The Metropolitan police have been described as “institutionally corrupt” and its commissioner, Cressida Dick, personally censured for obstruction by an independent inquiry set up to review the murder of the private detective Daniel Morgan.
The findings of an independent panel inquiring into Morgan’s killing in 1987 triggered calls from his brother, Alastair, for Dick to consider her position, and denounced the actions of Britain’s biggest police force.
The panel’s findings were a victory for the 34-year long struggle for justice by the Morgan family during which they said they endured being “lied to, fobbed off, bullied [and] degraded” by those institutions they believed they had the right to rely on.
But within hours the Met rejected the report’s key findings, and dismissed Morgan’s call for Dick to consider stepping down. The two people who could oust the Commissioner – the home secretary and London mayor – let it be known she still enjoyed their “full confidence”.
On 10 March 1987 Daniel Morgan, 37, was found murdered in the car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham, south London, with an axe embedded in his head.
He was a private detective based in south London and with his business partner, Jonathan Rees, ran an agency called Southern Investigations. It would go on to carry out extensive work for the News of the World.
The Met has previously in 2011 accepted that corrupt officers shielded the killers and the panel said a murder inquiry that was probably “solvable” was undermined, perhaps fatally.
Five investigations by the Met have failed to yield a conviction, and concerns about police wrongdoing, and links between corrupt officers and sections of the tabloid media, led the government to order an inquiry in 2013.
Dick, then an assistant commissioner, was supposed to make good on the Met promise to fully cooperate with the panel which was given no statutory powers to investigate, and thus reliant on those they were investigating agreeing to hand over evidence.
The panel accused the force of placing concerns about its reputation above properly confronting corruption. It said the Met misled the public and Morgan’s grieving family, exacerbating their pain.
The panel criticised police delays in giving access to a database with relevant documents, called “Holmes”, and Dick is named as one of those responsible. “The panel has never received any reasonable explanation for the refusal over seven years by [then] assistant commissioner Dick and her successors to provide access to the Holmes accounts to the Daniel Morgan independent panel,” they said.
The panel chair, Lady O’Loan, said the Met owed the Morgan family and the public an apology for its decades of misleading statements about the extent and role of corruption and foot-dragging. She said: “We believe the Metropolitan police’s first objective was to protect itself. In so doing it compounded the suffering and trauma of the family.
“The Metropolitan police were not honest in their dealings with Daniel Morgan’s family, or the public. The family and the public are owed an apology.”
The report said: “The Metropolitan police’s culture of obfuscation and a lack of candour is unhealthy in any public service. Concealing or denying failings, for the sake of the organisation’s public image, is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit. In the panel’s view, this constitutes a form of institutional corruption.”
The panel believes its finding, that Britain’s biggest police force was corrupt and obsessed with covering it up, is as seismic as the landmark finding of the Macpherson report in 1999 that institutional racism protected the killers of Stephen Lawrence.
But despite the damning criticism of the force she leads and of her personal decisions, Dick appears to retain crucial high-level backing.
A source close to Patel said: “The home secretary has full confidence in the commissioner. We expect the whole leadership of the Met to respond positively and openly.” Sadiq Khan also signalled she would not be ousted over the findings of obstruction and cover up, but he said the issues raised in the report “must be addressed to ensure nothing like this ever happens again”.
Dick’s top aide, assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave, made clear the Met believed the evisceration by the panel could be weathered: “I don’t think the commissioner has any need to consider her position.”
For the Morgan family, almost two generations of struggle secured the landmark findings. They said: “At almost every step, we found ourselves lied to, fobbed off, bullied, degraded and let down time and time again. What we were required to endure was nothing less than torture, and that has changed our relationship with this country for ever.”
“We witnessed the repeated refusal of those in charge of the Metropolitan police and the Home Office to address the problem that stared them in the face: the serious police corruption and criminality that surrounded the murder and its aftermath.”
Patel said she had written to Dick demanding the Met’s response to the report, and has requested Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary look at the findings of the report and that a review of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) would be brought forward.
The report criticised former Met police chiefs for their links to the former News of the World newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, because the former Sunday tabloid was so closely linked to a private detective agency run by a suspect in the murder. The agency was called Southern Investigations and then Law & Commercial.
The judgment of former Met commissioner Lord Stevens, who left the Met and then wrote a column for the News of the World, was also questioned.
The report said: “It is appropriate for the panel to state that the demonstrated links between personnel at the highest levels of the Metropolitan police and people working for a news organisation linked to criminality associated with the murder of Daniel Morgan, are of serious and legitimate public concern.”
In 2017, four men targeted by the Met sued the force in the high court, alleging malicious prosecution. Among them were Rees and his brothers-in-law, Glenn and Garry Vian. They denied charges of murder. The three men lost their case against the Met but won a later appeal and were awarded £414,000 between them. The fourth man, Sid Fillery, accused of perverting the course of justice, won part of his claim. He left the Met in 1988, having served as a detective.
The Met offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction and a fresh forensic review in case new techniques yield new clues.