Murdered spy 'dead for up to fortnight'

A British spy found murdered in his flat lay undiscovered for up to a fortnight before his secret service colleagues raised the alarm.

The decomposing remains of Gareth Williams, 31, were found by police inside a holdall in the bath of his central London home on Monday.

Officers broke down the door after attempts by the Foreign Office to locate him via his former landlady had failed.

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Neighbour Eileen Booth, 73, said detectives told her the murder "probably happened two weeks ago".

It emerged that Mr Williams, who was employed as a communications officer at the GCHQ "listening post" in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was on secondment to the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service.

Relative William Hughes said he had no idea of the spy's line of work.

He told the BBC: "He worked for GCHQ for many years. I knew he was working in London doing something. He would never talk about his work and it felt rude to ask, really."

Mr Hughes said Mr Williams was "very, very talented", adding that he had not yet spoken to the dead man's parents.

Mr Williams was killed as he prepared to return to Cheltenham after working in the capital for about a year.

The Foreign Office contacted his former landlady Jenny Elliott on Monday after his work colleagues reported not seeing him for "some time".

Mrs Elliott said he had lived in a flat attached to her Cheltenham property for 10 years and was preparing to return on September 3.

"He phoned me a few weeks ago to say he was coming back," she said.

She described him as "a lovely guy, very friendly, very well-mannered and polite and no trouble at all".

She added: "He was often away. He went to America to work a lot and often combined it with holiday because he hated flying."

Mr Williams's London neighbours expressed their shock following the grisly find.

They described him as "extremely friendly", athletic, a keen cyclist and as having a strong Welsh accent.

Secretary Laura Houghton, 30, said: "His windows were always shut and curtains were often closed. I could never tell if anyone was in.

"It was strange that we never saw him come and go. I just assumed he worked away."

Mr Williams joined St Catharine's College at Cambridge University to undertake a postgraduate certificate in mathematics in 2000 but dropped out a year later.

Sources close to the inquiry said it was not clear how he died and played down speculation that the murder was linked to his secretive line of work.

One source said: "The suggestion there is terrorism or national security links to this case is pretty low down the list of probabilities."

A post mortem examination was being carried out by a Home Office pathologist last night to establish the cause of death.

Mr Williams's flat in Alderney Street, Pimlico, is about half a mile from the riverside headquarters of MI6. Residents of the exclusive street include former Home Secretaries Michael Howard and Lord Brittan.

It is in a freehold block whose ownership is hidden behind the private company New Rodina, registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The word rodina means "motherland" in Russian and Bulgarian.

Public documents revealed that several current and former residents of the building have links to London and Cheltenham.

One Frenchman who lived at the flat between 2005 and 2006 is an expert in global satellite positioning, radio communications and high sensitivity antennae.

It is the first murder on British soil of someone linked to the secret services since the poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov was killed by an assassin who used an umbrella to fire a ricin pellet into his leg as he walked across Waterloo Bridge in 1978.

A GCHQ spokesman said: "We have nothing to add."