“It’s driven me to near insanity” Alastair Morgan confesses. For 28 years Morgan has relentlessly fought to establish the truth behind the murder of his brother, Daniel Morgan, a private investigator found with an axe in his head in a Sydenham pub car park.
“That feeling of powerlessness, that nobody is listening to you when you know serious stuff is going on. It’s soul destroying. That can really send you close to the edge mentally. And it can be like that for years.”
Five failed police investigations and an ongoing independent inquiry, Morgan is still searching for the truth. Living in leafy Islington with his “hugely supporting” partner Kirsteen, a producer at BBC Radio 4, the 66-year-old translator is at the fore-front of what has been called the most notorious unsolved murder of the last 50 years. His younger brother’s death is stained with police corruption, tangled in a web of allegedly corrupt relationships between police officers, private investigators and journalists.
Seeking justice for nearly 30 years, a period in which he has probably attended “nearly 600 meetings”, anyone would forgive Morgan for calling it a day. However, Morgan has the fight of a Rottweiler. With such an unswerving determination, it’s no surprise that at long last it seems his voice is finally being heard.
On March 16, Morgan received a personal letter from Rupert Murdoch. Inside was a promise to co-operate with the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, a judge-led enquiry launched in 2013 by the Home Secretary Theresa May, to investigate police involvement within Daniel’s murder and the following failed investigations.
The media moguls assurance comes after it emerged during the 2012 Leveson Inquiry that News of The World journalists had placed Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook, an officer on the fourth investigation into Daniel’s murder, under surveillance. There have been claims that the surveillance was the result of corrupt relations between suspects within the case and the now-disbanded-publication’s journalists.
Morgan is convinced that “bent coppers” have protected those responsible for Daniel’s death, claiming there have been repeated attempts by the Metropolitan Police to cover up embarrassing malpractice within the failed investigations. “The system is so discredited that it is no good. It is not fit for purpose” he declares solemnly. “Cover up is the Met’s default position” he alleges, “if there’s a worse case than Daniels, I don’t know about it.”
He describes how at the time of Daniel’s brutal death in 1987, his brother was about to “blow the whistle on police corruption” he had uncovered. Allegations have emerged that shortly before his murder, the private investigator had approached the News of the World with a story disclosing a group of corrupt officers potentially involved in a cocaine smuggling ring. It was this knowledge, Morgan says, that led to his horrific killing.
Daniel Morgan was found next to his BMW at the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham, with an axe embedded in his head. The 37-year-old still had two packets of crisps in his hand that he had bought moments earlier. He left behind two young children and a wife.
“You think it’s something that happens to other people until it happens to your own family”, Morgan said quietly. “When we were at the inquest, the solicitor asked if we wanted to see the photographs [of Daniel’s body]. I said no. I’m glad I did because if I ever saw them it would be etched in my mind, I would never be able to forget it. I want to remember him as I remember him, not that.”
The son of an army officer, Morgan was born in Singapore before moving to Monmouthshire, Wales. He and Daniel were close as brothers, he recalls, with only eleven months between them. The death of their father when Morgan was just 16 brought the family – Morgan has a younger sister called Jane, now 62 – closer together. “I think if any of us were in real trouble, we would go to our siblings for help.”
He remembers Daniel as having a great memory. “We would be driving along and he would say to me ‘I know that car. I was looking for that car two years ago’”. Daniel was bright too, according to his older brother, but not in the academia sense. “Daniel wasn’t interested in academic studies. It’s not that he wasn’t clever, he just wasn’t interested.” After leaving school, Daniel attended an agricultural college at Usk, South Wales, before moving to Denmark. After a few years away he returned to the UK as a travel guide for foreign tourists. In 1997 he began working as a private investigator in London.
On the night of his murder, Daniel had been at a pre-arranged meeting in the Golden Lion with Jonathan Rees, a business partner at his detective agency Southern Investigations. Rees denied having any involvement in Daniel’s death, despite allegations by a former colleague that Rees had told him of his plans to kill Daniel, six months before the murder. In 2011 Rees and two other suspects were cleared of killing Daniel. The trial had collapsed after 18 months of legal argument.
Two years after the collapsed trial, The Daniel Morgan Independent Panel was launced. The ongoing enquiry, investigating police involvement into Daniel’s murder, received its first set of documents from the Metropolitan Police in December 2014. 18 months after the Morgan panel first requested the case files.
“The panel has no statutory law, so it can’t order people to disclose anything. The only weapon it has is embarrassment.” Morgan explains that it was this lack of power that led him to personally write to Murdoch in March this year. He asked the media mogul to co-operate with the panel by allowing it access to all archive files, email evidence and results of any internal investigations relating to the 2002 surveillance.
“I thought [the letter] will be a way of putting pressure on NewsUK and making it embarrassing for them if they didn’t co-operate with the panel. Also, if it is coming from me and my family, it’s got more emotional and moral pull than if the panel asks.”
Jaqui Hames, the ex-wife of Dave Cook and a former Crimewatch presenter, told the Leveson Inquiry that she believed the reason for the publication surveilling her family was that suspects in Daniel’s case were using their association with a powerful newspaper “to intimidate them and so attempt to subvert the investigation.”
