'Why I know the spy in the bag victim WAS murdered'

Why I know the spy in the bag victim WAS murdered then viciously smeared as a sexual deviant: Expert investigator PETER FAULDING shares his explosive theory after trying – and failing – to lock himself into a holdall 300 times

  • Gareth Williams was found dead in a padlocked holdall in a bath in his flat in 2010
  • Theories about his death range from a sex game gone wrong to a Russian hit
  • Now an expert investigator says in a new book that he is sure the spy was killed 

The phone call came while I was on a summer holiday in Spain with my family. On the other end of the line was an officer from the Specialist Crime Directorate of the Metropolitan Police.

He asked if I could have a look at a crime scene at an address in Pimlico, a region of London near to the MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall, which has famously featured in several Bond films.

‘It’s quite urgent,’ he said.

The story was headline news. The victim was a man named Gareth Williams. He worked for GCHQ and was seconded to the Secret Intelligence Service. In other words, he was a spy.

I left for London immediately. The case sounded like dynamite.

Gareth Williams was 31 when he was found dead. He was on secondment from GCHQ to MI6

Gareth had not turned up for work for several days and had not been in touch with anyone. Eventually, concerned colleagues reported his disappearance to the police, who made a ‘welfare check’ at his flat on August 23, 2010.

There was no answer, so they entered the property, which was described as ‘extremely tidy’ with no signs of disturbance. Gareth’s mobile phone and two SIM cards were laid out on a table and a laptop was on the floor.

An officer noted a lady’s wig hanging from the corner of a kitchen chair. Everything else seemed normal, until they searched the ensuite bathroom of the main bedroom. In the bath there was a bulging red North Face holdall with the zips padlocked together. There was also a peculiar smell.

One officer lifted the bag and fluid seeped out. He realised there was a body inside. It had been there for a week and was badly decomposed. Forensics confirmed it was Gareth.

The Metropolitan Police had contacted me because I run a unique private company that often helps official bodies — such as the police and fire service — with search and rescue operations. Over the years, we’d expanded our expertise from operations underground to everything from finding bodies in lakes to crime-scene analysis. We were also known as the indisputable experts on deaths in confined spaces.

We’d proved, for instance, that a baby who died in bed next to its mother had suffocated under the weight of three duvets.

In another horrific case, exhaustive tests showed that a little girl, who’d been placed in a drawer under her parents’ bed with a sock stuffed in her mouth to muffle the sounds of her crying, had, in fact, died not from suffocation but from over-heating.

But none of these were quite as baffling as the ‘spy in the bag’ mystery.


Peter Faulding attempts to lock himself inside a holdall. He failed to do this 300 times

Gareth was 31 when he died. He was a maths prodigy and had been working at the top-secret government listening and signals intelligence service in Cheltenham since 2001, before he was moved to MI6 in London after receiving training for ‘active operational work’.

In the city, he lived in a flat close to the Secret Intelligence Service HQ. He had requested an early return to Cheltenham because, it was reported, he disliked city life.

His sister later described him as a ‘country boy’ who hated the ‘rat race, flash car competitions and post-work drinking culture’. He was a keen cyclist and walker, and was due to return to GCHQ in September.

He had few friends. His landlady in Cheltenham for ten years said he never had anyone in his flat, and he was described as a ‘scrupulous risk-assessor’, who was as meticulous as a ‘Swiss clock’. Within a week of his body being discovered, I was back in the UK and walking up the stairs to Gareth’s flat, where I met Metropolitan Police Homicide and Serious Crime Investigations detective Jacqueline Sebire, who oversaw the case.

In the past, the crime scenes I had attended were full of activity, with forensics officers, CSI experts, archaeologists and police investigators. But this scene was weird. Everyone had gone and there was just me and Jacqueline and two National Crime Agency (NCA) officers.

All the trappings of a big forensic investigation remained, however. There were blocks on the floor that acted like stepping stones to allow personnel to walk through a crime scene without contaminating the floor.

The bathroom was still covered in fingerprint dusting powder. Luminol — a compound used to identify blood and other body fluids under ultraviolet light — coated every surface.

The bag containing Gareth’s body had been taken away, but the unmistakable stench of death still hung in the air. No amount of crime scene chemicals could cover it.

 A red North Face bag similar to the one the body of Gareth Williams was found locked inside of

I carefully looked around and assessed the scene. I noticed the wig, which was still there. I couldn’t see any signs of a struggle and the dusting powder around the bath showed no fingerprints. I was shown photographs of the bag with Gareth’s body inside and close-ups of the Yale padlock.

