satisfied by severe confinement. The Sun reports that he had recently visited websites on claustrophobia and sadomasochism, allowing them to headline their story: "Bag spook died in 'Houdini' game". Similar reports have been denied in the past, and all police will say is that they continue to seek a couple who were let into Mr Williams's flat shortly before the assumed time of his death.

Five years ago, Stephen Wilce was appointed New Zealand's chief defence scientist with access to military secrets. Officials there were impressed when he told them how he had: served as a helicopter pilot in both the Falklands conflict and the first Gulf War; played rugby for Wales; was a member of the Royal Society; and competed as an Olympic bobsleigher. All, it turns out, were brazen lies, as was his claim to have been chief executive of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (he was, instead, its bar and restaurant manager); so too was his claim to have swum for England at the Commonwealth Games. Exit Mr Wilce.

The wonder is that it took five years for this Walter Mitty to be unmasked, and required the attentions of television journalists – rather than New Zealand's security services – to do so. What we have here, one suspects, is one of the great rules of career life in operation: that the last people capable of spotting a bluff, blazered, outgoing bullshitter are other bluff, blazered, outgoing bullshitters. A woman, or a geek, on the appointments board would, one suspects, have rumbled him in seconds.

The idea that BP was solely responsible for the Gulf oil spill was always preposterous. As we pointed out in June, of 126 of the people on the Deepwater Horizon rig, only eight worked for BP; and at least six other companies were involved in the operation. These facts did not stop the hand-on-heart, flag-salutin' US press blaming "British Petroleum", as they erroneously called the company, for all the oily ills befalling the Gulf and its coast.

Sure enough, that much nationalistic certitude is bound to come a cropper, and three days ago the president's own oil spill commission revealed that large questions now surround Halliburton (ex-boss, one Dick Cheney), who carried out the cementing at the site. The US firm skipped a crucial test on the cement used to seal the well, while an independent test for the commission questioned the stability of the cement mix used. The commission has many more issues on which to report. Expect BP to be far from alone in the dock.

Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's foreign minister and the man who, in the first Gulf War, also seemed to be the least unhinged member of the Baghdad government, has been sentenced to death by Iraq's high tribunal. He was convicted of being party to the persecution, torture and killing of Shia Islamist party members, by dint of his role on the Saddam-era Revolutionary Command Council. This regularly issued decrees ordering the torture and extermination of scores of thousands of Shias and their families. The 74-year-old can still appeal, but, if that fails, he will hang after 30 days.

Several groups have questioned the tribunal's impartiality, but there is no doubt that Aziz was a member of the council, nor the reign of terror over which it presided. Part of this reaction is perhaps explained by Aziz failing what might be called the "ogre test": because he looks like a kindly bookshop owner, it seems harder to believe he connived at evil. Time, if so tempted, to scan the banalities in the dock at Nuremburg.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior C++ Developer

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Senior C++ Developer – L...

SEN English Teacher

upto £110 a day approx: Randstad Education Cheshire: English EBD Teacher requi...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Client Services Associate (MS Office, Analysis, Graduate)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client Services Associate (Microsoft Office, Ana...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz