Review published on June 28, 2017.
Private detective Daniel Morgan was brutally murdered on the night of 10th March 1987. He was killed in the most horrific manner imaginable – axed to death, a hatchet buried in his face. So violent was this assault – three blows in all – that the final blow, delivered as Daniel lay helpless on his back, severed his brainstem.
Murder in the United Kingdom is thankfully rare. In the year ending March 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) records there to have been 571 homicides in England and Wales. This figure has remained remarkably stable, so that for 1987, the year of Daniel’s death, a Parliamentary Research Paper published in 1999 gave the recorded number of homicides in England and Wales as 599. The British police have a good track record for solving such crimes. Figures are difficult to come by – suspects might come to trial many months after the crime was committed, meaning that it is tricky to make yearly statistical comparisons between, say, the number of homicides detected in any given year and the number of convictions. That said, the same Parliamentary Research Paper records 515 convictions of homicide in 1987 (these include the full gamut of convictions: homicide, manslaughter, infanticide, etc). Obviously, as pointed out above, not all these 515 convictions will correspond to offences committed in the same year. However, like the homicide rate, the clear up rate has remained relatively stable, giving some indication that the police in England and Wales are generally adept at solving, to some degree at least, crimes of homicide.
So what does this mean for the Daniel Morgan murder? Well, going on the statistics alone, one might expect his murderers to have been rapidly identified, apprehended, tried, convicted and imprisoned. And indeed, to a certain extent that occurred. As with the murder of Stephen Lawrence, suspects were identified relatively quickly. Very early on, Daniel’s brother, Alistair, was alerting the inquiry to his suspicions regarding Daniel’s former business partner, Jonathan Rees. And it wasn’t long before a member of the murder inquiry, Sid Fillery, was discovered to have worryingly close links to Rees. Indeed, Fillery himself fell under suspicion, leading to his retirement from the police, where he subsequently took Daniel’s place at the detective agency.
These links between an officer on the murder inquiry and one of the leading suspects were deeply troubling to Alistair and it wasn’t long before the first murder inquiry was irretrievably compromised. That said, the police could have recovered from this. If the police corruption that damaged the first inquiry had been honestly grappled with, a second inquiry could have stopped the rot and brought Daniel’s killers to justice. Tragically this was not to occur. Yes, the police tried again. In fact, to date, there have been five further inquiries into Daniel’s murder. Yes, you read that right. Five further homicide inquiries. And the result? Not one conviction.
So investigated has this murder been in one form or another, that the authors claim, quite convincingly, it to be the most investigated homicide in modern British legal history. And yet the offenders continue to walk free and hardly anyone, until now at least, has heard of it. The question must be, why?
I recently read another reviewer’s take on Untold Murder. This review claimed the reason for the case’s relative obscurity was down to Daniel’s Welsh heritage. The reviewer, a highly-respected journalist and documentary maker, who has covered the story himself and struggled to get others to do likewise, says that the Welsh media were happy to cover the case but London-based journalists in the national press treated it with indifference. He claims that this is in part due to a historical bias English people have against the Welsh. Perhaps he’s right, perhaps that played a part. I myself, however, would put the emphasis elsewhere: laziness and fear.
I worked for many years in current affairs television: first in BBC West Midlands, then for Granada Television where I worked on the Jonathan Dimbleby Programme, and then for a good ten years in documentaries, where I worked across Channel 4 Dispatches, for PBS and National Geographic. While I enjoyed my time, met many fine people, I also saw first-hand how risk averse management often was. And lazy. Seriously, a story generally had to be clear cut. It needed to be quickly explainable. These people don’t do nuance.
Let’s return to the Stephen Lawrence murder as means of example. White racists stab to death a young black man. Police mess it up due to institutional racism. Easy to understand. No complexity. There’s a reason that the police corruption surrounding that case – almost certainly a strong contributory factor – has only now begun to get traction. The media likes its tales to be simple. This argument is in no way meant to downplay the racism the Lawrences’ were up against, or belittle their achievements in dragging the police and judicial system from the darks ages of prejudice. But the fact is the Lawrences themselves suspected corruption and tried to draw attention to it but the odds at the time were insurmountable.
Now turn back to Daniel Morgan’s murder. A murky tale of organised crime and police corruption, political malfeasance and dodgy tabloid journalists. You can see why people shied away. Now note those last two points. Political malfeasance and dodgy tabloids and you reach that second element I talked about for the media’s silence: Fear.
My first run in with tabloid bully boy tactics was back at the turn of the century when I studied broadcast journalism at City University. On the neighbouring newspaper course was a young lad who was on a News of the World scholarship. The newspaper people and the broadcast students used to share the odd classes – media law, Government, etc – and me and this guy used to butt heads. Now remember the timeframe, this was back when the Screws and its ilk was at the height of its power. Mazher Mahmood, the Fake Sheikh, was still running around, and the paper was basically ruining lives at will. As journalism students, we all knew the power of the News of The World, we all heard the whispers of their alchemy – the so-called Dark Arts. Anyway, one day me and this lad got into a row about something silly and after the class he threatened me. A throwaway line about speaking to someone at the Screws to sort me out. Now to be clear, he was almost certainly joking. And I had done nothing wrong so even if some hack had gone through my bins, he or she wouldn’t have found anything. But the point is, at the time I couldn’t help but feel a shiver run down my spine. Years later, working in current affairs TV, I regularly saw this: a wariness of the tabloids, a sense that these people needed to be handled carefully, like they were dangerous animals which might bite at any moment.
Reading Untold Murder, or listening to the podcast, is a revealing experience. Back then the tabloid “Dark Arts” were little understood. But this book reveals what exactly they entailed, and there’s just one word for it: criminality. Daniel’s former business partner, Jonathan Rees, took Daniel’s company and turned it into a one-stop shop for corrupting police officers. Cops were paid by Rees and co. to access the Police National Computer and other sensitive databases. Rees and his wider circle of dodgy PI’s, corrupt cops, and amoral tabloid hacks, engaged in voicemail hacking, computer hacking, blagging personal information from banks and utilities, and then selling it on. And their main clients? Step forward the tabloids, and in particular, the News of The World.
So, the reason Daniel’s murder has never been solved? The reason that the London-based media were always hesitant to cover it? The same reason reading this book is so compelling, so shocking. I’ve left journalism behind, am now an aspiring novelist, and there’s an adage: stranger than fiction. And it’s true, there are things in real life that if you made up people wouldn’t believe. This case is one of them. Before the phone hacking scandal, before Leveson, if one had spun a tale of a murdered private eye, a detective agency wrenched from his dead fingers and steered rogue, of corrupt cops, amoral tabloid journalists, leading politicians selling their souls to media barons or else destroyed in tabloid stings, what would have been the response? Would readers have bought it? I suspect it would be dismissed as far-fetched, as conspiracy theory. But it’s all true. And at heart is the tale of a good man struck down and his brother, Alistair, indefatigable to the last.
In conclusion, this is a terrible true tale, albeit brilliantly told. This is one of the most important non-fiction titles published in a very long time. Anyone who cares about justice, about the society we live in, should read this book. I can’t recommend it enough.
James Pierson 5/5
Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder Exposed by Peter Jukes and Alastair Morgan
Blink Publishing 9781911274605 hbk May 2017