When Gareth had been found, the heating was turned up to full, the shower screen was closed and the bathroom door was shut. The front door had been locked from the outside. It was all highly suspicious.

A few days later, I had a meeting with the Specialist Crime Directorate in Hendon to discuss the case.

I asked questions. Was there any CCTV from the building? Who else lived there? What kind of work was Gareth involved in?

At the meeting, various scenarios were discussed. Was it a hit carried out by someone with good forensic awareness? Was it an elaborate suicide? Was it stage-managed to look like a sex game gone wrong?

But the scenario that in time gathered the most momentum was that Gareth was on his own and it was a kinky sex game that went wrong.

In other words, to get his kicks he’d locked himself in the bag in the bath and suffocated.

To be honest, it seemed implausible to me.

I know people are into auto-asphyxiation and bondage, but the technicalities of what was being suggested seemed impossible. Nevertheless, I endeavoured to keep an open mind.

It was explained that there was £15,000 worth of high-end women’s clothing found in the flat — the inference being that Gareth had a complicated private life.

The best way to test the theory that he’d died by his own hand was to see if it could be done; if a man of Gareth’s 5 ft 8 in, 9 st stature could padlock himself into a bag in a bath without leaving marks.

Forensic teams remove Gareth Williams’s body from his south London flat in 2010

I began running reconstructions, with me playing the part of Gareth, as I was of similar frame. We also staged reconstructions at work, where I tried to get into the same make and model of bag. I found it impossible. I tried time and time again on my own.

Eventually, I was zipped in by the team, with my knees up to my chest and my head bent down at a neck-straining angle.

Once in, I recorded controlled environment tests on oxygen levels and temperature. I had a small knife around my neck in case I needed to cut myself free and there was a medic on hand in case I passed out. It was unbearable in the bag: hot and claustrophobic. I couldn’t imagine how awful it would have been with the heating on. It was so cramped it was hard to read the oxygen meter.

Just by breathing normally I managed to deplete the oxygen within the tiny space to dangerous levels, which set off a safety alarm.

According to the tests, Gareth would have survived no longer than 30 minutes had he been alive in the locked bag.

I used another bag with the end cut out to give me more room, so I could see if it was possible to manipulate the lock in any way.

We then took the equipment to a hotel and rented a room so we could repeat the tests in a bath. That was even more impossible.

We videoed it. I dread to think what the hotel staff thought when a group of men walked in with two empty red holdalls, camera equipment, padlocks and monitors. It was a horrible experience.

I had read up on ways to get into bags without undoing the locks and found out about an old baggage handler technique, exposed years ago, after a group of baggage handlers were caught using pens to prise zips on bags apart.

They could then reseal them by running the fasteners back along the open zip. It was impossible to do this from the inside of the bag, however.

Gareth was 31 when he died. He was a maths prodigy and had been working at the top-secret government listening and signals intelligence service in Cheltenham since 2001, before he was moved to MI6 

In Gareth’s case, there were no fingerprints, no footprints, no DNA. Surely, if he had miraculously managed to climb into the bag and lock himself in, there would have been evidence of his struggle?

In all, I tried more than 300 times to lock myself in the bag and couldn’t do it. Not even Houdini would have been able to pull it off.

I presented my thoughts to the investigation team. In my opinion, Gareth was already dead when he was put in the bag.

It was lifted into the bath because that would have allowed the decomposition fluids to run away, which in turn meant that the smell was less overpowering and less likely to seep into other flats and alert people. The heating was turned up to hasten decomposition and destroy evidence of injury.

In December, further details about Gareth’s private life were released, and the death was officially described as ‘suspicious’ rather than murder.

It was explained that, before his death, he had been to the U.S. West Coast for his work. He was known to be involved in a computer hacking investigation.

On August 13, back in the UK, he went to a drag show in East London on his own. He also had two single tickets for two other drag acts at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in South London, not far from MI6 headquarters, for each of the following weekends.

One witness said they had chatted to him at a gay bar earlier in the year. But police were unable to trace any sexual partners.

Between May 2009 and the time he disappeared, he had visited five separate bondage websites on four occasions — but these were ‘how-to’ sites rather than pornographic websites.

E-fits of a Mediterranean couple said to have visited the flat were also released, and there was an appeal for anyone who had encountered him in nightclubs, online or at women’s clothing shops to come forward.

Details were also given of the women’s designer clothing and shoes found in his flat along with several wigs. All would have fitted Mr Williams, it was claimed.

