By Crispin Black – former government intelligence adviser
SITTING at the Gareth Williams inquest this week, listening to the more lurid details of the case, it occurred to me the death of spooks in bizarre circumstances involving sex games or women’s clothing is hardly an unusual event.
Disposing of an enemy and making it look like a perverted fantasy gone wrong is in the training manuals of every spy agency from MI6 to Mossad.
Codebreaker Gareth, from Anglesey, north Wales, was found dead in a locked bag, in a flat full of women’s clothing and wigs and with his internet browsing history conveniently featuring bondage sites, sparking a flurry of allegations which horrified his parents.
But the fact the 31-year-old’s death scene was organised in such a way as to suggest a sex game gone wrong should make us more suspicious, not less.
The sex game cover is a very useful mechanism in a murder. Not only does it provide a disguise for the actual means and method of death, it trashes the reputation of the victim and blunts the energy of any subsequent investigation.
And it appears to explain the astonishing number of spies, and other people who step into their murky world, who turn up dead in circumstances similar to Gareth.
Take GCHQ personnel for instance, those that work at the vast electronic doughnut in Cheltenham that is responsible for intercepting and decoding secret electronic traffic of interest to Her Majesty’s Government. And Gareth’s ultimate employer.
In 1983, 25-year-old Stephen Drinkwater, who worked as a clerk at GCHQ, was found dead at his home with a plastic bag over his head. In 1997 another worker, Nicholas Husband, 46, was found dead at home dressed in a bra and panties – with a plastic bag over his head.
Two years later, Kevin Allen, 31, a language expert at GCHQ, was found dead in his bed with a plastic bag over his head and a dust mask over his mouth. One wonders what the Gloucestershire Constabulary make of it all.
To be fair, the kind of higher mathematical ability that many GCHQ codebreakers have is rare and it sometimes comes with some personal eccentricities attached.
Alan Turing, the Cambridge academic and founder of modern computer science who became the greatest of the wartime Bletchley Park codebreakers was a distinctly odd fish – a loner with sexual hang-ups who seemed to spend most of his waking hours dreaming of obscure mathematical theorems.
The point was amusingly made in 60s film The Italian Job in which Charlie Croker, played by Michael Caine, recruits computer genius Professor Simon Peach – Benny Hill – to pull off a daring bullion robbery.
But the whole scheme nearly comes unstuck as Prof Peach is unable to control his powerful urges towards large women. MI6, who recruit a more worldly-wise type than the boffins of GCHQ, have not been immune.
In 1994 ex-MI6 man turned journalist James Rusbridger, 65, was found hanged at his house in Cornwall – in a green chemical protection suit including rubber gloves, gas mask and black plastic mackintosh. Bondage pictures completed the tableau.
And of course, according to the pathologist, it turned out he probably did it himself as part of a sex game.
The same year Stephen Milligan, the Tory MP for Eastleigh, was found dead with electrical flex tied round his neck, a black bin liner over his head and wearing stockings and suspenders.
The 45-year-old was also tied to a chair and had a satsuma stuffed into his mouth.
His boss at the time, then junior defence minister Jonathan Aitken, has since denied suggestions Milligan had links to MI6.
Even if you are not a spook you need to be careful. In 1990, ex-RAF helicopter pilot and editor of Defence Helicopter World Jonathan Moyle, 28, was found hanged in the wardrobe of his hotel in Chile with a pillow case over his head.
At the time his demise was widely thought to be an auto-erotic accident. He was in fact almost certainly murdered after uncovering links between Chilean arms dealers and Saddam Hussein.
The last person to give evidence at the Gareth Williams inquest was Detective Chief Inspector Jackie Sebire – the senior investigating officer in the case.
She stated confidently that she was sure she and her team would be able to unlock the mystery in the end. But she also felt that this, her final appearance in court, was an appropriate time to remind the assembled audience of Williams’s internet browsing habits.
The last website he accessed probably just a few hours before his death was connected to cycling – a photo of him competing in a cross-country cycling race has been seen frequently in the national newspapers.
But then she went on to deal with the browsing information that had been made much of in the media over the last 20 months. Williams had accessed bondage websites on four days over a two-year period.
He had never accessed so-called “claustrophilia” sites which cater for people who get a thrill out of being confined in small spaces.
There we have it – the view of the woman in charge of the probe. Williams may have had a passing interest in bondage but no more than that. Even this passing interest may have a perfectly innocent explanation.
All MI6 officers get extensive training before they are allowed out on to the streets. Much of this takes place at Fort Monckton near Gosport in Hampshire – a Napoleonic era fortress surrounded by barbed wire and accessible only by a drawbridge.
It includes instruction in basic entry and exit procedures – buildings and cars mainly. If you ever get locked out of your flat and know a friendly spook from school or university give them a ring.
They should be able to get you back inside and could save you a fortune on locksmith’s fees. The instruction also includes some counter-surveillance techniques – how to make sure you are not followed.
And instruction on what to do if you fall into the wrong hands – resistance to interrogation and crucially, what to do if you are restrained – tied or chained up.
It is possible Williams had some of this training and it might well account for the episode when he was discovered tied up in his room by his landlady.
That the sex game angle was a simple smear is a view certainly not ruled out by the Westminster coroner who said, “it is still a legitimate line of inquiry” Gareth died at the hands of MI6.
In her narrative verdict, Dr Fiona Wilcox said: “I am sure a third party placed the bag into the bath and on the balance of probabilities locked the bag.
The cause of death was unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated. I am therefore satisfied that on the balance of probabilities Gareth was killed unlawfully.”
I was impressed by Dr Wilcox. She had good judgment and wisdom as can be seen from her verdict in the case. She played down the bondage question and the interest in female fashion – Williams had an expensive collection of women’s clothing nearly all of it unworn and most of it not in his size.
She seemed to accept the view of Williams’s sister that these were a store of presents for his female acquaintances. Dr Wilcox pretty much dismissed the idea of any sexual component in his death.
Sadly that is the aspect many people will remember. Well, these kinky games with yourself or other people go wrong – what can you expect – becomes the prevailing attitude.
Occasionally the dark arts of postmortem reputation trashing are employed in a good cause and based on hard facts rather than a set-up.
The strange and squalid habits of Osama bin Laden before his death have been used to great effect by the US to make him a laughing stock.
Crispin Black’s espionage thriller The Falklands Intercept is published by Gibson Square on June 19.