Today
Fri 17 September 2021

Peter Jukes, co-author with Alastair Morgan of Who Killed Daniel Morgan and the Untold Murder podcast, gives his personal take on the unprecedented intervention of the Home Secretary in the publishing of a report into the unsolved 1987 crime

The principle of independent panels, ever since the landmark Hillsborough Independent Panel is that – as it says on the tin – they are independent of interference from government or its branches which, more often than not, are the targets of these investigations.

So the last-minute intervention by the Home Secretary into the publication of a report by the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel strikes at the heart of the whole exercise – especially since the report could well contain damning evidence into her own department.

Private detective Daniel Morgan was found murdered in a pub car park in Sydenham, south-east London, in 1987. Although numerous charges were brought against suspects, no one has ever been convicted of his death. His killing is understood to have been motivated by his knowledge of high-level corruption within the Metropolitan Police – part of what former Prime Minister Gordon Brown described in 2011 as “a criminal media nexus”, with corrupt police officers and Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World.

The Panel, first initiated by then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2013 after an emotional meeting with the Morgan family, had a specific remit to steer it clear of political interference. The only role for the Home Office was “make arrangements for the final report’s publication to Parliament”.

After eight years of painstaking research, the Panel duly delivered the report to Priti Patel last Friday, on the expectation that it would be released within one working day.

Initially, the Home Office said that it wanted to move the publication date from Monday 17 May to Monday 24 May because of procedural problems around the parliamentary timetable and the funeral of Prince Philip. Then yesterday, the Panel dropped a bombshell: Patel wanted to override the Panel and hold back publication until her staff have had a chance to “review” and possibly redact the long-awaited contents.

Once again, the norms of British governance are being bent, putting the rule of law under renewed pressure. But what exactly happened between the delivery of the report and the last-minute delay? Who could have leant on the Home Secretary to break the stern remit of independence characterising independent panel inquiries?

Well, there are two obvious choices.


The Metropolitan Police Service and Institutional Corruption

Unlike a full public inquiry, which has powers of subpoena of documents and to compel witnesses to give testimony under oath, the independent panel model effectively has the power to shame public bodies into disclosure.

The public body at the centre of the Daniel Morgan murder case – the most investigated murder in British history – is clearly Britain’s largest police force: the Metropolitan Police Service, which has since admitted that the first investigation into the murder in 1987 was mired in corruption, when one of the senior investigating officers in the squad was arrested on suspicion of involvement, only to be freed and then to replace Daniel Morgan as a co-director of the soon-to-be notorious detective agency, Southern Investigations.

Scotland Yard has every reason to be wary of the Panel’s report.

The Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report opens up a potential finding of ‘institutional corruption’ – something which could almost be a death knell for any policing organisation.

Though I have no idea what is in it (nor have the Morgan family) it is clear that the Panel will have much more material on the original corruption in the first murder inquiry, and be able to shed light on what on earth happened during the second investigation by the Police Complaints Authority in 1988, which found no evidence of corruption.

It will also examine the secret anti-corruption investigation in the 1990s, Operation Two Bridges/Nigeria, and the two final investigations, Operations Abelard I and II, in 2002 and 2006. At trial, all of these cases came crashing down because of the weight of previous corruption, millions of items of evidence, missing documents, unreliable witnesses and the legally effective plea from all of the accused: the police were corrupt then? How do you know the police aren’t corrupt now?

In the three decades since, the Daniel Morgan murder and its aftermath has become a major reputational disaster for Scotland Yard, worse in some ways than the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence six years later and a few miles away, with the same network of police officers involved in undermining the investigation.

The Macpherson Report into the handling of the Lawrence case concluded that “institutional racism” had played a major part in the failure to bring his killers to justice. The Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report opens up a potential finding of “institutional corruption” – something which could almost be a death knell for any policing organisation.

However, whatever the existential threat to the Met, they have been working with the Panel for six years now. A team of 10 officers worked for 10 days inspecting the report for any operational threats to national security and any senior officers criticised received letters from the Panel months ago allowing them a full right of reply.

For the Met to lean on Priti Patel to halt publication of the Panel’s report in its tracks seems unlikely, as they had ample chance to do so many times before. So who else would take a last-minute interest and have any kind of leverage over the Home Secretary?


