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Anger as Patel delays publication of report into private detective’s murder

Independent panel set up to investigate killing of Daniel Morgan ‘furious’ at home secretary’s move

PI Daniel Morgan was found dead in a south London car park in 1987, with an axe embedded in his head.

Wed 19 May 2021

The home secretary has ordered that an independent report on claims murderers were shielded by police corruption and claims of corruption in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire must be vetted by her department before its publication.

The move triggered fury and follows eight years of work by a special panel to investigate the murder of private detective Daniel Morgan in 1987, who was found dead in a south London car park with an axe embedded in his head.

No one has been convicted of his murder with key suspects alleged to have close ties to News International, and claims police investigations were botched.

The report was due to finally be published next Monday and the panel has kept its silence since being set up by former home secretary Theresa May.

Priti Patel’s direct intervention was made in private on Monday, and on Tuesday the Morgan panel issued a blistering statement attacking the intervention warning it would compromise their independence.

The panel, chaired by Lady Nuala O’Loan, is understood to be furious about the demands which it insists had never been mentioned previously in the eight years since it was established.

The Morgan panel said it had been told the report would not be made public until it agreed to the pre-publication review by government, which it says breaches the understanding it has about its independence.

The panel also claimed the Home Office wanted the right to black out any part of the report it considered may breach “national security” or human rights obligations.

Morgan’s brother Alastair, who has waged a 34-year-long justice campaign, attacked the home secretary’s intervention as “shameful” and told the Guardian the panel should consider court action to protect the independence of its report.

Morgan told the Guardian: “They have known the terms of reference for the best part of a decade. I think it is shameful, but typical.

“The panel should consider going to the high court.”

In its statement the Daniel Morgan inquiry panel said that no mention was made by the Home Office of any need to review the report prior to its publication until this Monday: “The Panel was informed yesterday (Monday 17 May) that a publication date will not be agreed until the home secretary and Home Office officials and lawyers have reviewed the contents of the Panel’s Report.

“A review of this nature has not been raised previously in the eight years since the panel was established in 2013.”

It added: “The panel believes that this last-minute requirement is unnecessary and is not consistent with the panel’s independence.”

It said a senior team from the Metropolitan police had already checked to ensure there was nothing in the final report that jeopardised security.

The panel said it had an agreement with the Home Office dating back to 2013 limiting the government’s role: “In relation to report publication the home secretary’s role is limited to reporting to parliament on the Panel’s work, receiving the panel’s report and laying it before parliament, and thereafter responding to the panel’s findings.”

The panel added: “The panel is disappointed with this position and hopes the matter can be resolved in adequate time for its report to still be published in May while parliament is sitting.”

The panel’s terms of reference included “police involvement in the murder; the role played by police corruption in protecting those responsible for the murder … and the failure to confront that corruption.

But also the panel was investigating “the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the former News of the World and other parts of the media, and alleged corruption involved in the linkages between them.”

Those facing criticism in the report have already been sent letters warning them of the criticism, and inviting them to respond.

The motive for the murder has not been established. Some believe it resulted from a business dispute but following a fresh investigation the Met announced in 2007 that the motive for the murder was probably that Morgan “was about to expose a south London drugs network possibly involving corrupt police officers”.

At least one witness has said that Morgan was in discussions with the News of the World to sell a story about police corruption shortly before his death.

The prime suspects for involvement in the murder sued the Met at the high court and were named as Morgan’s business partner, Jonathan Rees, his brothers-in-law, Glenn and Garry Vian. The Met told the high court that Rees paid Glenn Vian to carry out the killing, and that Vian struck two blows with the axe.

In 2011 a murder trial collapsed with the suspects walking free.

Rees ran a corrupt private agency called Southern Investigations which was paid tens of thousands of pounds by the News of the World. One time Met detective Sid Fillery replaced Morgan as Rees’s business partner at the agency and while in the Met, worked on the first inquiry into the Morgan murder.

The former Sunday tabloid was closed by Murdoch at the height of the phone hacking scandal.

So close were ties between Southern Investigations and the Murdoch empire, that two executives set up a business which records show was registered at the same address as Southern.

Alastair’s campaign languished for years with few noticing. Recently it gained fresh attention after the case was seen as inspiring the police corruption in TV drama Line of Duty.

A Home Office spokesperson denied Patel wanted to block or censor parts of the report. They said: “Under the terms it was commissioned in 2013, it is for the home secretary to publish the report which she hopes to do as soon as possible.

“The home secretary also has an obligation to make sure the report complies with human rights and national security considerations.

“This has nothing to do with the independence of the report and the Home Office is not seeking to make edits to it.”

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