The Home Secretary’s announcement today of a judge-led panel to consider the murder of Daniel Morgan in 1987 is both an end and a potential beginning.
It signals that a twenty-five year campaign by the family of Daniel Morgan has finally achieved an appropriate independent inquiry. There have been five police investigations into the vicious axe murder but no prosecution put before a jury (see the background post here). Cases have collapsed, and many excuses given; but there has been no real sign before today that any light will be shown on the darkness which surrounds this notorious case. It is a great achievement by Daniel’s quiet but determined brother Alastair Morgan that the panel was announced today. As he told Channel 4 news:
Through almost three decades of public protests, meetings with police officers at the highest ranks, lobbying of politicians and pleas to the media, we have found ourselves lied to, fobbed off, bullied, degraded and let down time and time again. What we have been required to endure has been nothing less than mental torture.
…we trust and hope that the panel, through its examination and publication of all relevant material and information, will assist the authorities to confront and acknowledge this failure for once and for all, so that we may at last be able to get on with our lives.
The announcement also may be the beginning of the truth finally coming out about this sordid matter.
The way successive police investigations and prosecutions failed to get anywhere, and the evident collusion of parts of the media and the private investigation business in this, could well be startlingly revealing about the culture of police and media corruption over the last twenty-five years. Even senior police officers admit that something very wrong – and corrupt – happened in respect of this case. It may be that what comes out in this inquiry about the failures of the police and the media will make the celebrity complaints at the Leveson Inquiry look like events at a tame garden party.
It is especially significant that the panel will address the three key and inter-related areas of concern in the case: the police involvement in the murder; the role played by police corruption in protecting those responsible for the murder from being brought to justice and the failure to confront that corruption; and the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the News of the World and other parts of the media and alleged corruption involved in the linkages between them.
Whilst this is not quite a full judicial inquiry (and there seems to be little scope for oral evidence), it looks as if the panel will approach its task in the same diligent way the Hillsborough panel did over a similarly historic but contentious event and its alleged cover-up. The panel cannot impose any criminal liability – and unfortunately it appears that no one will now ever be prosecuted for the murder – but it may expose the systemic failures and corruption in this case and by doing so finally allow there to be accountability for the wrongs done. That would be a kind of justice for Daniel Morgan, and it is perhaps the only one now still available.
From being a case which has been obscure and sometimes conveniently forgotten, the case of Daniel Morgan may soon become a byword for a culture of excess which existed for over two decadesat both Scotland Yard and Fleet Street.
David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman