27 Apr 2012

Spy inquest: ‘Houdini would have trouble squeezing into bag’

Escapologist Harry Houdini would not have been able to fit inside the bag in which MI6 spy Gareth Williams was found dead, his inquest is told.

While one expert testified that it was possible Mr Williams locked himself in the sports bag, Peter Faulding said a third party must have been present.

“I couldn’t say it is impossible, but I think even Houdini would have struggled with this one,” Mr Faulding, an ex-Parachute Regiment reservist, testified. “Mr Williams was either placed in the bag unconscious, or he was dead before he was in the bag.”

A reconstruction played to the London hearing shows a man of similar height and build to Mr Williams struggling to pull the zip shut. The reconstruction in the video (above) was carried out by experts under controlled conditions and should not be copied.

‘Extreme heat’

If Mr Williams was alive at the time, he would have only been able to survive for 30 minutes as it was “extremely hot” and uncomfortable, Mr Faulding said. Between them, the two specialists tried 400 times to lock themselves into a similar bag 81cm x 48cm with no success.

William MacKay, an expert in “unusual occurrences,” would not rule out the possibility, however, telling the inquest some people can do astonishing things.

“There are people around who can do amazing things and Mr Williams may well have been one of those persons,” he said.

Bondage websites

With the hearing now in its fifth and final day, it is unlikely the public will ever know if Mr Williams was the target of foreign agents, the victim of MI6′s own “dark arts,” or a claustrophiliac with a love of enclosure. The 31-year-old maths genius visited websites about claustrophobia, bondage and sadomasochism.

Police said they found £20,000 of designer women’s clothes in his London flat, although one of his close friends said that in her opinion Mr Williams was “straight”. His former landlady testified that she found him tied to the bedpost, hollering for help three years before his death.

“My husband said ‘What the bloody hell are you doing?'” Jennifer Elliot testified. Mr Williams, wearing only his boxer shorts, said he was “just messing about” to see if he could free himself.

Contaminated evidence

Some of the crime scene evidence was either contaminated or inconclusive because MI6 – including Mr Williams’ superviser – said they did not notice he was missing from work for a week. Mr Williams had never missed one day’s work previously, and normal procedure was to investigate within two to four hours, fuelling conspiracy theories.

Expert: Houdini would have struggled to zip himself into MI6 spy bag

Mr Williams’ body was eventually found naked and decomposing, alongside the keys, inside a bag left in his bath. His family say they suspect “a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts” of entering the flat and removing evidence. The equipment used by Mr Williams at MI6 headquarters and Government Communications Headquarters Cheltenham was not retrieved for days after his body was discovered. The agency denies a cover-up.

“There was no reason to think his death was in any way connected to his work,” said one MI6 witness, known only as “F”. Nor, she added, was there any evidence that Mr Williams’ identity as an MI6 officer had been discovered by foreign agencies.

Mr Williams, a former mathematics prodigy, was on a three-year secondment from GCHQ in Cheltenham. He designed technology for his four-person team, according to “F”.

One of the detectives who worked on the case said she believed Williams had help getting into the bag as specks of unknown DNA were found on it. But in earlier testimony, the inquest heard crime scene investigators may have contaminated evidence.