The Met corruption files: A chilling investigation into the police that links the botched probe in Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the axe killing of a private eye
- 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in 1993
- In 1987 private investigator Daniel Morgan was murdered in a pub car park
- Now Mail investigation sets out network of gross police dishonesty
- Also reveals lines of inquiry that could uncover extraordinary new scandal
This week saw the shocking revelation that a ‘lorry-load’ of documents compiled during a secret investigation into corruption in Britain’s biggest police force was shredded in 2003.
A secret ‘ghost squad’ of detectives involved in the inquiry uncovered proof of widespread criminality among their Metropolitan Police colleagues in the Eighties and Nineties.
Now, suspicion is growing that the original inquiries into two infamous South London murders – those of black teenager Stephen Lawrence and a private investigator named Daniel Morgan – were sabotaged by corrupt officers.
On Thursday, it was announced that Met chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has been called to give evidence on corruption relating to the Stephen Lawrence case at a home affairs select committee in the House of Commons next Tuesday.
Here, a special Mail investigation sets out a network of gross police dishonesty, and the new lines of inquiry that could yet uncover an extraordinary scandal.
THE PUB CAR PARK AXE MURDER
Daniel Morgan was unusual for a suburban private detective. Born in colonial Singapore to an Army officer father, he had trained as a farmer. Unlike many in his line of business, he’d never been a policeman.
His career came to a sudden end on the evening of March 10, 1987, when someone buried a hatchet into the side of his head in the car park of the Golden Lion public house in Sydenham, South London.
The married father of two was found lying next to his BMW and two unopened packets of crisps. The death blow left a long, crescent-shaped pool of blood on the ground and it wasn’t until after the body was taken to a mortuary that the axe was prised from his skull.
Sticking plaster had been wrapped around the weapon’s handle, apparently to prevent fingerprints and to increase grip.
Morgan’s Rolex watch had been taken, but his wallet remained untouched, as did £1,100 in cash in his suit trouser pocket.
Draw your own conclusions. You won’t be alone in thinking that robbery was not a prime motive.
In fact, the circumstances of Morgan’s murder, 27 years ago this month, have long been linked to the monstrous corruption that existed among specialist detective squads in South London in the Eighties and Nineties.
This week, it was revealed that thousands of documents – described as a ‘lorry-load’ – related to an internal police investigation into that corruption were shredded a decade ago.
Like the bloodstain across the Golden Lion car park, the unsolved Morgan case continues to blot the integrity of Britain’s largest law force, the Metropolitan Police.
Yet even that pales next to the malign legacy for the Met of its botched investigation into another killing which took place six years after Morgan’s death and, being only five miles down the road, within the same murder command.
THE STEPHEN LAWRENCE CONNECTION
Black teenager Stephen Lawrence was fatally stabbed by a gang of racist white youths in Eltham on April 22, 1993.
The initial police investigation was at best incompetent, and for years this newspaper led the campaign to get justice for the dead 18-year-old. It resulted in the conviction in 2012 of two of his suspected five murderers, David Norris and Gary Dobson.
This belated success has not quelled the desire by the Lawrences, let alone the family of Daniel Morgan, to discover why the Met failed so abysmally in the investigation of these two murders.
It is feared that widespread corruption among detectives in the Met may well have thwarted justice in both cases.
Almost a year ago, the Home Secretary ordered a Hillsborough-style inquiry into the role of police corruption in the Daniel Morgan case.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, Mark Ellison QC delivered his own independent review of possible corruption in the Stephen Lawrence case.
Not only did that make deeply uncomfortable reading for the Met but, for the first time, officially raised the possibility that there was an overlap of suspected corrupt officers involved in the investigations into both killings.
The focus of this line of inquiry is a former Met detective sergeant called John Davidson, whose probity has been the subject of official examination in the past.
Helped by access to original official documents and sources, and having examined the pivotal testimony of corrupt policemen, and the career of DS Davidson, we can now tell the story of what a secret 1994 Met corruption briefing document called the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.
Daniel Morgan founded Southern Investigations in Thornton Heath, South London, in 1984. His partner in the firm was a man called Jonathan Rees.
The relationship was not an easy one, and deteriorated in the months before Morgan’s grisly death in that pub car park. Rees had close links to many local CID officers, and hired them to ‘moonlight’ as security while they were off duty.
This was against police regulations and Morgan disapproved.
The issue came to a head in March 1986, when Southern Investigations was asked to protect a car auction company which had been robbed. Rees had the job of banking the firm’s takings, but after one such trip he claimed to have been attacked and robbed of £18,000 in cash.
The car auction firm did not believe this story. Daniel Morgan was furious when Rees suggested the money should be paid back out of their company’s own account.
The police investigation, which went nowhere, was led by Detective Constable Duncan Hanrahan – remember that name. He was a friend of Jonathan Rees, and through him knew Daniel Morgan.
Morgan was murdered a year later. Earlier on the fatal evening, Morgan and Rees had been drinking in the Golden Lion.
At a subsequent inquest, it was alleged that Rees had long wanted Morgan out of their firm, and had talked about having his police friends arrest him on a drink-driving charge, so that he would lose his private investigator’s licence.
More disturbingly, six months before the murder, Rees had allegedly begun to speak of having Morgan murdered. It would be arranged by his CID friends, who would ‘either do it themselves or arrange for someone on a pending charge to do it, and in return they will drop the charge’.
They were claims Rees denied.
What, then, of the police investigation into the Morgan killing which came to nothing?
One of the CID murder team was Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery. Another name to remember. Fillery had taken a statement from Jonathan Rees, and accompanied him to the mortuary to identify Morgan’s body.
What Fillery had neglected to tell his superintendent was that he was also a close friend of Rees, and had moonlighted with Southern Investigations at the car auctions.
Another employee of Southern Investigations told the inquest into the death that Fillery had removed paperwork linking himself to the business the day after the murder.
Incredibly, Fillery had even been drinking with Rees and Morgan in the Golden Lion on the night before the killing. Fillery was arrested, as was Rees, in connection with the murder, but they both denied wrongdoing and it was concluded there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to charge anyone.
Not long afterwards, Fillery left the police on medical grounds – and joined Southern Investigations. He had replaced the man in whose murder he had been implicated.
The Morgan family was appalled. They claimed that, shortly before his death, Morgan had spoken about going to the newspapers about local police corruption.
Hampshire police were brought in to reopen the investigation, and in February 1989 Jonathan Rees was arrested again and charged with murder, but the prosecution was halted three months later, again for lack of evidence.
This was a dark time for the Met. Not only was there no conviction in the Morgan case, but the stench of corruption was becoming overpowering.
THE GHOST SQUAD
Such was the concern among senior officers that, in late 1993, a covert ‘ghost squad’ of trusted detectives was set up to investigate. Working under the codename Operation Othona, their existence was kept secret even from their closest colleagues.
As they probed the murkier corners of the Met, one of the first names they came across was that of Detective Constable Duncan Hanrahan, who was, you might recall, the officer who led the investigation into the theft of the car auction company’s cash. (He was also a friend of Morgan’s business partner, Jonathan Rees.)
Hanrahan was arrested in 1994, and later pleaded guilty to a number of serious criminal conspiracies – relating to robbery, supplying drugs and perverting the course of justice. He was sentenced to more than eight years’ imprisonment.
The private detective firm run by Hanrahan’s friend Jonathan Rees and former policeman Sid Fillery was still operating. Following lobbying by the Morgan family, Southern Investigations was targeted by a ‘ghost squad’ bugging operation in 1998.
In one surveillance report it was stated: ‘Rees and Fillery are a crucial link between the criminal fraternity and serving officers.’
This pair, remember, were both arrested in connection with the murder of Daniel Morgan. At this point, the surveillance tapes offered an intriguing link to the death of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
One recording had Rees talking of ‘waiting for police to give him information on the desecration of the street memorial to… Stephen Lawrence’. (The memorial had been smashed on a number of occasions.)
The presumption must be that someone had asked Rees to find out what the Met knew about those responsible for the vandalism.
If so, who was asking the bent private detective for Lawrence-related police intelligence? It is one of many unanswered questions which must now be addressed.
We shall look at the further Lawrence connections later.
The bugging of Southern Investigations exposed an unrelated conspiracy which saw Jonathan Rees jailed for six years in 2001 for having tried to frame a client’s estranged wife for drug dealing.
Underscoring Rees’s links to corrupt officers, a serving police detective involved in the plot was also imprisoned.
So, Daniel Morgan’s former partner was behind bars – but not for his murder. The Morgan family’s wait to see someone jailed for his killing went on.
THE LAWRENCE DETECTIVE
We now come to the crucial figure of Detective Constable Neil Putnam, a bent South East Regional Crime Squad (SERCS) cop who was also a born-again Christian.
His newly acquired commitment to morality appears to have encouraged him to sing like a contrite canary when the ‘ghost squad’ came calling at his home in 1998.
An experienced detective, Putnam claimed he fell from grace only after joining the East Dulwich office of SERCS in 1991.
Routinely, drugs and drug dealers’ cash were stolen by detectives making big busts. The narcotics were then ‘recycled’ for cash, often to the very criminal informants who had given the tip-off.
Over a period of weeks, Neil Putnam gave a compelling account to the ‘ghost squad’ of wrongdoing by his fellow South London law-enforcers. A dozen or so were put in the frame.
