Daniel Morgan Independent Panel‘A Jigsaw with a Million Pieces’
As the public inquiry draws to a close, Duncan Campbell reports on the testimony of former Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook who has been silenced for nearly nine years
The killing of private detective Daniel Morgan in a pub car park in south London in 1987 remains unsolved despite no fewer than five police investigations, a public inquiry ordered in 2013 by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May – which is due to report next year – and countless newspaper articles, podcasts and television documentaries, most recently Channel 4’s three-parter, Murder in the Car Park.
Now the detective who led the last investigation has, this month, given evidence to the inquiry panel and is pursuing the Metropolitan Police, angered at the force’s decision to investigate him over his gathering of evidence aimed at bringing those he believed to be responsible to justice.
It is more than a quarter of a century since I first met Alastair Morgan, Daniel’s brother, who was already striving to have the case reopened into the killing.
For the Guardian in 1994, I wrote an article in which Daniel’s past was recounted, from his time at agricultural college in Gwent, through jobs as a salesman and courier to that of a private detective. Originally he worked for a large south London firm before setting up his own company, Southern Investigations, in south London, in partnership with another private detective, Jonathan Rees, who had very close contacts with police officers in the area, including a detective sergeant, Sid Fillery.
It was in March 1987 that Daniel was found with an axe in his head in the car park of the Golden Lion pub, in Sydenham, south-east London.
So why was he killed?
At the inquest, Rees said that Daniel made passes at female clients or wives of clients. Could there be a jealous husband or boyfriend? Another story had it that he had been watching Colombian cocaine dealers on behalf of a public figure whose daughter had become dependent on the drug. Had they – if they existed – been unhappy at the attention?
When I initially telephoned Rees, a man who would not identify himself rang back and told me that we were harassing him and we would be reported to “the press council”.
“From the very outset, it seemed to me that a lot of red herrings had been placed in the path of the murder squad,” said Alastair Morgan at the time. “The Metropolitan Police were silent, evasive, dishonest, arrogant, nonchalant, patronising and insolent towards both myself and my mother as we expressed our profound alarm at what was becoming clear to us.”
There is little argument that the original investigation was bungled. The crime scene was not sealed-off properly, potential witnesses were ignored and leads not followed up speedily enough. However, belated attempts by fresh investigations were made to gather evidence against suspects who, by then, included both Rees and Fillery.
During this time, in which the police planted listening devices, Rees was caught plotting to plant cocaine on an innocent woman on behalf of a client who was getting divorced and wanted custody of their children. He was convicted in 2000 and jailed for seven years. Police later found paedophilic images on Fillery’s computer and he was convicted in 2003 and given a three-year community rehabilitation order, the equivalent of probation.
Rees and Fillery, along with Rees’ in-laws, Greg and Garry Vian, continued as the centre of the police investigation and would later be charged.
Meanwhile, in May 2002, Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook was asked to make an appeal on Crimewatch, the BBC television programme that sought information on unsolved crimes. His then-wife, Jacqui Hames, herself a former police officer, was attached to the programme from 1990 until it ended in 2017.
The appeal led to no new breakthroughs but, in 2005, Cook was asked to conduct a review of the case. “For this purpose, I was given access to a substantial amount of the paperwork contained in 125 crates, but having no staff in support, my ability to scrutinise each crate and analyse each document was necessarily limited,” is how Cook would describe his position at that time.
The following year, he was asked to lead a new investigation. Part of the strategy of the new inquiry was to use the media to see if it could trigger new information. It is not uncommon in ‘cold case’ investigations for the police to brief journalists on new lines of inquiry having installed, with judicial approval, a bug in a suspect’s house or car. The aim is to see whether the news prompts the suspect to talk to others about the case. This technique was used in the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry.
Mike Sullivan, the Sun’s crime correspondent, was given a detailed briefing and, in June 2006, the newspaper ran an article about a new investigation into the murder. Sullivan was contacted by a man called Gary Eaton who said he wanted to pass on information about the murder. Sullivan told Eaton that he believed Cook could be trusted. In November 2006, also after a briefing from Cook, the Guardian ran a story on the case. “It is like a jigsaw puzzle with a million pieces, but we are very optimistic,” Cook said at the time.
Like many would-be informers, Eaton was a difficult character and Cook was worried that he might be a plant, as had been the case in previous attempts to find the murderers. Eaton told Cook that he had done “some bad things and could go to prison for a long time”. He later told another police officer that he had been involved in a conspiracy to murder.
“Eaton and his girlfriend were without funds for accommodation or food and, owing to what he was proposing to do, he could not go back to the south London area to live,” Cook later said. “No other process existed so I took the decision to arrange hotel accommodation. Together with other officers, we would meet with Eaton on a regular basis to provide funds for food and look after his welfare and that of his girlfriend.”
With Eaton’s testimony, it appeared – to the immense relief of the Morgan family – that the case could finally come to court.
By April 2008, the five suspects, including an alleged getaway driver, Jimmy Cook, had been charged and remanded in custody. But then it became clear that Eaton was a wholly unreliable witness: he had lied to the police about the death of his father and would no longer be of any use in a prosecution.
The trial, due to take place in 2011, never started. The Morgan family were devastated.
Alastair Morgan expressed his frustration at the time. “Right at the start,” he told me, “written in huge letters, as it were, was ‘Corruption Here’, yet no one would accept it, no one would listen, there was this blanket of denial.”
Now Dave Cook’s own role in the case came under scrutiny.
When a police informer agrees to become a protected witness, he is not meant to maintain contact with the investigating officer to prevent any possible ‘coaching’ in terms of the evidence he will give. It was suggested that Cook, who had been in contact with Eaton by phone, could have coached him, effectively trying to put words in his mouth.