Murdoch, News of the World and Southern Investigations

The remit of the Panel was to explore the allegations of police corruption in the original murder, and the involvement of Daniel Morgan’s former company, Southern Investigations – both with corrupt police, other private investigators, and Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. 

The latter connection is crucial, because it is only in the light of the phone-hacking scandal that broke a decade ago, that the depths of the criminality around the now-defunct Sunday tabloid came into focus. Voice-mail interception was only the tip of the iceberg and, from the moment of Daniel’s murder, for the next 21 years, Southern Investigations became a one-stop-shop for the dark arts of the press: computer-hacking, surveillance, bugs, bribing cops for information, purloining classified documents.

Rebekah Brooks spent most of her career at News of the World while Southern Investigations established what Guardian journalist Nick Davies described as an “empire of crime”. She was close friends with top trainee Mazher Mahmood (also known as ‘the Fake Sheikh’) who worked with the private detective agency – from the bugging of the apartment where then Culture Minister David Mellor was having an affair in the early 1990s, to his famous stings in the Dorchester and Savoy hotels later on.

As Brooks climbed up the ladder to become editor of News of the World, she also wined and dined key senior police officers and politicians such as Tony Blair and David Blunkett, with the latter’s department under pressure by the Morgan family to reopen Daniel’s case. 

By the time of the fourth Daniel Morgan murder investigation, Brooks was personally warned by the senior investigating officer, Dave Cook, that News of the World journalists had put him and his family under surveillance. (It later emerged that they had also been extensively hacked by the Sunday tabloid). None of the key staff were reprimanded. Indeed, they were promoted.

Brook’s replacement as editor, Andy Coulson, went on to hire the main figure from Southern Investigations, Jonathan Rees, when he was released after a five-year prison sentence in 2005. Rees helped News of the World over the next three years with stories, deploying email-hacking to expose an undercover agent in Northern Ireland and an undercover officer, Derek Haslam, who had been penetrating the detective agency for nine years. 

Meanwhile, as Rupert Murdoch’s front person in the UK, and CEO of News International, Brooks became close to the then Conservative Party Leader David Cameron. Coulson was hired as his head of communications and moved into Number 10 when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government came to power in 2010. It was only the reopening of the phone-hacking files that led to Coulson’s resignation, arrest and subsequent conviction. Brooks herself told employees that she had ‘visibility’ on something else, much worse, coming down the line when she closed News of the World in 2011. 

Brooks was found innocent of seven charges of illegal voice-mail interception, bribing public officials and perverting the course of justice, at the Old Bailey in 2014. She returned to her previous job as CEO of the rebranded News UK, where she has remained ever since. 


Private Conclaves

Part One of the Leveson Inquiry – into the practices, culture and ethics of the press following the phone-hacking scandal – revealed to a bemused public the prolific extent of meetings between senior politicians and police with media executives, particularly from the Murdoch stable of the News of the World, the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.

Many of these meetings coincided with key moments over business mergers and deregulation, or when potential criminal investigations into the media were under way.

Has anything changed since? 

In 2014, when the BBC’s Panorama was about to air a documentary about Mazher Mahmood, presented by John Sweeney, the then Attorney General intervened not once, but twice, to stop the programme. Soon after it aired, Mahmood was convicted of perverting the course of justice. 

Sarah Vine and Michael Gove attending Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall’s wedding in March 2016. Photo: Alamy

When Rupert Murdoch married his fourth wife, Jerry Hall, in St Bride’s Church, off Fleet Street in 2016, the taint of criminality was still in the air and only a couple of politicians attended.

Unsurprisingly, former Times journalist and now Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove was at the event, joined by his wife, Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine. But, given that she was a junior minister at the Department for Work and Pensions at the time, the attendance of Priti Patel and her husband did raise some eyebrows.

Priti Patel and her husband attending Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall’s wedding in March 2016. Photo: Alamy

As Byline Times has recently revealed, the manic round of meetings between politicians and senior Murdoch executives revealed by the Leveson Inquiry have now returned to their previous pace. Gove regularly meets up with his mentor Murdoch. Last December, Sam Bright reported that Rebekah Brooks met up with Chancellor Rishi Sunak. He then also discovered that Priti Patel had a private dinner with Murdoch in September. 

Given that politicians are now courting the approval and attention of Rupert Murdoch with the same avidity as a decade ago, it certainly leaves open to question whether the main block to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel Report comes not from Scotland Yard, but News UK headquarters.

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