According to Hames, police did little to protect the couple. The inquiry heard that that when editor Rebekah Brooks was confronted about the surveillance in 2003, Brooks claimed the tabloid had targeted the couple because they believed Cook and Hames were having an affair. Had News of the World done a simple background search, Morgan explains, they would have known that Hames and Cook were married with two children.
Six days after Morgan wrote to Murdoch, Murdoch responded saying that he was “confident we will respond appropriately to any further government investigation into this tragedy”. While the reply seems to indicate co-operation on Murdoch’s half, Morgan remains “cautiously optimistic” about the future outcome of the independent panel.
“How much [paperwork] has been destroyed?” Morgan says cooly. It is clear that after all these years, no level of deception or corruption would surprise him.
“My experience of this case is, and it has been right from the word go, the more you find out the worse it gets. You never find out anything that makes it better.”
The toll of the last 28 years has certainly not escaped him, nor has the thought of giving up at times. “On occasions I feel sick to death of fighting, but then I will pretend not to think about it for a couple of weeks and then get back at it. I mean there have been times when I think what do I do next? Where do I go next? Who do I turn to now?”
He cites “depression” as a personal effect of the never-ending battle, as well as bouts of stress and anxiety. “I mean five murder investigations. Living through a murder investigation is hell.” However, for Morgan the biggest sacrifice he has had to make is establishing a career for himself. “The one big loss for me is developing a career for the rest of my life. My job has always had to come second. I’m a translator and I do that because it means I can work freelance. I can go to meetings with police or the panel. If I had a nine till five job, I would never have been able to do it.”
Despite periods of despair and life-changing sacrifices, Morgan holds an unswerving determination to expose the police corruption that he believed led to the killing of Daniel and contributed to the failings of the investigations. “I think trust in police is in inverse proportion to how much you have had to do with them.”
“Systematic corruption, deliberate corruption, can’t be tolerated. The more you let it slip, the more you let it go by, the worse it gets.”
Morgan speaks so fervently that it’s clear how he has been able to endure for so long. Although nearly three decades have passed, a burning passion for justice still ignites.
As the independent panel continue reviewing Daniel’s case, Morgan hopes the inquiry will bring out “as much of the truth as possible.” With Murdoch having given word that he will co-operate, his battle seems much more likely to succeed than before. “I’m going to continue until I have exposed police corruption. It’s not if, it’s when, as far as i’m concerned.”
Daniel Morgan Case: Timeline
10 March 1987
Daniel Morgan is found dead next to his BMW in the car park of the Golden Lion Pub in Sydenham, south London.
Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery, of Catford police station, is assigned to the case.
Six people are arrested on suspicion of Daniel’s murder. The six include Sid Fillery, Jonathan Rees – Morgan’s former business partner – Glenn Vian, Garry Vian, and two other Met officers. All six are released with no charge.
An inquest at Southwark coroners court returns a verdict of unlawful killing.
Hampshire Police begin an outside inquiry into the handling of the case and the murder inquiry itself.
Three people are arrested on suspicion of Daniel’s murder. Rees and another man are charged with the murder.
Charges are dropped due to lack of evidence. Sid Fillery joins Rees as his partner at Southern Investigations.
Scotland Yard place a bug in Southern Investigations office. The bug reveals a plot by Rees to plant cocaine on a woman so that her estranged husband could get custody of their child. Rees is arrested.
Rees is jailed for seven years after being found guilty of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
A fourth inquiry begins.
News of the World places the investigating officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook, under surveillance.
The Metropolitan Police puts forward evidence on a number of people relating to Daniel’s murder, but the Crown Prosecution Service decides not to prosecute.
A fifth inquiry led by Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook is begun in secret.
Police arrest and charge Rees, the Vian brothers and a Surrey-based builder called James Cook on suspicion of Daniel’s murder and Fillery on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Legal arguments begin at the Old Bailey.
The director of public prosecutions decides to pull the case after police files are discovered that should have been disclosed to defence lawyers two years previously, and evidence from super-grasses is discredited. The trail collapses after 18 months of legal argument.
Chief Crown prosecutor for London, Alison Saunders, and Cressida Dick, Assistant Commissioner, said the issues around disclosure were such that they could not guarantee “all relevant material had been identified, considered and disclosed so as to ensure a fair trial”.
Jaqui Hames tells the Leveson Inquiry that News of the World placed her husband – Dave Cook – and herself under surveillance because suspects in Daniel’s case were using their association with the publication to intimidate them “and so subvert the investigation.”
10 May 2013
Home Secretary Theresa May announces the launch of The Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, an independent judge-led inquiry that will look into Daniel’s case.
The independent panel receive the first batch of documents from the Metropolitan Police.
10 March 2015
Daniel Morgan hand-delivers a letter to head offices of NewsUK, addressed to Rupert Murdoch. Inside, he asks Murdoch to co-operate with the independent panel.
16 March 2015
Murdoch replies to Morgan saying he was “confident we will respond appropriately to any further government investigation into this tragedy”.