INTERVIEW: Daniel Morgan was a private eye who was found murdered in a south-east London car park with an axe embedded in his head in 1987.
His brother Alastair Morgan has now spent nearly three decades fighting to uncover the truth about his brutal killing.
So far, there have been five police investigations into this notorious murder but nobody has stood trial. In March 2011, the prosecution of five men, including a former police officer, collapsed at the Old Bailey with the then acting Met commissioner Tim Godwin acknowledging the force’s ‘repeated failure… to accept that corruption had played such a significant part in failing to bring those responsible to justice’.
“Sometimes I’d step back and think: “God Almighty, how did I do it. How did I continue?”‘ he tells Jon Robins “The more I discovered, the worse it got and I’d think to myself “I can’t stop. This looks even worse than I thought.”‘
This month marks the two-year anniversary of the panel inquiry set up by Theresa May into Daniel Morgan’s murder. Progress has been slow. The Liberal Democrats, in their 2015 manifesto published last month, promised to get to the ‘full truth about corrupt practices in parts of the police and the press’ by ensuring that the inquiry was ‘completed expeditiously’ and called on the second part of the Leveson Inquiry – to investigate crimes committed at News International and other media organisations – begin as soon as the hacking prosecutions are completed.
Daniel Morgan was a partner in a private detective agency called Southern Investigations. After his death, his business partner, Jonathan Rees was kept busy working for the News of the World supplying illegally gained confidential information often through his links with a network of corrupt police officers. According to the Guardian journalist Nick Davies (in his book Hack Attack: How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch) in one year alone (1996/97) the paper paid the agency more than £166,000. The family has long claimed that the murder was an execution with the aim of silencing Daniel who was about to expose high level corruption in the Met.
Not just ‘a police corruption problem’
Unsurprisingly then, Alastair Morgan hopes that the momentum following Leveson for press reform continues under the new government. ‘The media barons can see their power under threat. They are desperate,’ he says. ‘Circulation figures are falling and there are more questions about the integrity of the press than I have ever seen in my lifetime. We need change.’ The election coverage – and the vilification of Ed Miliband – has ‘redoubled’ his commitment to campaign for press reform, he says.
The relatively recent furore over phone hacking – and the degree to which it has exposed the relationship between bent coppers and some journalists – has cast the murder in a different light. It also explained a lack of enthusiasm over the years on the part of parts of the press for a shocking story of police corruption.
Alastair Morgan, now 66 years old, was born less than a year before his brother. He recalls the second discredited outside inquiry in 1989 by Hampshire Police into the murder (‘… they just whitewashed the question of police involvement’). ‘I knew something was going terribly wrong with the case then,’ he says. ‘I knew it would have terrible consequences but I did not know what they would be.’
He could not understand why the tabloid media showed zero interest in his family’s campaign. For years, it was the local Welsh press who alone reported on the case. ‘I’d never go to the Sun but the Mirror and others just didn’t have any interest. At the time, I thought it was just a police corruption problem. I had absolutely no idea of the Murdoch link and the fact that the Mirror Group was also using Southern,’ Morgan continues.
‘My position for many years was the police had covered up their involvement in a contract murder and, not only that, all indications were that my brother was going to blow the whistle on police corruption. Why couldn’t the press see how important this was? That baffled me.’
The truth about the relationship between Daniel Morgan’s business partner and the NoW only began to emerge post-2000. Alastair Morgan cites Graeme McLagan’s expose of Southern Investigation (here), as well as an ‘attempt to derail the investigation by a bunch of journalists’ from the now defunct Sunday red top.
As was revealed in the Leveson inquiry, the NoW placed the officer heading up the investigation into the murder, former detective chief superintendent David Cook, under surveillance. It was suggested by the tabloid that their reporters were after a ‘kiss-and-tell’ story about Cook’s affair with the Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames. In fact, the couple were married and, as Alastair Morgan has pointed out, a Google search would have revealed the status of their relationship. ‘I didn’t know anything about any of this for years. It was only Leveson that began to join the dots up,’ he says.
A distortion of the truth
How helpful were New Labour in the family’s pursuit of the truth? Absolutely hopeless, says Morgan. In 1997, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw wrote to his MP Chris Smith saying that the Met had told him ‘that there were some allegations that a senior officer was involved in the murder, but these were all thoroughly investigated at the time and proved to be incorrect’.
The family and their lawyer – Raju Bhatt of Bhatt Murphy – sent a submission, backed by 83 MPs, to David Blunkett when he became Home Secretary in 2004. ‘We couldn’t even get to see him. We ended up with Hazel Blears who just grinned at us. It was like talking to a brick wall.’ Blunkett, who reached a settlement with News International over his own phone hacking claims, now advises the company on ‘social responsibility’. ‘Frankly, that disgusts me,’ says Morgan.
When the family finally got to meet a home secretary in the flesh, it was Theresa May. At the end of 2011, May proposed a Hillsborough-style panel of inquiry. ‘We had to decide whether to continue with the fight for a full-blown judicial inquiry backed by legal powers or take this opportunity,’ recalls Morgan. Raju Bhatt, a human rights lawyer who specialises in actions against the police, was on the Hillsborough panel.
‘We had been going on for more than 25 years at this point. I thought let’s go for it,’ Alastair Morgan says. ‘There had been a judicial inquiry into Hillsborough [the Taylor report in 1990] but that only went so far. The Hillsborough panel was a far more successful operation. Frankly, we were just tired.’
There are, of course, striking common themes between the murder of Daniel Morgan and the disaster that claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans two years later in 1989 – as Alastair Morgan puts it, ‘a Murdoch/police distortion of the truth’. He says: ‘The Hillsborough inquiry shone a spotlight on that. The whole country has been astonished. In Daniel’s cases, it’s exactly the same, possibly worse.’
A strand of decency
Earlier this year the family and their supporters accused the Met of blocking the inquiry. ‘It is extraordinary that a case involving police corruption has taken nearly two years to yield even a single document. Even for the Met it is a remarkable state of affairs,’ the Labour MP Tom Watson told the Guardian.
The panel is chaired by Baroness Nuala O’Loan who, as first Police Ombudsman, has looked into thousands of cases and many involving police collusion with loyalist paramilitaries and the police handling of the Omagh bombing.
Is her inquiry finally making some headway? Apparently so, Morgan reports that the ‘disclosure issues’ with the Met appear to have been overcome. There is now a team of 27 currently ploughing through some 750,000 pages of documentation relating to the murder. ‘Every single document has to be put on an electronic document management system manually,’ says Morgan. ‘It’s an enormous task and probably still ongoing.’
Alastair Morgan pays tribute to Theresa May (although he quickly adds he is ‘no Tory’).
‘I was astonished that a Conservative Home Secretary would give us the opportunity. I am grateful to her for doing that – she had the guts to take on the police as well. There is a strand of decency there.’
Finally, does he ever think anyone will be convicted for the murder of his brother? ‘I am not holding my breath,’ he says. ‘In strict legal terms, the case has been so fouled up because of corruption. I know who killed Daniel. I have no doubt there was police involvement in his death but I’m not going to spend my life waiting for that to be revealed. As well as seeking justice for Daniel, my motivation has been to show what the police have done and latterly the News of the World. ‘