Also see: "The murder of Daniel Morgan: A crime the police wouldn't solve," independent.co.uk
On Friday, Britain’s home secretary opened a judge-led public inquiry into the brutal and mysterious 1987 slaying of Daniel Morgan. Peter Jukes talks to Alastair Morgan, who hopes the decades-long cover-up of his brother’s death may finally be revealed.
It is Britain’s biggest unsolved murder, and described by a senior police officer as “the pivotal crime of the times.”
It plunges into the heart of what former prime minister Gordon Brown called the “criminal-media nexus” exposed by the hacking and bribes scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid titles. Only on this occasion the crimes went well beyond privacy intrusion and corrupt payments, to a brutal killing.
On Friday, home secretary Theresa May announced a judge-led public inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan, who was found with an axe embedded in his head in a South London car park in 1987. The panel of experts will examine not only the police corruption that sabotaged five successive police investigations and caused the subsequent murder trial to collapse, but also the
Daniel Morgan ran a successful private investigations agency, Southern Investigations, with Jonathan Rees in the 1980s. However, as explained to The Daily Beast by his brother Alastair, Daniel had become suspicious of his business partner and concerned about police corruption. He was preparing to expose local police officers to the now-shuttered News of the World according to another colleague. But after a meeting with Rees, Daniel was murderedOne of the officers to first investigate the murder, Sid Fillery, left the police and took over Daniel’s role at Southern Investigations. Over the next two decades Fillery and Rees formed one of the most prolific private detective agencies working for the British press, and established what the investigative journalists Nick Davies and Vikram Dodd described as an “empire of corruption.”
According to the Guardian they provided material, mainly for News of the World, through a variety of illegal means, including paying police ofﬁcers for conﬁdential records, obtaining phone records, care registration details, banks account details, and allegedly using ‘Trojan Horse’ emails to hack computers. According to two sources, the firm “commissioned burglaries to obtain material for journalists.”
A senior police source described the Morgan murder and the Rees-Fillery partnership as the origin of the illegal practices exposed by the hacking scandal. “Their relationship with News of the World,” the source said “was without question the maternity ward where the Dark Arts were born.”
Meanwhile Southern Investigations was still subject to no less than five police investigations at a cost of some $50 million. The police planted an undercover officer in the agency, and had the offices bugged. However, most of the material has never been released.
Further police investigations were deliberately sabotaged by employees of News of the World. David Cook, who led two of inquiries, had his phone hacked by the tabloid, his house watched, and his family followed. As his former wife and police officer Jacqui Hames explained to the Leveson Inquiry Press ethics last year, the surveillance was due to
When confronted about the surveillance, then editor of News of the World Rebekah Brooks claimed it was a legitimate investigation to see if Cook and Hames were ‘having an affair’—though they had children and had been married for years.
Rees was sentenced for seven years over a separate crime in 2000, but was promptly rehired upon his release by Andy Coulson—an editor who had taken over from Brooks as editor of News of the World, and would soon move over to become Prime Minister David Cameron’s press supremo.
According to Alastair Morgan, the terms of reference of the new inquiry have been under discussion for months.
David Cook, who ran two of the murder inquiries, compared the Morgan case to another notorious South London murder, the racist killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1996, which also took decades to come to justice
Campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson, a key figure in exposing the phone hacking scandal through Parliament, believes that the new inquiry—with power to examine all the police documents going back to 1987—could prove historic.
Above all, however, Watson wanted to pay tribute to the Morgan family for their often lonely and unheard campaign. Two decades ago Alastair Morgan made solemn promise to his dead brother that he “would not rest” until the corruption was exposed. As the public inquiry gets under away later this year, his pledge may at last be honoured.
Peter Jukes is an author based in London. His second nonfiction book, Fall of the House of Murdoch, which puts the current scandal against the half-century rise of News Corp., was published by Unbound earlier this year.