Gareth Williams: Public Fascination and National Interest

Gareth Williams

Next week an inquest will open in London to answer questions about one of the most baffling of all modern spy stories.

Gareth Williams was a well-liked and extremely talented young man from a small village in Anglesey, who went to work for the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.

But he died in bizarre circumstances.

Gareth’s body was found locked in a hold-all at his flat in Pimlico in August 2010. The bag was padlocked from the outside and placed in his bath.

A recent pre-inquest hearing heard, from a lawyer representing the Metropolitan Police, that it was “very difficult if not impossible” for Gareth to have locked himself inside the bag.

Gareth’s family’s lawyer Anthony O’Toole, said that if the spy had not locked the bag himself, there was “a high probability that there was a third party present in the flat” at the time.

He added: “The impression of the family is that the unknown third party was a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret services – or evidence has been removed post-mortem by experts in the dark arts.”

This is a sensitive story to cover but it is one that is both of interest to the public and in the public interest.

The coroner has said it has already “caused much public anxiety and concern”.

Two of the main lines of inquiry being followed by the Metropolitan Police appear to have come to nothing.

Early on in the investigation police issued an appeal for information about a Mediterranean couple reported to have called at Gareth’s flat. But at the recent hearing they were now described as a “red herring”.

In addition, DNA found on Gareth’s hand and thought to be key to the inquiry has now been confirmed as belonging to a forensic scientist.

An error at a forensic laboratory belonging to LGC Forensics had caused details about the sample to be incorrectly inputted into a computer leading police to think it could belong to a suspect.

Little is known about Gareth’s work but he had been on two courses which meant he could be “operationally deployed”.

Among the mourners at his funeral was MI6 chief Sir John Sawers who told the family that Gareth had done “really valuable work” in the “cause of national security”.

We are unlikely to hear anymore about that work. The Government has ruled that evidence to the inquest about his work will be heard in secret.

ITV Wales’ award-winning current affairs programme Wales This Week brought together a group of experts to review the available evidence.

One point that struck our panel was the way in which Gareth’s reputation had been pulled apart by lurid headlines in the weeks following his death.

Could someone have been feeding information and rumour which would smear Gareth’s name?

If he was a national hero, as Sir John seemed to suggest, who could be behind the smear?

One of our panelists, Miles Goslett, a journalist who investigated the case for the Sunday Times, asked: “Why was it that within 48 hours of [Gareth’s] body being discovered a newspaper was reporting the fact that not only was he gay, and stating it as fact, but also that he was possibly a transvestite? I mean, how was this relevant and, more to the point, where this so called information came from is rather unsettling.”

Another issue likely to interest the coroner is the apparent eight-day delay in someone raising the alarm that Gareth was missing. Mr Goslett described this as “extraordinary” given Gareth’s work.

Police went to the flat following a call from a personnel manager at GCHQ, who will give evidence to the inquest.

Go here to read more and to watch a clip from Wales This Week.

Dementia Film Wins Broadcast Award

Wales This Week‘s film ‘Living With Dementia’, which was broadcast on ITV Wales last year, has won a Guild of Health Writers’ Award for Best Broadcast Programme.

The award was presented at the Royal Society of Medicine in Wimpole Street, London.

The film followed Jim McWade, who suffers with Alzheimer’s Disease, and his wife Maureen, and Peter Oldacre, who was looking after his wife Ann.

You can read about the making of the programme on the ITV Wales blog and watch it below.

Dementia Film Nominated For Award

“Seventy-five per cent of my life I can keep in a normal context. I have to confess that the 25 per cent is my bogey man… It’s the place where I don’t like to linger for long.”

Those were the words of Jim McWade in a Wales This Week film called ‘Living With Dementia’ which was broadcast last year.

The film followed Jim, who suffers with Alzheimer’s Disease, and his wife Maureen, and Peter Oldacre, who was looking after his wife Ann.

