THE private life of a murdered British spy was coming under close scrutiny Thursday, with UK detectives probing whether he was a secret transvestite who was killed by a gay lover.

The body of Gareth Williams, who was working for British intelligence agency MI6, was found stuffed in a bag in the bath at his apartment in Pimlico, central London on Monday.

Detectives believe he may have lain undiscovered for two weeks at the residence, which is just a few hundred yards away from the MI6 headquarters across the River Thames at Vauxhall.   Women’s clothing that would have fit him was found in the apartment – and the 31-year-old was known to meet men in the capital’s gay hotspots of Vauxhall Cross and Soho in the West End, according to The Sun.

Mr Williams was working for MI6 on a one-year posting and was due to return to his regular job at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) listening station in Cheltenham at the start of next month.  Detectives told London’s Daily Telegraph that they believe he might have had a violent row with a lover over his decision to return to GCHQ.

However, police have not ruled out the possibility that the murder could be linked to his secret intelligence work.   Security services fear that his murderer could have taken classified material – possibly held on a laptop or mp3 player – which could be sold on to Britain’s enemies, according to The Daily Mail.  There was no sign of a break-in at the flat, nothing had been stolen, and Mr Williams’ mobile phone was found with several SIM cards neatly laid out beside it.

Initial reports suggest Mr Williams had been knifed several times, dismembered then crammed into a large sports duffel bag. But an autopsy report proved “inconclusive” and stabbing was ruled out as the cause of death, according to Sky News.  Detectives are now studying whether he was strangled, asphyxiated or drugged.

The spys family said Mr Williams was a solitary figure who would not discuss his work with them.   William Hughes, a close relative, said: “I knew he was working in London doing something. He would never talk about his work and it felt rude to ask really.”

The apartment he was living in is thought to belong to the intelligence services, according to The Sun. Ownership of the building was hidden behind a private company, New Rodina, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands. Rodina means “motherland” in Russian.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, and the heads of MI5 and MI6 as well as anti-terror chiefs at Scotland Yard, are being kept informed of developments in the case.