The death of Daniel Morgan

Why, after five police investigations into Daniel Morgan's death, there must now be a judicial inquiry

Late on 10 March 1987 a man was murdered in the car park of a south London pub.  The man was Daniel Morgan, a father of two, and the founding partner of a private investigation firm called Southern Investigations.  Morgan was 37 years-old when he died; had he lived he would now be 62.

The murder was brutal. 

He was struck to the head four times with an axe.   "As a result of these injuries there was evidence of direct brain damage which resulted in death," recorded the pathologist drily.  When the body was discovered, the axe was still embedded in the victim's face.  There was no evidence of Morgan having defended himself.  The killing appears to have been swift.

Whatever the motive for this murder, it was not obviously theft.  It seems that valuables were not taken.  But such was the nature of the attack that it was evident that it must have had a motive and have been premeditated; this was not some random execution.  The axe handle was carefully wrapped so that it did not have finger prints.  The lack of a gun meant there was no sound of a shot, nor any firearm to be traced or disposed of.  The axe was non-descript: it was one of thousands of that model imported that year for High Street retail from an overseas supplier.  So the murder was clearly a deliberate act, undertaken in a way so as to avoid the detection of the persons who had carried it out. 

But why does this one murder matter some twenty-five years later? 

After all, there were about 600 other murders in Britain in 1987: why should this particular homicide warrant any more attention in 2012 than any of the others?  Surely the facts that the murder remains unsolved and that it was particularly gruesome do not by themselves prioritise this case above the many other dreadful killings which remain unexplained.

However, the aftermath of the death of Daniel Morgan still matters today for anyone interested in how the relationship between the police and media took the form it did over the last quarter century.  This is partly because of what the aftermath tells of the horrifying scope of police corruption and the wrongful trade in private information.  And it is partly because of how the mainstream media – and one newspaper group in particular – came to be allegedly involved in the attempts to frustrate a police investigation.  In a way, the Daniel Morgan case serves as a grim index of many things which went wrong in the relationship between policing, the media, and the criminal justice sytem in the UK over the last twenty-five years.

 

Police corruption and the failure of the criminal justice system

The collective failure of the police and the courts to provide justice has been as staggering as it has been drawn out.  To have one failed investigation is unfortunate; but in this matter there has been five separate police investigations over twenty-five year costing an estimated £30 million, and all without a single defendant being put before a jury, let alone convicted.

There were police investigations in 1987, 1988-89, 1998-2000, 2002-03, and most recently after 2008.  Certain individuals have been arrested and re-arrested, and charged and re-charged in relation to the murder, like so many toys moving around on a circular track; but something always happened to prevent the case ever going to full trial. 

Like the cases of Stephen Lawrence and the Cardiff Three, the Daniel Morgan case shows something rotten in the police culture of the time.  Senior police officers now freely admit that "corruption was a deliberating factor" in the initial investigation of the crime.  Former Assistant Commissioner John Yates was quoted as saying that the case "is one of the more deplorable episodes in the entire history of the Metropolitan Police".  It is a murder investigation which has gone wrong in many ways for twenty-five years.

The one stark underlying problem has been the apparant extensive commercial and personal relationships between some of those suspected of the murder and the local police.  One prime suspect seems to have had numerous contacts in the Metropolitan Police, who provided him with extensive information in return for cash and favours. 

This trade in private information was not a mere dodgy business concern for pin money and the cost of lunch and a beer; it was instead the apparent misuse of police information on an almost industrial scale, and one which was worth hundreds of thousands a year.  It was almost as if the police were not custodians of the peace but were instead a commercial entity in a supply chain.   There would, of course, be many vested interests in not upsetting such a cart of bad apples. 

This, however, is not the full story.

 

The relationship between the media and the wrongful trade in private information

What electrifies this particular case, and makes it a matter of wider public concern, is not the predictable and mundane if depressing presence of evident police corruption and a roaring trade in private information. 

It is that as the 1990s and 2000s went by, the tabloid media became the greatest customers of the private information obtained and sold on by some of those suspected of the murder of Daniel Morgan and still connected with Southern Investigations.  Here the story shifts from the environs of a south London car park to contaminate what is still called “Fleet Street”. 

During this period, as Nick Davies has put it, for Southern Investigations the money simply came pouring in.  Even when one central figure in this matter was released from a lengthy prison sentence (for a crime unrelated to Daniel Morgan) he was immediately given another lucrative contract by the editor of a national newspaper so as to supply information.