An investigation into his role was duly launched. In November 2014, the Metropolitan Police searched Cook’s home in Surrey and he was informed that he was under investigation for misconduct in public office in respect of two allegations: the first involving his dealings with the Sun and the second regarding the allegation that he coerced or prompted Eaton to give false testimony.
Cook now says: “From the moment Gary Eaton was charged with various offences and remanded into custody, I never spoke or met with him again, simply because his ability to communicate was now controlled and managed… At no stage was Gary Eaton asked to lie or give any form of false testimony, nor was any evidence ever manufactured with a view to a prosecution being implemented.”
Rees and the Vians brought a successful malicious prosecution action against the Metropolitan Police and were finally awarded a total of £414,000 damages in July last year. Fillery also won damages in a separate hearing.
Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb announced the sums after the Court of Appeal findings in the men’s favour. She said that the reason a judge at the Old Bailey had ruled that Eaton’s evidence should be excluded was because Cook “had compromised the integrity of the evidence Eaton proposed to give by initiating or allowing extensive contact with the witness in contravention of express agreements and accepted procedures”. She added: “Honest belief in guilt cannot justify prosecuting a suspect on false evidence”.
At an earlier High Court hearing in 2017, Mr Justice Mitting said that Cook had carried out an act “which tended to pervert the course of justice” but his motive was to bring those he believed to be complicit in the murder to justice.
Another strand of the story, dating back to the arrival of Cook on the scene, was that the News of the World – for which Fillery and Rees provided information and tip-offs in exchange for large fees – had decided to investigate Cook himself, putting him and his family under surveillance.
Bizarrely, the News of the World, when challenged about its activities, claimed that it had received information that he was having an affair with a police officer on Crimewatch. This was Jacqui Hames – his then-wife and the mother of his two children.
“I later found out my phone was hacked and unlawful access gained to my bank account,” said Cook. “This had a substantial impact upon my health and the ongoing stress, because of the surveillance, led to the break-up of my marriage.”
Cook himself was by now suffering from severe anxiety and depression, which he believed was a result of the allegations made against him.
In December 2016, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)) decided that no action was needed over the first allegation against Cook, his contact with the Sun. The investigation into his handling of Eaton continued.
Cook made a prepared statement under caution at Carlisle police station in July 2017 regarding the allegations against him of perverting the course of justice, misconduct in a public office and perjury, in relation to his contact with Eaton. In it, he stated that he did his “very best” to bring to justice people whom he honestly believed were guilty of murder or its cover-up. “That was my only motive,” he said. “Whilst I do not, of course, suggest that my management of Eaton was textbook or perfect, I reject any suggestions that my handling of Eaton was ever dishonest or lacking in integrity of purpose.”
In his statement, Cook is adamant that “police corruption undermined the pursuit of Morgan’s killers. So this is a case involving both sophisticated criminals and corrupt officers, a toxic combination”. He added: “I cannot help expressing my disappointment that the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] should be investigating me when the killers of Daniel Morgan remain at large and the corrupt officers who almost certainly undermined relevant investigations also remain at large.”
In March last year, Cook was told that no action would be taken against him regarding his handling of Eaton and, in April this year, he was told that no further action would be taken on any other matters.
Angry at his treatment and the amount of time taken before he was cleared, in May, Cook wrote to the IOPC to make a formal allegation against the Metropolitan Police for its actions in which he claimed the force acted to pervert the course of justice in its handling of the civil case in which he was named. In his complaint, he suggested that the force had “acted to use me as a scapegoat for the wider organisational failings of the MPS. They have intentionally held criminal allegations against me over an unnecessarily long period, five years and five months.”
In his letter, Cook added: “I have never denied failings in relation to the handling of the witness Gary Eaton but I categorically deny that any failings which I have been accused of were of a criminal nature… The Metropolitan Police have, in my view, engaged in a cover-up of the organisational failings and the true facts to protect their reputation.”
The Metropolitan Police initially responded by saying that no investigation would be undertaken and that there was no right of appeal. It now says that “further inquiries” are being made.
Cook finally agreed to meet the independent panel in September this year and told them during a two-day meeting:
“You are here today because of the family and the failure of the prosecution case, but you are also only here because we tried and left no stone unturned but because of some mistakes we made but also because of things and processes outside of our control we did not secure a conviction… You three sitting here today have no concept of the impact of trying to do the job I have had which was complicated in itself, but even more complicated when it comes to the Metropolitan Police… My daughter was six when the surveillance happened, my son was three and the impact on themselves and my then wife was substantial, as it is on my current relationship and my children.”
A spokesperson for the panel, which is chaired by Baroness Nuala O’Loan, the former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, said that it had started its ‘fairness process’, in which individuals and organisations are contacted to give them notice that they are likely to be criticised in the report and to give them an opportunity to comment. The panel intends to present its final report to the Home Secretary next Spring.
“The whole affair is sad,” said Cook last month. “Daniel didn’t deserve to die and the family did not see justice done. The only hope is that the family get to know more than they know now.”
The “jigsaw puzzle with a million pieces” that he spoke of more than a decade ago is still uncompleted and the optimism has gone.
Back in 1994, I wrote that “there are miscarriages of justice that we are familiar with. People locked up for years for crimes they did not commit. There are other miscarriages where no one is punished for a crime they did commit. Daniel Morgan’s murder is one such case and, as has been said in a different context, the dead have no automatic right of appeal. Is the real culprit laughing out there somewhere?” The same might be asked today.
I spoke to Alastair Morgan again last week. He once told me that perhaps the only hope of securing a conviction for the murder might be if one of the perpetrators “found God”. Was that how he felt now?
He said that he still, after all these years, had hopes that the panel’s findings might “shed fresh light on a shameful saga”.