MI6 staff 'may face DNA screening over spy death'

Gareth Williams
Image caption The police investigation into Gareth Williams's death has lasted 21 months

MI6 staff may have samples of their DNA checked following the death of MI6 officer Gareth Williams, the head of the Metropolitan Police has confirmed.

Bernard Hogan-Howe also demanded that MI6 give "unrestricted access" to detectives for the first time, as Scotland Yard reinvestigate the case.

The naked body of Mr Williams, 31, from Anglesey, was found locked in a bag in a bath in his London flat in 2010.

A coroner has concluded that he was probably unlawfully killed.

She also said she doubted whether Mr Williams' death would ever be explained, saying that "fundamental questions" remained unanswered.

Mr Hogan-Howe said any screening of staff at MI6 would be voluntary and could involve a few MI6 officers, or many.

A number of DNA samples were taken during the previous investigation.

Mr Hogan-Howe said: "Of course it may well be that Gareth Williams' death has nothing to do with employment. All we need to do is to make sure that all areas of his life were fully explored."

When asked if MI6 had agreed to grant new levels of access, Mr Hogan-Howe said they didn't have to: "It's called the law."

He criticised an "unacceptable" breakdown in communication over potential evidence, which emerged during the inquest.

Memory sticks

He said the senior investigating officer (SIO) would in future have complete access to all MI6 material, after it emerged a counter-terrorism officer did not tell the SIO, Det Ch Insp Jackie Sebire, about potential evidence.

Image caption Mr Hogan-Howe said police would have total access to all MI6 material

He has told detectives to deal directly with the intelligence agency, in a break with tradition at the force.

Scotland Yard detectives are normally required to involve counter-terror colleagues at SO15 to obtain statements and evidence from MI6.

Det Con Colin Hall from SO15 searched Mr Williams' MI6 office on 26 August 2010, but did not seize computer memory sticks because he was told they contained material "of a sensitive nature".

A North Face bag similar to the one in which Mr Williams was found, was allegedly withheld by secret-service officers.

Mrs Sebire, who has led the investigation since the body was found, is soon likely to pass on the case to a colleague because she is being promoted.

Speaking last week, she said it was "highly likely" that a third party was involved in Mr Williams's death, and urged anyone who knew him to come forward with any information.

An independent forensics review will form a central part of fresh efforts to solve the 21-month inquiry into Mr Williams's death, the commissioner said.

Forensics firm LGC, which was responsible for a mix-up early in the investigation, would not be in charge of the independent review.

But Mr Hogan-Howe added: "This is not about criticising the forensic system."

Green towel

Mr Williams was not reported missing by his bosses at MI6 until a week after he was last seen, and the post-mortem examination was not carried out until nine days after he died.

A small amount of "unexplained" DNA was found on the zip toggle and padlock of the red holdall, containing his curled-up body.

Forensic experts are still hoping for a breakthrough from DNA tests on a green towel discovered in his kitchen.

Three pathologists who conducted post-mortem examinations were unable to reach a firm conclusion on how Mr Williams died, because his body had significantly decomposed.

But they said poisoning and asphyxiation are the foremost contenders as the cause of death.

After the inquest, MI6 chief Sir John Sawers apologised "unreservedly" to Mr Williams' family for its "failure to act more swiftly" in reporting his disappearance.

Code-breaker Mr Williams was on secondment to MI6 from the government's listening service GCHQ in Cheltenham when he died.

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