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Hidden in today’s voluminous High Court judgment of the case of Prince Harry against Mirror Group Newspapers is a finding which breaks open what Gordon Brown called the “criminal media nexus” of corrupt cops, tabloid journalists and private investigators and the “dark arts” that came to dominate the British press.
The evidence of one important witness, Derek Haslam, will be key to cases against the Murdoch and Mail newspapers due for trial next year.
Derek Haslam, a former Met detective, was tasked to go undercover in 1997 for the Met’s internal ‘Ghost Squad’ inquiry into police corruption to investigate the unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator who many believed had discovered a major story of police corruption he was pitching to newspapers before being axed to death in the South London pub car park.
Haslam’s target was Daniel Morgan’s old private detective agency, Southern Investigations, and the two men there originally arrested on suspicion of involvement in his murder: the firm’s co-founder Jonathan Rees and a former Met Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery.
The Mirror and the Daniel Morgan Murder Suspects
Justice Fancourt’s ruling in the high Court lays out Haslam’s evidence.
“Mr Derek Haslam, who operated as an undercover surveillance officer, was instructed to watch Jonathan Rees (the joint owner and operator of Southern Investigations, with Sid Fillery) with regard to activities with corrupt police officers and an investigation into the unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan.
“Mr Haslam said that Rees boasted of obtaining information by phone tapping and computer and phone hacking, and admitted to him that he had supplied phone hacked information to MGN. He said that Rees had employed BT engineers to tap landlines. However, it is clear from Mr Haslam’s evidence that the majority of Rees’s information was obtained by other illegal means.
“Mr Haslam said that Rees frequently met with journalists and corrupt police officers in pubs, bragged about working for the Mirror and the Sunday Mirror, and that he had been introduced by Rees to Gary Jones of the Mirror and Doug Kempster of the Sunday Mirror.
“He said that both were clearly good customers of Rees and that he spoke about them often, and in particular boasted about having supplied information about Prince Michael of Kent’s bank account, which was unlawfully obtained.
“In cross examination, Mr Haslam was able to recall in which pubs meetings with Rees and Fillery would take place, and said that Jones and Kempster would come on occasions. On occasions there was a bank manager called Rob there, as well as policemen, and he was known as ‘Rob the Bank’.”
The Gary Jones mentioned is currently the editor of the Express newspaper. He was a crime reporter at News of the World in the 90s when the Sunday tabloid was under the editorship of Piers Morgan and the main employer of Rees and Fillery. When Morgan moved to the Mirror group he took Gary Jones with him.
But by then the police had installed a bug in the premises of the private detective agency. On 6 July 1999, when Jones was a senior reporter at the Daily Mirror, he was caught on tape querying invoices totalling £16,991 that Southern Investigations had billed the Mirror.
“This is tiresome, fucking tiresome,” Ress told Jones. “We are not going to put the numbers in there because what we are doing is illegal, isn’t it? I don’t want people coming in and nicking us for a criminal offence, you know.”
Today’s judgment, among other things, vindicates this suppressed evidence. Justice Fancourt accepted Haslam’s evidence in broad terms and called his testimony “clear and compelling”.
But this is only the beginning of the story because Haslam’s evidence is also a key testimony in more trials due next year brought by several claimants including Prince Harry, Elton John and Hugh Grant over unlawful information gathering against the Mail group and Murdoch’s publications.
And this opens up the whole issue of police and press corruption around the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Daniel Morgan
The Murdoch Connection to Corrupt Policing
It’s no coincidence that two of the most notorious murders of the last half-century occurred within a few miles of each other in south-east London: the assassination of private investigator Daniel Morgan in the car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham in 1987, and the racist murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence in Eltham in 1993.
Back in the 1980s and 90s, the proximity between those corrupt police officers and the national press was so extensive the area was known as the ‘News of the World Regional Crime Squad’. The senior luminary to come out of the area, Commander Ray Adams, was described at the time as Rupert Murdoch’s ‘Yard Man’ (he went on to become deputy head of security for NDS – the global security arm for Murdoch’s News Corp).
In the meantime, over the past three decades, the murders of Daniel Morgan and Stephen Lawrence were subject to a dozen or more partial and problematic police investigations.
The 1998 Macpherson Inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder concluded that the Metropolitan Police was guilty of “institutional racism”. An independent review by Mark Ellison KC in 2014 – around the phone-hacking scandal – established police corruption was a factor too.
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Similarly, the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel Inquiry led by Baroness O’Loan concluded in 2021 that the UK’s largest police force suffered from “institutional corruption”.
The News of the World was the main customer for Southern Investigations for almost 20 years, and Rees and Fillery trained and supported its star reporter, Mazher Mahmood. As he went undercover for nine years, Haslam reported back to his ‘handlers’ about the array of unlawful information gathering services available to Rees and Fillery: moonlighting police covert entry teams for break-ins, a BT engineer to tap phone lines, a bank employee to access confidential financial statements.
“We can get the Queen’s medical records,” Haslam recalls Rees once boasting. But most disturbing of all was the ready access to former or serving Met officers who could be bought off for unlawful information.
Haslam’s reports about unlawful news gathering and the probe in the premises of Southern Investigations caused a stir in the Met. Commander Bob Quick drew up a secret intelligence report detailing 46 ‘media crimes’ and recommending the arrest of two News of the World journalists, Alex Marunchak and Mazher Mahmood, and Doug Kempster from the Mirror.
But Quick’s senior officers in the Met did nothing about the report. Indeed several of them went on to accept well-paid columns in Murdoch’s newspapers.
The Mail and the Stephen Lawrence Murder
More startling and surprising is Haslam’s evidence against ANL, the publishers of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday. He says Rees and Fillery were major suppliers of unlawful information to the Mail titles who were interested in finding out if Doreen Lawrence and her campaign for justice had been “infiltrated by left-wing groups”.
Again the major source of for Southern Investigation’s stories were corrupt cops. Among the dozens of officers in regular communication during Rees and Fillery in their heyday were two men who played an important role in the original Stephen Lawrence murder investigation: Commander Ray Adams and his bagman DC John (OJ) Davidson. Having left the force both became, in Haslam’s words, “security consultants and important sub-contractors for Southern [Investigations]”
In the January print edition of Byline Times, Jake Arnott puts together some of the new evidence linking Davidson and Adams to both the Morgan and Lawrence cases. And former Guardian crime reporter Duncan Campbell and investigative journalist and whistleblower Dan Evans recollect the former Flying Squad detective – John Ross – who also “specialised in selling information to the Mail and other newspapers from corrupt, serving officers” and was also targeting Doreen Lawrence, according to Haslam.
Haslam has already been the subject of spurious attacks by Fleet Street journalists because his evidence doesn’t suit their industry or agenda. They would rather muddy the investigations into an infamous racist stabbing and an axe murder with low-level character assassinations and hatchet jobs against key witnesses.
This is a disservice to the present as well as recent history and shows so much of the British press is more intent on deceiving their readers rather than informing them. They are trying to get away with murder.