One of them was the Scottish-born Detective Sergeant John Davidson. He was known as ‘OJ’, which stood for ‘Obnoxious Jock’.
In the summer of 1998, Putnam gave three statements to the investigators in which he alleged that Davidson had been corrupt.
Eight years later, in 2006 – though he claimed he had told the ghost squad in 1998 – Putnam alleged to BBC Panorama that Davidson had confessed to him about a corrupt relationship he had with the gangster Clifford Norris, father of Lawrence murderer David Norris.
Why is this important now? Because as a 1993 member of the South London murder squad, DS Davidson was part of the original Lawrence murder inquiry team.
Indeed, the Ellison Review spells out Davidson’s involvement in the arrest and interviews of two of the prime suspects, Gary Dobson and Luke Knight.
Davidson also dealt with an informant who named three of the five main suspects – including David Norris – whose faces appeared on the front of the Daily Mail under the headline ‘Murderers’ in 1997.
We accused them of killing Stephen Lawrence, and challenged them to sue us if we were wrong.
Davidson also took a statement from a teenager called Stacey Benefield. He had allegedly been stabbed by David Norris only weeks before Stephen Lawrence’s murder.
Benefield’s innocent role in this web of corruption is important because he was later offered £2,000 by Clifford Norris to change his story and deny he’d been stabbed by Norris’s son.
Cynics might say this is an extraordinary coincidence: a young man whom Clifford Norris had tried to corrupt had earlier been interviewed by DS Davidson. Norris junior was later controversially acquitted of the Benefield stabbing.
Davidson was suspended from duty in December 1995 over allegations of providing security and other unauthorised moonlighting services for an Australian businessman.
He was allowed to retire on ‘health grounds’, though his boss argued that ‘OJ’ was simply ‘attempting to avoid a Discipline Board and to obtain an enhanced pension in the process’.
The Ellison Review confirmed that disciplinary inquiries had been conducted into Davidson, although none resulted in any formal finding against him. Of particular concern to Yard bosses was the number of notoriously corrupt officers who were Davidson’s friends.
But crucially, the Ellison Review also found that the allegations about Davidson had not been revealed to all parties at the Macpherson Inquiry into the Met’s failed investigation of the Lawrence murder, which in 1999 delivered damning findings of ‘institutional racism’ in the force.
The Lawrence family was not told of the Davidson allegations, nor were the Met’s own legal team. Sir William Macpherson received a letter from then Deputy Commissioner John Stevens in autumn 1998, which alluded to potential Davidson issues, but that is as far as it went. Ellison described this as a ‘significant failure’.
Could it be that these lapses by police were a result of them putting the ‘ghost squad’ investigation above a need to be completely open with the Lawrence family? If so, it was a terrible mistake.
THE HIDDEN LINK BETWEEN THE MURDERS
We have established that serious questions hang over John Davidson’s role in the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
But what of the Daniel Morgan case? Could there be an unbroken thread of corruption running through the police which links the two botched inquiries?
Last month, the Met told the Ellison Review there was no evidence of John Davidson’s participation in the Morgan case. Yet the review had found an intelligence report from 2003 which ‘states that Davidson was attached to the initial investigation of the murder of Daniel Morgan in 1987’.
We have also learned that, in the early stages of the Morgan murder investigation, Davidson was working for a specialist Scotland Yard squad which was targeting two major South London criminals.
During the course of that inquiry, Davidson’s team received intelligence about a prime suspect in the Morgan case, and he liaised closely with the investigating murder squad.
Was there a link between Davidson and Jonathan Rees, the man who was charged with Morgan’s murder before the case against him was dropped by Crown Prosecution Service?
In fact, a ‘ghost squad’ surveillance tape did record Rees, his pal Sid Fillery and another disgraced officer discussing Davidson in 1999, to the effect that they knew he was being investigated by the police.
THE GRIEVING FAMILIES BETRAYED
There is no doubt the Morgan family have been betrayed by the police.
In 2006, the Metropolitan Police Authority – the watchdog which oversaw the Met’s overall performance – rejected a ‘flawed’ report by the then Commissioner Sir Ian Blair into the failed Morgan investigations. The report was deemed to have been hopelessly inadequate.
Ceaseless efforts by the Morgan family to secure justice led to an apparent breakthrough in 2008.
Morgan’s former partner Jonathan Rees – along with a number of associates – was arrested, and he was again charged with Morgan’s murder.
The former officer Sid Fillery – who had been convicted of child porn offences in 2003 – was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice.
But the cases foundered before they went before a jury. Why? Because the Crown Prosecution Service was uncertain that the defence had received all the related documents – estimated at 750,000 – the Met possessed.
So far, the numerous failed investigations into the Morgan murder have cost the taxpayer as much as £50million.