Killer in the park

The Guardian - by Duncan Campbell

13th September 1994

It looked, to the man in the car park of the Golden Lion that dark March night, as though a smartly dressed drunk, wearing one of those joke ties that sticks out at right angles from the shirt, had collapsed beside his BMW after a vodka-and-tonic too far. The man was not moving and something was sticking up from his head at a crazy angle.

But it was no tie. It was a Chinese-made Diamond Brand axe, one of thousands imported every year and selling in hardware stores for £4.50. Its handle was taped with Elastoplast - to hide any traces of fingerprints - and it was embedded in the skull of a young private detective as far as the blade would go. More than seven years have passed since the gruesome discovery of Daniel Morgan’s body. No one has ever been convicted of his murder but now the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his death are due to come under fresh scrutiny.

Daniel Morgan was born in Singapore in 1949. His father, an Arnhem veteran, was an army officer and Daniel grew up in Gwent in Wales. As a child, he spent time in hospital because of a club foot but it did not prevent him from being an active young man, a keen rugby player and angler. He attended agricultural college in Gwent and then worked as a salesman in Denmark. After returning to England, he found work as a courier for European tourists but it bored him. He liked excitement. The job that seemed to offer it was that of private detective.

Originally he worked for a large south London firm before setting up his own company, Southern Investigations, on April 19, 1984, in Thornton Heath High Street, south London, with another private detective, Jonathon Rees, as his partner. He loved the work and was aided by a remarkable memory that, for instance, allowed him to recall a car registration number for weeks or even months.

Daniel Morgan had his successes: he had tracked down an international fraudster at the Hilton Hotel for the Bank of Australia. He enjoyed the adrenalin that came from a job with risks and tensions and he was financially successful, owning a BMW, an Austin Healey 3000 and a Jaguar and providing for his wife and two children.

But one tension that was becoming obvious was between him and Jonathon Rees. Rees had very close contacts with police officers in the area, including a detective sergeant Sid Fillery. “Rees was one of those people who really wanted to be a policeman,” said one of his former colleagues, Malcolm Webb, a plain talker with a bailiff’s build who now runs his own successful bailiff agency in Croydon. “He dressed like a policeman and he liked going for drinks with them. Daniel was the opposite, he didn’t think too much of the police, to put it mildly.”

The work on the bailiff front was regular even in the eighties and there was also the detective work, mainly domestic in nature. But there were other, more mundane, jobs. One of these was collecting the takings from the Belmont Car Auction in Charlton, just south of the river, and depositing them in the bank night safe.

Now the Belmont Car Auction site is on a bleak stretch of industrial estate. The firm’s attitude to anyone who tries any funny business is clear. A ‘Smile - you are on video’ poster is displayed prominently inside the office and outside another sign suggests ‘Warning: when these premises are closed, dogs are on the loose’ (to which a local wag has added ‘bollocks’).

The takings one day in 1987 were £18,280. Jonathon Rees had the task of depositing the cash. As the coroner’s court heard later, he took the money to the bank only to find the night deposit box jammed shut. He was attacked outside his home and the cash stolen.

But Southern Investigations soon had something more substantial to concern them. On the night of March 10, Daniel Morgan and Jonathon Rees met up in the bar of the Golden Lion, Sydenham, planning to meet a friend of Rees called Paul Goodridge, a massively built man who had worked as a showbusiness bodyguard.

The Golden Lion is a comfortable family-style pub, no spit-and-sawdust affair, the kind that does hot meals and is used both by locals and office-workers in the area. Goodridge never appeared and Rees drove off, making calls on his car phone as he went.

Daniel Morgan finished his drink, probably a spritzer, and went into the car park where someone delivered a number of blows to his skull. The first blow rendered him unconscious, which is why there were no signs of a struggle. A low wall at the back of the car park affords an easy escape route if the killer did not want to be seen driving off.

Private eyes make many enemies. It is the nature of their business that they encounter people at the sharpest points in their lives. Morgan was, according to Malcolm Webb, not the most tactful of men and did not back down from a confrontation. So one obvious line of inquiry was his work and anyone whose cage he might have rattled.

At the subsequent inquest, Rees said that Morgan made passes at women clients or wives of clients. He had had at least one affair. Could there be a jealous husband or boyfriend on the scene? He was also supposedly due to be interviewed by West Yorkshire police about a fraud he had uncovered. Was there a link there? Another story, albeit an unsubstantiated one, had it that he had been watching Colombian cocaine dealers on behalf of a public figure whose daughter had become dependent on the drug. Had they - if they existed - been unhappy at the attention? There were stories, too, of enemies he had made in Denmark and Malta.

Then there was a south London gangster from whom Morgan had repossessed a car and who had apparently phoned the office threatening that his legs would be broken. Or could it even have been the rather more mundane business of a robber attacking him for his wallet? The job of carrying out the investigation fell to Douglas Campbell, an experienced and respected detective. Daniel’s older brother, Alastair, who had been working at the time as a window cleaner in Hampshire, went to the investigation headquarters at Sydenham police station where he was asked by a detective what he had been doing at the time of the murder: “I told him I had been at a party with about a dozen friends. Ironically, I had actually been playing Trivial Pursuit at the moment my brother had been killed. The tone of the interview shocked me. Having barely come to terms with the fact that my brother was dead, I was totally unprepared for being treated as a suspect.” It was not the only time that Alastair Morgan was to have his doubts about the way the inquiry was going. “From the very outset, it seemed to me that a lot of red herrings had been placed in the path of the murder squad.”