And as the reach of both the commercial activity and the influence of Southern Investigations extended, it appeared that the resources of at least one national newspaper were actually employed at the direction or request of a suspect so as to frustrate one of the police investigations into Daniel Morgan's death.  Evidence for this startling contention was put before the Leveson Inquiry earlier this year (see Jacqui Hames' witness statement here at paragraphs 29-42, and a post by Brown Moses here). 

One cannot know whether these worrying allegations are true or false; but if this exercise in surveillance and intimidation did happen then it means this was no longer just a matter of corruption in south London.  It would seem an international media company was now implicated as being used by powerful men seeking to avoid prosecution by frustating a police investigation.

 

Why there needs to be a judicial inquiry

The recent arrests of two individuals closely connected with this case means that this post cannot expand on some of the points made above (even if the arrests seem not to be connected with the murder of Daniel Morgan) and so I have avoided naming names.  Those individuals are entitled to due process, and nothing in this post or follow-on posts should be taken to prejudice their cases in the event that they are charged on any criminal matter. 

In any case, this is not an exercise in "trial by blog" - the correct place for determining any criminal liability is always in a courtroom.  Indeed, as it stands, there appears to be no direct and admissible evidence against any suspect in relation to the death of Daniel Morgan.   This is not about the guilt of any particular person. 

There is a wider issue here than the criminal liability of any of the individuals suspected of the murder. 

The failures in dealing with case of Daniel Morgan seem to be systemic.  As I will set out in the follow-on posts, for twenty-five years there appears to have been (at best) a reluctance by the Metropolitan Police to fully ensure that there is any justice in this case. 

Alastair Morgan, the brother of Daniel Morgan, a good man who campaigned tirelessly for justice for his brother for twenty-five years, tells me that he has encountered obstruction and secrecy by the Metropolitan Police at every turn. 

The first and most important  investigation was fundamentally flawed – one of the investigating officers was even subsequently charged (but not convicted) in connection with the murder and he certainly did not disclose his connections to the deceased at the time.  The other investigations, as I will set out, were inadequate and inconclusive in various ways.  Even the final investigation led only to an Old Bailey hearing of a year and a half devoted to mere preliminary legal argument before collapsing in March 2011 due to the avoidable failure of the police to disclose evidence to the defendants, in addition to the striking out of inadmissible “supergrass” evidence.

In response to  an adjournment debate called by Tom Watson MP earlier this year, the Home Office said that the Metropolitan Police were undertaking a new “forensic review” of the available evidence (similar to that which uncovered DNA evidence against the murderers of Stephen Lawrence) in the hope that something fresh may turn up.  But Alastair Morgan and others no longer have confidence in the Metropolitan Police.  It is easy to see why.  They have been let down too many times.

The collapse last year of the Old Bailey hearing means that, as a matter of law, there is little or no likelihood of there ever being a criminal trial.  Six key suspects were either acquitted or discharged.  They are, rightly, to be presumed innocent.  It would appear that no one will ever be convicted in relation to the murder of Daniel Morgan.

There needs to be a judicial inquiry: not to apportion criminal liability, but to ascertain what exactly went repeatedly wrong over these twenty-five years.  In particular, there needs to be an examination of the extent of influence various suspects had over police decisions in investigating the murder.

No one can say that this shameful record of seeming corruption, incompetence, abuses of power, and legal failures is actually acceptable, even to the acquitted and discharged defendants.  Justice has not even been served from the suspects' point of view (one of whom has also called for an inquiry).  The Home Office, wisely, has said that it has not closed its mind to an inquiry in the event the “forensic review” comes up with nothing.

It may well be that a judicial inquiry cannot take place until due process for those recently arrested for what seem unrelated offences has run its course. 

But the issues raised by what happened in the aftermath of the death of Daniel Morgan would benefit from an experienced judge being able to compel evidence and ask questions under oath or affirmation. 

Indeed, there is no other sensisible way an overall failure of this scale can be addressed. 

Such an inquiry may not bring justice for the murder of Daniel Morgan; but it may demonstrate why such justice was not achieved, and revealing this would be a good thing in itself.

 

The Justice forDaniel website is here and the campaign can be followed on Twitter at @Justice4Daniel

Daniel Morgan.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle