Scotland Yard on Wednesday reversed a coroner's finding of foul play in the 2010 death of British spy Gareth Williams, concluding that an accident was likely responsible for the death of the code-breaker whose naked, decomposing body was found stuffed inside a zipped and padlocked gym bag.
London Metropolitan Police investigators had undertaken a review of evidence in the case 16 months ago, after initial restrictions on homicide detectives' access to details of Williams' intelligence work were lifted by the British secret service, MI6.
Deputy Asst. Commissioner Martin Hewitt told journalists in London that investigators only had access to Williams' work files and colleagues after the coroner's conclusion in April 2012 that his death was likely "criminally mediated."
"On balance, it is a more probable conclusion that there was no other person present when Gareth died," Hewitt said, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The body of the then-31-year-old intelligence operative, who at the time of his August 2010 death was on temporary duty in London from his listening post in Cheltenham, was found in the empty bathtub of his apartment after he failed to show up for work for a week.
In its account of the new cause-of-death report, the Telegraph noted that investigators had been able to interview 27 of Williams' MI6 colleagues and review the cases on which he was working only after the secret service conducted its own confidential probe.
"It is highly unusual for us to be able to go into those organizations and to have open access to personnel files, to vetting files and to all the other aspects of Gareth's work, which we have been given, and which allows us to draw the conclusion that I am convinced that Gareth's death was in no way related to his work either current or previously," Hewitt said.
The deputy commissioner conceded, however, that uncertainties remain and that a definitive ruling on Williams' cause of death may never be reached.
The revised assessment immediately prompted speculation that authorities were attempting to obscure some embarrassing or sensitive issue in the death.
The BBC quoted its internal affairs correspondent as saying the findings that Williams was likely alone when he died as a result of an accident "were likely to fuel theories of a successful cover up by the intelligence agencies."
The Daily Mirror's website posted "10 questions which are still unanswered more than three years after Gareth's death." The mysteries cited included why Williams' MI6 colleagues failed to inquire about his absence from work for a week, how the door to his apartment came to be locked from the outside after his death, whether the heat was turned on in the apartment to accelerate the body's decomposition and preclude certain forensics tests, and why there were no fingerprints found on the bathtub.
Sky News reported that two contortion experts working on the earlier inquest tried 400 times to lock themselves into a similar bag and failed. Shortly after the earlier probe ended, though, an army sergeant was able to demonstrate that it was possible to zip oneself into such a bag from the inside in the cramped position in which Williams' body was found, Sky reported.
Williams' family issued a statement after the revised cause-of-death report, saying the verdict of Medical Examiner Fiona Wilcox more "accurately reflects the circumstances of Gareth's death."
"We are naturally disappointed that it is still not possible to state with certainty how Gareth died and the fact that the circumstances of his death are still unknown adds to our grief," his family stated.
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