The unsolved murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan in a pub car park in 1987 has, 34 years after the event, ripped what was left of the Metropolitan Police Service’s reputation to shreds.
The judgement by an independent panel that the Met is “institutionally corrupt” couldn’t be more relevant, coming just as the infamous Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which aims to give ever greater powers (and ever less accountability) to the police, is making its way through Parliament.
Mr Morgan, a husband and father of two, was found brutally murdered with an axe in his head behind the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham, southeast London, on 10 March 1987. For reasons that remain opaque, this grisly killing was barely looked into at the time by the Metropolitan police.
A brutal crime mysteriously uninvestigated
The apparently inexplicable lethargy of the Met in that original 1987 ‘investigation’ meant that the crime scene was left unsearched and unguarded – a piece of gross incompetence that only made sense in light of the insider dealings that were later revealed. Important documents disappeared and key witnesses were interviewed by policemen with whom they had close (but officially undeclared) friendships.
After much persistence by the victim’s family, it was admitted 10 years ago (24 years after the murder took place) that this first investigation had (as they had always suspected) been hampered by corruption. The one thing that has become clear is that the police were involved in Morgan’s death in some way – if not in the murder itself, then certainly in the subsequent cover-up of that murder.
Indeed, according to the Times, Mr Morgan’s family have long believed he was on the verge of revealing links between corrupt police officers and organised criminals.
Morgan’s brother Alastair has spent three and a half decades fighting for justice for his murdered sibling. Without his tenacity, the affair would certainly have been buried and forgotten by everyone except the family back in 1987.
But because of his determination, the case has not been allowed to die quietly, and a series of investigations (and investigations into investigations) have been grudgingly launched by the Met and various independent panels in the intervening years. “Despite six investigations and countless other reviews and pieces of work,” to use the words of Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, no-one has ever been brought to justice.
At the centre of all the investigations was Mr Morgan’s business partner Jonathan Rees. Mr Rees had extensive connections within the Met, and also with many of London’s seedier journalists – in particular with hacks at the News of the World, to whom he regularly sold stories.
In an unrelated case, Rees was later sentenced to seven years in prison for conspiring to plant cocaine on an innocent woman as part of a custody battle. While this does not prove his involvement in Daniel Morgan’s murder, it does highlight some serious ‘character flaws’ and reveal something about the way in which he operated.
Corruption at every level
The litany of failures of the first investigation is long indeed: important witnesses were not spoken to until many months after the murder; exhibit bags were left open and allowed to be contaminated; sensitive information was leaked to the press; no log was kept of case leads (or at least, not one that anyone has found).
When a murder prosecution was eventually brought against Rees and another three people, it collapsed in 2011 amidst the disclosure of a string of catastrophic ‘failures’.
Now, another ten years on from that collapse, a devastating report by an independent panel examining the various investigations into Daniel Morgan’s murder has concluded that the Metropolitan police is institutionally corrupt.
The panel was chaired by Baroness Nuala O’Loan and it took eight years to come to its conclusions rather than the expected one because of persistent obstruction by the current Met leadership, who spoke in words about cooperation but in practice did nothing but hamper efforts to access evidence and personnel. Cressida Dick has been personally blamed for placing “hurdles” in the way of the panel’s investigation.
According to the Times, the panel “found that the Met failed to properly investigate corrupt links between officers and suspects and that subsequent inquiries concealed or denied failings for the sake of the force’s public image”. (Daniel Morgan murder: Met chief Cressida Dick under fire over ‘institutional corruption’ by Fiona Hamilton, 15 June 2021)
According to another Times article, Baroness O’Loan’s 1,200-page, three-volume report “details how a series of subsequent investigations did not adequately chase down leads nor examine allegations of corruption.
“Among the most damning was its conclusion about a supposedly independent review by Hampshire police in 1998 which ‘did not pursue, to the fullest extent possible, evidence that serving or former police officers were involved in the murder’, or whether they committed crimes unconnected to the killing or had been guilty of disciplinary offences. There was ‘some evidence that this was deliberate conduct’, it said.
“A renewed inquiry led in 2008 to Rees and three other people being charged with murder. Their trial collapsed at the Old Bailey in 2011 after concerns about the police handling of ‘supergrass’ witnesses and the Met’s failure to disclose sensitive police files.”
The report contains many examples of police corruption stretching out over many years, which its authors clearly believed to be true. One former detective constable said it was normal practice in the Flying Squad to place a ‘brown envelope’ on the desk of recruits, and to remove them from their posts if they did not accept the bribe. Others said they were paid not to make arrests.
