Daniel Morgan was a private detective based in south London who was found dead with an axe embedded in his neck in a dark corner of a Sydenham pub car park a few minutes before 10pm on 10 March 1987.
Despite four full police investigations, several smaller inquiries and two failed prosecutions, the crime has never been solved and is one of the most notorious cases in recent Metropolitan police history, with accusations of police corruption, incompetence and cover-up.
In addition, key figures in the Morgan case, his business partner at Southern Investigations, Jonathan Rees, and a local police officer, Sidney Fillery, went onto to reposition the firm, selling police information to Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World and to the Mirror Group titles.
An attempted prosecution collapsed in March 2011 following “serious disclosure failures” by the Met, and the passage of time and sequence of events mean that the case is unlikely ever to be resolved in court.
That prompted Theresa May, the then home secretary, to ask an independent panel in 2013 to examine the Morgan case, the role played by corruption and connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists.
In producing a report running to more than 1,200 pages, the panel scrutinised 110,000 documents, amounting to more than 1m pages, as well as a substantial amount of sensitive or secret material held by police. Here are its key findings:
The Met was ‘institutionally corrupt’ because it failed to properly investigate the case and covered up repeated mistakes thereafter
As a result, “the family of Daniel Morgan suffered grievously” because the murderer or murderers were never brought to justice, and were given “unwarranted assurances” about the progress of the investigation.
Britain’s biggest police force engaged in “the denial of the failings in investigation, including a failure to acknowledge professional incompetence, individual’s venal behaviour, and managerial and organisational failures”.
It also “repeatedly failed to take a fresh, thorough and critical look at past failings” leading the panel to reach a stark conclusion that has a clear echo of William Macpherson’s landmark “institutional racism” finding in response to the Met’s handling of the Stephen Lawrence case in 1999.
“Concealing or denying failings, for the sake of the organisation’s public image, is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit and constitutes a form of institutional corruption,” the panel concludes.
Cressida Dick, now the Met commissioner, held up the inquiry panel’s work, contributing to a wider ‘lack of candour’ displayed by the force since Morgan’s murder
The panel complained about the then assistant commissioner’s “initial refusal” to provide access to the Holmes police investigation database, vital for reviewing the previous failed enquiries, and “limiting access to the most sensitive information”.
Documents were not made available at the panel’s “secure premises” and were only accessible at a location “involving considerable travel time”. The panel blamed foot-dragging by the Met for the length of time it took to complete the inquiry from its inception in 2013.
The terms of reference agreed by May indicated that the panel would complete its work “within a year”, but it complained that the Met only made its final documents available in March 2021.
There were ‘multiple very significant failings’ in the first investigation of the murder in 1987 and 1988, the most likely point when the culprit or culprits could have been successfully prosecuted
Police were criticised for “totally inadequate” management of the crime scene; it was not searched and left unguarded. Further, “there is evidence” that some of those subsequently arrested “may have been alerted” by a leak to the media.
Those arrested were Rees, his brother-in-law Glenn and Gary Vian, DS Fillery, and the detective constables Alan Purvis and Peter Foley. Alibis were not sought for all suspects, search warrants were “seriously inadequate” and “lines of enquiry were not followed through properly”.
Nobody was prosecuted at that time, and “many of the opportunities which were lost were not retrievable” and subsequent investigations were inconclusive.
An attempt to prosecute Rees and the Vian brothers collapsed in March 2011 after the prosecution offered no evidence. Subsequently, the three men won damages in the court of appeal from the Met for malicious prosecution in July 2018.
Rees and Fillery went on to sell stories to the News of the World and Mirror Group titles, raising concerns about police officers passing on information directly or indirectly to tabloids
Fillery replaced the deceased Morgan at Southern Investigations after retiring from the Met in 1989. From the late 1980s, after Morgan’s murder, the panel said the firm got “a substantial proportion” of business income from selling “confidential information” obtained from police sources.
One witness, a former bookkeeper, said the News of the World was Southern’s main client between April 1987 and 1989. Later evidence, from 2000, suggested the Mirror Group was the main client, accounting for 79% of confidential data shared comparedwith 21% for the News of the World.
Concerns were also raised by the panel about the surveillance of DCS David Cook, the senior officer reinvestigating the Morgan case at the time, by the News of the World in the summer of 2002.
Rebekah Brooks, then the editor of the News of the World, “reportedly indicated” to the Met in a meeting in January 2003 that she understood the story being pursued “was a legitimate story about a marital affair” – although there was no evidence for an extramarital relationship.
The panel said there was “insufficient evidence capable of proving” that the surveillance of Cook was instigated by either Fillery or Rees, although it added the “circumstantial evidence suggests very strongly” that it was arranged by Fillery and Alex Marunchak, at the time a news editor at the News of the World.
Two former police chiefs, Lord Stevens, commissioner between 2000 and 2005, and ex-assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, were sharply criticised for being paid for columns published in Murdoch-owned titles
The panel said there should be an “absolute need for clear boundaries” between “senior police personnel and those working in the mass media”.
Links between former senior Met officers and “a news organisation linked to criminality associated with the murder of Daniel Morgan, are of serious and legitimate public concern”. Senior officers who take take up employment with media outlets was “profoundly damaging for the reputation of the police service”, the panel said.
“At the very least,” Stevens “failed to exercise due diligence”, the panel said. Hayman, who wrote for the Times, “must have been aware” of allegations that Southern Investigations was selling police information as well as wider accusations of phone hacking. “His public downplaying of the practice compromised the integrity of the police,” the panel said.
A new policy that all officers above assistant chief constable rank have to obtain approval for taking up a paid or unpaid position within 12 months of leaving the police service was noted with approval by the panel.
Police corruption hampered both the initial inquiry and a string of subsequent investigations, although it was not properly investigated and not formally acknowledged as an issue by the Met until 2011 and again in 2017
There was “evidence of a culture within the Metropolitan police in 1987” that “permitted very close association” between investigating officers and colleagues with “individuals linked to crime”.
In particular there was “extensive evidence” of officers meeting Fillery and Rees and others “in various public houses” even after both men named “had been arrested and continued to be suspects” for the murder. On occasions at these meetings, Morgan’s murder was discussed.
There were “indications since 1987” that Morgan “had been going to report police corruption” and “sell a story about corruption to the media”, but the nature of any corruption was not identified by the panel, and the truth of the whistleblowing claim was never decisively established.
It was “also possible” that local officers “involved in identified lucrative corrupt practices” thought that “their police careers and pensions were under threat” – and the Met is criticised for not seriously trying to get to the bottom of this.
“The evidence supporting this theory as to why Daniel Morgan was murdered was never seriously investigated,” the panel said.