Police released an image of the lock on the red sports bag in which Gareth Williams was found

It was also revealed that he attended two courses in fashion design for beginners, each of six to eight weeks, at the prestigious Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design in London during evenings and weekends — one in 2010 and one in 2009. He passed both.

Clearly the Met were actively pursuing the sexual deviancy line. In addition, the investigation was leaky. Someone was feeding stories to the media.

I wasn’t buying it. Perhaps it was a red herring, or perhaps Gareth’s undercover work required him to pose as a woman.

I spoke to people I knew in the Secret Service and they confirmed that it was plausible that his undercover work involved posing as a woman, or as a drag queen.

It looked to me like someone was trying to smear him, which was sad, because he was working in the service of his country.

The case rumbled on for nearly two years. I was repeatedly asked for my opinion and, each time, I said I thought he’d been killed.

In March 2012, I gave evidence at the inquest into his death. I told the inquest that I wasn’t a detective, but the coroner, Dr Fiona Wilcox, said I had vast experience and wanted my opinion.

I told her that the heating was turned up full, the bathroom door and the shower screen were closed and it would be impossible for Gareth to climb into and then lock himself in the bag without leaving a trace of footprints, fingerprints or DNA on the bath, bag, padlock or shower screen.

I added that, in my opinion, Gareth had been murdered.

The family believed this, too, and were frustrated by the continual focus on his private life.

They believed someone was in the flat with him or had broken in afterwards and stolen items. They mouthed a thankyou to me after I finished.

The evidence to support the claim that Gareth was involved in some form of deadly, kinky, sex game was weak, and Dr Wilcox interrogated it.

At one stage, when one of the witnesses explained that semen had been found on various pieces of furniture in the flat, Dr Wilcox remarked that it proved nothing and that there were probably traces of semen on many people’s furniture, at which point the room erupted into laughter.

To me it continued to appear there was a smear campaign going on and I thought it was awful.

Dr Wilcox recorded a verbal verdict that the death was ‘unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated’.

She believed that, on the balance of probabilities, Gareth was killed unlawfully and that someone locked him in the bag and put the bag into the bath.

The verdict pre-empted another Met investigation that lasted a further 12 months, after which the investigators were still convinced Gareth had done it himself.

There was also a video which showed a girl, three inches shorter than Gareth, who managed to get inside the same type of bag and padlock herself in from the inside — after a lot of struggling.

A composite of images issued by Metropolitan Police of a video reconstruction showing Peter Faulding trying to lock himself in a sports holdall unaided

When this was pointed out to me, I explained that the critical fact in Gareth’s case was that, even if he could contort himself into the bag and padlock it closed from the inside, he would have left traces of DNA, fingerprints or footprints.

In November 2013, Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt announced that, despite a re-examination of all evidence, there were still no definitive answers — and that in his view the most probable scenario was that Gareth died alone in his flat having accidentally locked himself inside the bag.

Two years later, a former KGB agent, Boris Karpichkov, who’d defected from Russia, gave an interview in which he claimed that Russian agents had killed Gareth. They had tried — and failed — to blackmail him into becoming a double-agent.

Gareth had countered their threats, he said, by threatening to expose the identity of a Russian agent in GCHQ.

This might have sounded fanciful in the years before the infamous Salisbury poisonings. But if recent history tells us anything, it’s that Russia is more than capable of carrying out audacious assassinations on foreign soil.

It’s also worth noting that two police sources have claimed that some of Gareth’s work was focused on Russia.

One of these sources confirmed reports that Gareth had helped the U.S.’s National Security Agency trace international money-laundering routes used by organised crime groups — including Moscow-based mafia cells.

In February 2021 there was another potential breakthrough.

A respected scientist, Professor Angela Gallop — who helped catch the killers of Stephen Lawrence — reported that advances in DNA testing now made it possible to sample a single hair that had been found on Gareth’s hand. Previously, finding DNA in a hair had been possible only when the root was present.

Asked for a comment, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said that they were ‘reviewing this new information’ and would ‘assess whether there are any new investigative opportunities in this case’. A few months later, the police said a re-examination of the case was underway and detectives were waiting for results.

Nearly two years on, we’re all still waiting.

Meanwhile, a brilliant man who served his country is still best remembered as the fool who accidentally killed himself in search of sexual thrills.

  • Adapted from What Lies Beneath: My Life as a Forensic Search And Rescue Expert by Peter Faulding, to be published by Macmillan on February 2 at £18.99. © Peter Faulding 2023. To order a copy for £17.09 (offer valid to 05/02/23; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.

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