Those who tried to expose wrongdoing found themselves “ostracised, transferred to a different unit, encouraged to resign, or facing disciplinary proceedings”.
“The panel itself listed eight examples of ‘cumulative failures’ that it said amounted to institutional corruption on behalf of the Met, Hampshire constabulary and the Police Complaints Authority, the former watchdog.
“They included repeated and inaccurate claims there was no corruption involved in Morgan’s murder and a specific attempt by a senior officer to cover up any possibility of police involvement. They detailed how the Met in the 1990s did not regard it as a serious failure that police officer suspects had moonlighted for Southern Investigations. The corruption included leaks to the media.” (Daniel Morgan inquiry reveals corruption, cover-up and litany of failures by the Met by Fiona Hamilton and John Simpson, The Times, 16 June 2021)
Shady media links
Investigating Rees’s links to the media, the panel found 273 instances in which journalists had been provided with confidential police information, including about a surveillance operation to discover whether Dave Cook, a senior detective who led the 2008 murder inquiry, was having an affair.
“The panel said there was strong circumstantial evidence that the surveillance of Cook was instigated by Rees or Fillery, and arranged by a senior News of the World journalist, with a view to discrediting or intimidating Cook and thus disrupting the Morgan inquiry.” (The Times, ibid)
One former Met commissioner (Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington) went on to write a regular column for the News of the World. Cook himself went on to give confidential information to the Sun and to the BBC (it is the belief of the Morgan family that Cook’s aberrations were acts of well-meant desperation to actually catch the killers and bring them to justice).
While the evidence of exactly who was taking backhanders or doing ‘favours’ at the time of the original case has been obliterated, it is very clear that not only the original investigation, but also those that followed, were all hampered and obstructed by the Met at every level, and that those responsible have been rewarded rather than punished.
Bernard Hogan-Howe, who headed the Met for much of the time it was engaged in frustrating the Daniel Morgan panel (set up by then prime minister Theresa May in 2013), has since been given a peerage.
Then assistant commissioner Cressida Dick (now Dame Cressida and Met commissioner) was the officer primarily responsible for what it regarded as disreputable delaying tactics. For seven years, the Met denied the panel access to evidence – in particular to the vital ‘Holmes’ computer system used by the service for the investigation of major incidents.
“The delay to the panel’s report, which was meant to take a year, was largely blamed on obfuscation and blockage by the Met. Dame Cressida Dick, its commissioner, was singled out for criticism over her initial refusal to allow the panel access to the data system that contained information about the murder.
“The panel paints Dick as obstructive and defensive and alleges that she reneged on a promise to Baroness O’Loan, the panel chairwoman, to provide unfettered access to the system. Her refusal was one of a number of ‘hurdles’ thrown up by senior officers that showed a ‘lack of candour’, the panel concluded.
“While another senior officer claimed the reluctance to give access was to protect the identities of informants and that the system could not be redacted, the panel later found that redaction was possible.” (The Times, ibid)
Notably, Cressida Dick was also in charge of the operation that resulted in the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes – another crime for which no-one has ever been held to account
The state takes care of its own
According to Baroness O’Loan: “The family of Daniel Morgan has suffered grievously as a consequence of the failure to bring his murderer or murderers to justice, the unwarranted assurances which they were given, the misinformation which was put into the public domain, and the denial of the failings in investigation, including failing to acknowledge professional incompetence, individuals’ venal behaviour, and managerial and organisational failures.
“We believe that concealing or denying failings for the sake of an organisation’s public image is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit, and constitutes a form of institutional corruption.”
The Morgan family’s own statement said: “We welcome the recognition that we, and the public at large, have been failed over the decades by a culture of corruption and cover-up in the Metropolitan police, an institutionalised corruption that has permeated successive regimes in the Metropolitan police and beyond to this day.”
Meanwhile, prime minister Boris Johnson, asked if he had confidence in Cressida Dick, replied simply: “Yes.” And Dame Cressida herself appears to find nothing to apologise for in any of her actions. Indeed, she has stated categorically that she has “no intention of resigning”.
We can only concur with the words of Alastair Morgan that the Met is “rotting from the top down”.
As the crisis of capitalism deepens, and the consequent inequality and poverty in our society grow ever worse, we can expect the corrupt and class character of all the forces of the state to become ever more blatant.
Whether involved in corruption or brutality, serving police officers will continue to be protected from the consequences of any crimes they might commit whilst in uniform so long as they remain loyal servants to the ruling class and preservers of the status quo.