The programme was now been shortlisted for a Guild of Health Writers’ award. It is up against three items from BBC network news and a programme from BBC Radio 4 in the Best Broadcast Programme category.

You can read about the making of the programme on the ITV Wales blog and watch the film in two parts here.

Snowdonia Celebrated

Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the creation of Snowdonia National Park.

This first Welsh National Park was about conserving the past. But, six decades on, does it still have a role to play?

That’s the question Wales This Week asked on the night of the anniversary, October 18.

We filmed across the park with attractions such as the Welsh Highland Railway and the Pen-y-Gwryd pub where the Mount Everest team based themselves for their training ahead of their 1953 ascent.

We also visited Ogwen Valley Mountain RescueGraig Wen on the Mawddach estuary and the couple behind the Baavet duvet.

The 23-minute programme is available to watch here.

“Huge regret” over Lynette White police corruption trial

The man who advises both the Crown and the UK Cabinet on the law has expressed his “huge regret” at the collapse of the Lynette White police corruption trial.

The UK Solicitor-General Edward Garnier QC was answering questions from MPs about the collapse of a trial of eight police officers accused of perverting the course of justice during the 1988 hunt for the murderer of Lynette White in Cardiff.

The trial collapsed in December and the officers were acquitted after the judge ruled they could no longer get a fair trial as certain documents were thought to have been shredded.

Then, last month, IPCC commissioner Sarah Green released a statement to say they had not been destroyed after all and were still in possession of South Wales Police.

This week, Media Wales reported that former barrister and Conservative MP Robert Buckland tackled Mr Garnier about the decision to let South Wales Police investigate itself.

Mr Buckland asked: “Is not the lesson of the disclosure debacle in the Lynette White case this: when criminal allegations are made against police officers in one police force, disclosure should be handled by officers from an entirely independent police force?”

Mr Buckland called on him to ensure “such reforms take place so that such a disaster does not happen again”.

The Solicitor-General said: “Clearly – particularly in large and complex cases such as the one we are talking about – the need to get disclosure right is key.”

But he added: “[Mr Buckland’s] point about other police forces dealing with the disclosure in such cases must, surely, be a matter for the chief constable of the relevant police area.”

Mr Garnier stressed that an inquiry into the Lynette White case is underway with the Independent Police Complaints Commission carrying out a review of police conduct; he also noted that the Director of Public Prosecutions has “separately asked the inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out a review of the actions and decision making of the CPS in relation to disclosure in that case”.

Cynon Valley Labour MP Ann Clwyd said: “There is considerable shock at the conduct of this case, in south Wales and elsewhere. In the past, there have been a particularly high number of miscarriages of justice under the South Wales police force.

“Is the Attorney-General aware of any other similar cases in which the disappearance and re-emergence of key evidence has led to a retrial?”

Mr Garnier said: “Off the top of my head, I am not aware of any such cases, but the right honourable lady is right to point out that the collapse of the Lynette White case in South Wales just recently, which affects her constituents and neighbours… is a matter of huge regret.

“It is now being subjected to two inquiries. Once they have been completed, further announcements will be made.”

Blaenau Gwent Labour MP Nick Smith asked what assessment had been made by the CPS about the prospects of a prosecution and reminded the Commons of the scale of the case.

He said: “It took nearly 10 years and cost the taxpayer about £30m to bring eight former South Wales police officers to court on charges of perverting the course of justice and fabricating evidence. The case collapsed when the key documents were thought destroyed, but they have now been found.”

The Solicitor-General said the CPS “will not make an assessment until the two inquiries are completed”.

Asbestos in schools a “national scandal”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health says the presence of lethal dust fibres in school buildings is a “national scandal”.

In a new report, it warns that 75 per cent of state schools are exposing children, teachers and other staff to the carcinogenic material.

Jim Sheridan MP, Chair of the All-Party Group, said: “This is a national scandal. Urgent action is needed to prevent more pupils, teachers and other staff being exposed to this deadly killer dust. We need both far greater awareness of the risks that this material poses and a programme for its phased removal.”

The report comes after more than 140 teachers died from the rare asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in the past 10 years, with research in the US suggesting over 100 people will die every year in the UK because of exposure at school.

US researchers suggest that for every death of a teacher from asbestos-related diseases, nine children will die. Asbestos-related diseases can take many years to develop so children are more vulnerable over their lifetime.

The Westminster All-Party Group’s report recommends the UK government should start a programme for the phased removal of asbestos from all schools, with priority given to those schools where the asbestos is considered to be most dangerous or damaged.

It also recommends a policy of openness in which parents, teachers and support staff are annually updated on the presence of asbestos in their schools and the measures that are being taken to manage it.

Welsh concerns about asbestos in schools were highlighted in April 2009 when occupational hygienist Robin Howie addressed a conference hosted by Nick Ramsey AM at the National Assembly for Wales.

Mr Howie claimed a hidden “horror story” was unfolding in UK schools with rates of mesothelioma “a factor of ten higher” in male teachers than in other people who do not work with asbestos. He said rates of mesothelioma in female teachers were “higher to a factor of two-and-a-half”. He added: “I think the teaching statistics are the tip of the iceberg. For every teacher exposed, then we have 20-30 children.”

Mr Howie repeated these concerns in an edition of the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week.

In the same programme Tim Cox, of the NASUWT, said the dangers of asbestos was “one of the most important issues we’ve ever had to deal with”.

He stated. “We are talking about the long-term health of the population of Wales. We are talking about the teachers and support staff in schools at the moment but we are also talking about the children, the children of Wales, over the next 10 to 20 years, who could be affected by this terrible, terrible disease.”

Mr Cox demanded the removal of all asbestos from school buildings.

So what is the latest from the Welsh Government?

In answers to written Assembly questions on January 18, 2012, Wales Education Minister Leighton Andrews, said: “Asbestos is safe if undisturbed and schools should work closely with their respective local authorities to have in place appropriate health and safety plans for staff, pupils and visitors.”

He added: “Locating and dealing with asbestos in schools, including the removal if appropriate is a health and safety matter for schools and local authorities. Local authorities as the building owner and employer have a legal duty under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 to manage the risks arising from asbestos.”

Councils should know whether “any of their schools contain asbestos in some form or another”, he stated, and are “required to have asbestos surveys undertaken on all premises under their control, and implement an asbestos management system”.

However, it appears unclear as to how many Welsh schools contain asbestos.

“The current and projected categories of condition of school buildings were requested, from local authorities, as part of the revised proposals submitted to the Welsh Government in November 2011,” said Mr Andrews. “However, the level of detail, in terms of schools that may have the presence of asbestos was not considered at this stage of the process, since the written statement  December 2010 related to overall outline programmes and not individual projects.”

Latest twist in Lynette White corruption trial “beggars belief”

Important documents, whose disappearance led to the collapse of Britain’s biggest ever corruption trial, have been found in boxes held by South Wales Police.

Yesterday, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, ordered a full inquiry into the collapse of a trial of eight police officers accused of perverting the course of justice during the 1988 hunt for the murderer of Lynette White in Cardiff.

The trial collapsed in December and the officers were acquitted after the judge ruled they could no longer get a fair trial as certain documents were thought to have been shredded.

Then later yesterday IPCC commissioner Sarah Green released a statement to say they had not been destroyed after all.

“The Independent Police Complaints Commission has now verified that the documents that the Lynette White trial at Swansea Crown Court on 1 December 2011 was told may have been destroyed have been discovered and were not shredded as first thought,” she stated.

“The court was told that some enquiries had been made about documents relating to complaints made to the IPCC itself and that it seemed that these documents may have been shredded on the orders of South Wales Police  Senior Investigating Officer Chris Coutts.

“The documents were found in the original boxes that the IPCC had sent through to SWP as part of the trial disclosure process in 2009. These boxes were still in the possession of SWP and have subsequently been verified.

“The IPCC investigation has not yet concluded and will also need to establish what happened to these two files of documents. The IPCC will also continue to liaise with the review being carried out by the Director of Public Prosecutions. We have of course informed the Director of Public Prosecutions about the discovery of these documents.

“The IPCC will of course publish its findings in due course.”

A friend of one of the men originally accused of Lynette White’s murder during the botched investigation told The Guardian: “The whole thing gets more bizarre by the minute. Did this whole trial collapse because they lost a box or two of documents? It beggars belief. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so depressing.”

And a close friend of another of the men, Tony Paris, who was wrongfully jailed for the murder and had given evidence to the police corruption trial before its collapse, said: “This is just unbelievable. How much pressure can they put these men under? It all defies belief.”

The question for the authorities now is whether, following the discovery of the “shredded” documents, the police officers can be re-tried.

Lynette White corruption trial prosecutors to face major review

A major review has been ordered into the way the prosecution in a police corruption trial was handled.

Eight officers were cleared of perverting the course of justice after a judge at Swansea Crown Court ruled they could not get a fair trial.

It had been alleged that the former South Wales Police officers had manufactured the case against five men – three of whom were jailed for life before being released on appeal.

The retired officers all pleaded not guilty to the charge and were cleared after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) offered no evidence against the defendants.

It emerged that files relating to complaints by a murder trial defendant had been destroyed – a revelation which called the trial’s disclosure process into question.

The trial – relating to the 1988 hunt for the murderer of Lynette White in Cardiff- had already been sitting for five months when it collapsed in December and had cost an estimated £30m.

Today, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, ordered a full inquiry into the trial.

“Shortly after the collapse of this trial I initiated a full and detailed review of the circumstances in which the decision to offer no further evidence was made,” said Mr Starmer. “I asked leading counsel for the prosecution to prepare a comprehensive analysis of the reasons for the decision.

“I have now considered that analysis and as part of the review have decided to ask Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, an independent statutory body, to consider the way in which the prosecution team conducted the disclosure exercise in this case.”

Mr Starmer said the HMCPSI’s “independent review” would consider:

*Whether the prosecution team (CPS and counsel) approached, prepared and managed disclosure in this case effectively, bearing in mind the history, size and complexity of the investigation and prosecution;

*Whether the prosecution team complied with their disclosure duties properly, including all relevant guidance and policy relating to disclosure, in light of the extensive material generated in this case;

*And whether the existing legal guidance is appropriate for cases of similar size and complexity.

HM Chief Inspector, Michael Fuller, said: “It is important that the public can have confidence in the way the CPS conducts its cases and the Inspectorate will examine the issues with the utmost thoroughness. Inevitably this will take time but will be completed as soon as is practicable and a report prepared for the DPP.

“South Wales Police has decided to refer their part in this matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and we will work in tandem with the IPCC inquiry into what happened. Both organizations are committed to sharing all relevant information with each other and arrangements are being made to ensure there is meaningful liaison between the two inquiries.”

“The Real Merthyr”

The town of Merthyr Tydfil has become a byword for poverty and deprivation.

The media and politicians have used the town to illustrate many negative aspects of society: crime, unemployment and sickness.

But do the facts support the reputation?

Earlier this year Wales This Week and ITV Wales reporter Hannah Thomas, who comes from the town, went in search of  ‘the real Merthyr Tydfil’.

The programme is still available on-line here.

The market stalls: a look at the Welsh housing market

When the credit crunch hit in 2008 the housing market was the first part of the economy to suffer.

Now, with talk of a second recession looming, Wales This Week looks ahead to ask what’s going to happen to Welsh house prices in 2012.

And the programme investigates how first time buyers – the engine of the property market – are finding new ways to get on the housing ladder.

See the programme here.

** “Great programme…thanks for a balanced and well informed look at the state of the sector.” Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru