Chapter 20: Unthinkable

Previous: Making Sure

Sheep graze in the valleys of Snowdonia.
"There's another fine piece for your collection, Holmes," I said, tossing the morning's edition of The Daily Mail across the compartment to my companion.

"Fortunately for us, the coverage in the other dailies is somewhat different," he said. "Perhaps one or another detail may turn out to be of some value."

"Are you looking for anything in particular?" I asked.

"We shall have to wait and see what transpires," he replied. "At the moment, our grasp of the case is so thin that I cannot but welcome any detail about the life or death of Gareth Williams that does not come to us through the security services. Friends and relatives at the funeral may not offer much new information, but they are surely more reliable than the usual 'experts' quoted in the London press."

"Speaking of the security services," I asked, "do you think it possible that Gareth Williams was killed by somebody connected with British intelligence?"

"That's a very interesting question, Watson," he replied, "especially given what we know about the case. Every single line of thought that we have been able to explore seems to point us in the same direction, and yet you find it necessary to ask whether that direction is possible. Your mind doesn't want to entertain the idea that he may have been killed by his employers, does it?"

"No, I suppose it doesn't,"  I admitted.

"You're certainly not alone," he said. "It's a common enough reaction. But, given what we know, a better question might be: 'Is it possible that Gareth Williams was killed by somebody not connected with British intelligence?' To be quite honest, I haven't seen any indication that would support an affirmative response to such a question."

"It's just so unthinkable," I said.

"And that's the trouble!" Holmes replied. "You, Watson, are an intelligent man, you've seen one example of official duplicity after another, and yet your natural inclination is still to trust the government -- and the press!

"In this case, as in many others, the primary reason -- or, more accurately, the only reason -- to disbelieve the available evidence is an unwillingness to consider the direction in which that evidence points.

One of the wide, U-shaped valleys of Snowdonia
"Remember my maxim, 'When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.' Note that I don't say, 'when you eliminate the unpalatable,' or 'when you eliminate the unthinkable.' We can only eliminate those scenarios which are actually impossible.

"It seems impossible to plant false stories in the British press about an MI6 employee without being connected to British intelligence. But almost no one dares to think that thought -- and this common human failing may be the only shield the killers have.

"My archive of clippings about this case contains a remarkable series of articles published by The First Post, three of which illustrate my point very well. The first of them, published on August 26th and written by Jack Bremer, was headlined 'Dead MI6 man: ‘private life’ not national security.' The sub-head read: 'Escort agency numbers discovered on SIM card. Did a sex game go wrong?' and the text stated:
Police are investigating the private life of an MI6 officer whose body was found stuffed into a holdall and dumped in the bath of the flat where he had been living in London, just round the corner from the spy agency's headquarters.
a trusted Whitehall source has said that "national security" is unlikely to be the motive.
As well as Williams's decomposed body, they found his mobile phone and - laid out in "ritual" fashion - a number of SIM cards.

According to a Daily Mail police source, one of those cards contained phone numbers for escort agencies. Pornographic material was also found in the flat. One theory is that Williams was the victim of a risky sex game gone wrong.
"So there's the basic story, as it was intended to be disseminated, apparently. The next day, The First Post ran Bremer again, with a headline 'Bondage gear found at MI6 flat - but was it planted?' Under the sub-head '‘Male escort evidence’ and porn said to have been found at murdered spy’s flat,' Bremer wrote:
Police investigating the murder of the MI6 codebreaker Gareth Williams have discovered bondage equipment in his London flat, along with evidence linking him to a male escort, according to reports emerging overnight. The findings appear to support the theory that his private life rather than national security was the motive for his murder - unless the items were planted by his killer.
"The implication here, of course, is that if the items were planted, then they were intended to divert attention away from the actual motive -- and to make murder look like accidental suicide. Who else could have planted such items except the killer? Why else could they have been planted? Who else, other than the killer, would have any reason -- or any opportunity -- to plant them?

"Clearly it would be an astounding stretch to claim that someone had killed Gareth Williams and then someone else, entirely unconnected to the murder, had littered his flat with gay porn and bondage gear.

"So, following the train of thought begun by Jack Bremer here, if these 'items' were planted then they would necessarily lead to the killer. Are you with me so far, Watson?"

"I think so, Holmes," I replied.

"Watch what happened next," he continued. "Three days later, on August 30th, The First Post ran another piece, this time by Nigel Horne, noting that
Police who found Williams's body at his Pimlico flat have now made it clear that reports about the discovery of bondage gear, gay contact magazines and male escorts' phone numbers at the scene are quite wrong. No such things were found.
What to do? What to do? Under the headline 'MI6 murder: Who planted the gay contacts stories?' and a sub-head that mentions William Hughes, Horne refers to Bremer's work in his opening paragraph:
The case of Gareth Williams, the murdered MI6 codebreaker, becomes curiouser and curiouser. The First Post was among the first to suggest that the 'evidence' pointing towards a homosexual and/or sadomasochistic murder might be a ruse, possibly planted by the killer to lead investigators astray.
"If the 'items' were not planted," Holmes continued, "but the 'stories' about them were, then we have a much different situation.

"Who could plant the 'items'? Whoever could obtain access to the flat -- and kill the occupant!

"But who could plant the 'stories'? Quite another level of access would be required. And yet, clearly, if the 'items' did not exist, then the 'stories' themselves were planted. What could that mean?

"Here Nigel Horne makes an astounding stretch:
Now it appears we were right to be suspicious - but that the misinformation might not be the work of the killer, as we suggested, but of the government, possibly MI6 itself.
"Do you see how that works, Watson? 'Not the killer, but the government, possibly MI6 itself'!! The astounding stretch protects the unthinkable thought!

Snowdonia: wide valleys
hemmed in by jagged walls
"Look out the window, my friend. Drink in this landscape. Misty mountains, ancient embattlements, magical castles, and wide, U-shaped valleys hemmed in by jagged walls. It's easy to lock yourself into the mock castles -- they are, after all, Victorian attempts at Disneyland. And it's comfortable to run along the usual channels, just as sheep graze in the wide, flat valleys. Why would they ever climb these imposing mountains?"

"Unthinkable thoughts lie beyond these peaks," I ventured.

"Indeed," Sherlock Holmes replied. "Young Gareth Williams was an extraordinary cyclist, Watson -- and a climber! We need to find out more about him."

Postcards from Snowdonia:
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