LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service denied on Thursday that the mysterious death of one of its agents whose naked body was found in a padlocked bag had anything to do with his work or that it had covered the episode up.
The decomposing body of Gareth Williams, 31, was found in August 2010 inside a red sports bag in his bathtub at his central London flat, a week after he had failed to show up to work.
A lawyer for his family has said it was their belief that "a member of some agency specializing in the dark arts of the secret services" was involved in removing evidence related to his death, stoking media speculation that he was murdered by foreign spies.
But in testimony given from behind a screen to protect her identity at his inquest, an MI6 employee known only as "F" said there was no evidence to suggest the agency was involved in a cover-up of Williams' death or that his death was work-related.
"There was no reason to think his death was in any way connected to his work," the witness said. Nor, she added, was there any evidence that Williams' identity as an MI6 officer had been discovered by any foreign agencies.
Williams, a mathematics prodigy on a three-year secondment from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in western England, did technical work for MI6.
His role was to "think up and design technology that could be used by others" in his four-person team, said "F".
He had successfully completed a training course for conducting operations within Britain, but was still involved in relatively low-risk activities, she added.
Williams' body was discovered inside his Pimlico flat on August 23 two years ago.
He had been scheduled to attend a work meeting on August 16 but did not show up, and there were several other meetings that week that he had been expected to attend but did not.
If normal agency procedures had been carried out, "F" said that action would have been taken within two to four hours after he had failed to show up for work.
"It took far too long," she said. "There are chains of steps one can take upon non-arrival within the second hour." She added: "We are very sorry for that."
Witness "F" said he understood that the delay in finding Williams' body had made it more difficult for his family to come to terms with his death.
As far as she knew, there had been no disciplinary action taken against anyone responsible for the delay in the discovery of the body, she said.
Williams' death has puzzled investigators, who have struggled to understand how he ended up in the bag, which also contained keys that would have unlocked its padlock. There were no signs of a struggle.
On Tuesday, Jackie Sebire, a detective on Williams' case, testified she believed someone had helped him get into the bag. Specks of unknown DNA were found on it.
Inside the flat, police also found women's clothing and make-up. Witness "F" said Williams' job did not require him to dress in women's clothing.
The inquest heard on Wednesday that several years earlier, he had been found tied to his bed at his lodgings unable to free himself. He told his landlady at the time he had wanted to see if he could free himself.
(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Andrew Osborn)