The killing of 37-year-old private detective Daniel Morgan in south London in 1987, and the failure to bring anyone to justice, is one of the darkest marks on the reputation of the Metropolitan police.
Thanks to his relatives, who have dedicated a large portion of their lives to discovering who killed him, who covered it up and why, a huge amount of information is now in the public domain. The report of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, published on Tuesday – eight years after Theresa May commissioned it – would not exist were it not for their refusal to give up and go away.
The report does not reveal who killed Morgan, who was found with an axe in the back of his head in a car park, leaving his wife of 10 years without a husband and two young children without a father. What it does expose is the extent of the police’s culpability in the failed initial investigation, three further investigations and several reports and reviews in between. Police corruption was acknowledged to have been a factor in these events by the Met in 2011, and this was not a matter of one rogue officer or “bad ’un”, in the expression used by the Met chief, Cressida Dick, earlier this week. During this period numerous officers associated with criminals. Evidence also points to them drinking with DS Sidney Fillery and Jonathan Rees, Morgan’s business partner, when they were suspected of involvement in his death.
Given this background, and the disastrous collapse of the police’s most recent attempt to solve the case, led by DCS David Cook, what is most extraordinary about this new report is that the Met appears to have been the biggest obstacle its authors faced. There are good reasons for Ms Dick to resign in light of this obduracy, although there is no reason to think that the choice of replacement by the illiberal home secretary, Priti Patel, would be an improvement. Had ministers given the panel statutory powers, the force’s non-cooperation would have been illegal, so the blame lies with them too.
News UK (formerly News International) has a murky part in this horrific tale. It was a client of Mr Rees, once paying him £150,000 for information in a single year. The report found that circumstantial evidence strongly supports the idea that Alex Marunchak, who worked for the News of the World, arranged surveillance of DCS Cook and his wife, Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames, although he has denied wrongdoing.
Recommendations include improved vetting procedures, new protection for whistleblowers and a statutory duty of candour. More than 20 years after Sir William Macpherson described the Met as institutionally racist, the independent panel’s chair, Nuala O’Loan, finds it guilty of institutional corruption, defined as dishonesty for reputational benefit. What a travesty of public service.