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Riddle of the MI6 operative butchered in his own flat

An unassuming and private character, Gareth Williams only ever described his work as “something to do with codes”. Over the years he had grown accustomed to fading into the background.

But when he repeatedly failed to turn up for work at the riverside headquarters of MI6, colleagues became so concerned that they called in Scotland Yard to open up his flat.

From that point on Mr Williams' death — if not his life — was to be very public. The scene that greeted the detectives inside the apartment of an expensive central London house was gruesome. A decomposing body had been stuffed inside a large sports holdall in the bath.

Yesterday the 30-year-old's work as a communications officer at the intelligence “listening post” GCHQ, seconded to the Secret Intelligence Service, led to speculation that he had been brutally murdered because of his job.

The reality, however, is likely to be more mundane. Sources within the murder inquiry insisted that “the suggestion there are terrorism or national security links to this case is pretty low down the list of probabilities”.

It was reported last night that detectives believe Mr Williams might have had a row with a lover over his decision to return to Gloucestershire.

Nevertheless, officials at Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command and the domestic intelligence agency MI5 were being kept up-to-date yesterday as a post-mortem examination was conducted to find out exactly how Mr Williams, yet to be officially identified, died.

While his body was discovered at around 4.40pm on Monday, it appeared that he may have been dead for as long as two weeks. Early reports suggested he had been stabbed several times.

Mr Williams normally lived near his work within the heavily secure environment of the Government Communications Headquarters an intelligence agency in Gloucestershire which eavesdrops on global communications.

But he had been based in a flat in London for the past year in a street populated by bankers and politicians.

In a twist befitting any spy thriller, the property in Pimlico, whose recent occupants all appeared to have Cheltenham links, was owned by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands called New Rodina — a term that means “motherland” in Russian.

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