But gradually the theories were discarded. The mugging was discounted: an axe was not the typical mugger’s tool and few street robbers advance beyond a poke in the ribs with a knife when trying to extract money from their victims.

In addition, Daniel Morgan, a tough-looking customer and experienced private eye, was hardly the typical target. His £800 Rolex watch was missing but £1,000, which he had collected from clients earlier in the day, was found in his pocket.

Then in April, just weeks after the body had been found, six people were arrested for questioning in connection with the murder, three of them police officers. One was Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery; the others were Alan Purvis and Peter Foley, who also knew Rees. There were no charges and all six were released. The investigation continued.

A year later, the inquest was finally held at Southwark coroner’s court. It was an explosive event as staff from Southern Investigations were called to give evidence. Kevin Lennon, who had worked there as an accountant, told the inquest that he had watched the relationship between Rees and Morgan deteriorate.

Rees disliked Morgan, he said, because of his unkempt appearance, his garrulousness and the fact that he tried to seduce the women clients whose divorce cases the firm was handling. He claimed at the inquest that Rees had thought of arranging for Morgan to be arrested by his friends at Catford police station for drunk driving, which would mean that he would lose his private investigator’s licence and would have to leave the firm. Lennon told the court that around six months before the killing, Rees had told him that he had found the perfect solution to the problem and had said: “My mates . . . are going to arrange it.”

The inquest was also told by Michael Thorn of Belmont Car Auction that he believed that the robbery in which Rees had lost the takings was a ‘sham’.

Giving evidence himself, Rees was adamant that he had no knowledge of what had happened to his erstwhile partner. He hotly disputed Lennon’s allegations. Asked by his counsel, Julian Nutter, if he murdered Daniel Morgan, he replied: “I did not.” At the end of the inquest, which returned a verdict of unlawful killing, the coroner Sir Montague Levine said the case “left lots of room for much disquiet”.

And he added: “In all the evidence, over the two weeks, it must be said here and now that there has not been one single forensic shred of evidence to link anybody who gave evidence in this court with the killing of Daniel Morgan. No blood, no fibres, no fingerprints.”

In August 1988, Daniel Morgan’s body was finally released for burial at Beckenham cemetery; cremation was not an option in case the body needed to be exhumed for forensic examination.

It seemed the murder hunt had gone cold. But Alastair Morgan had decided to visit the Complaints Investigation Branch of Scotland Yard to express his concerns. In July 1988, the Police Complaints Authority announced that it was conducting an inquiry into the handling of the case and the murder investigation itself. Hampshire police were to handle it. The force had a reputation for thoroughness. Could they unlock the closed doors?

The investigation, which was to cost more than £1 million and to take more than 1,600 statements, continued. In February 1989, three people were arrested for the murder: Paul Goodridge; his then girlfriend, Jean Wisden; and Jonathon Rees. The Morgan family heard the news on television. A committal date was set for May. But shortly afterwards all charges were dropped. In April of this year, the police officers Alan Purvis and Peter Foley received substantial damages in an out-of-court settlement from the Metropolitan Police for false imprisonment. “The officers have spent the last seven years living under a cloud since they were unreasonably accused of killing Daniel Morgan in a vicious attack with an axe,” said their solicitor, Clive Howard. “Money alone cannot compensate them for what they have suffered. Every day and every year has been a tortuous trial.”

They have been tortuous times, too, for Morgan's family. “I have to say that I feel both inquiries have been completely mishandled,” says Alastair Morgan. “The whole thing has been a black farce. I'm glad that DCs Foley and Purvis have been vindicated. The police complaints procedure is a joke. The official machinery has swept an appallingly brutal and cynical crime out of sight. But, despite all that, I still hope that one day whoever killed Daniel will be brought to justice.”

Now the case could find itself back in the public eye once again. Rees and Goodridge are suing Hampshire and the Metropolitan Police in connection with their arrest. The case is due, according to Hampshire police, to be heard next spring. Both sides have been preparing their cases.

Pressure for a deeper investigation is coming from other quarters. Last month, Chris Smith, Alastair Morgan’s MP, wrote to the Home Secetray calling for the case to be reopened. “There are some very serious question marks over this case,” said Chris Smith. “I felt it would be best if the Home Secretary cleared the air.”

June Tweedie, the barrister who represented the Morgan family at the inquest said yesterday that she too would welcome the re-opening of a case which she found deeply disturbing.

The police officers who investigated the case, whether from Hampshire or the Metropolitan Police, are unwilling to discuss it, saying that they cannot comment because of the civil action. The others who were arrested are similarly reluctant. Paul Goodridge said: “I didn't know why I was arrested. The real culprit is laughing somewhere.”

When we telephoned Jonathon Rees, who still works for Southern Investigations, a man who would not identify himself rang back and told us that we were harassing him and we would be reported to ‘the Press Council’.

When we visited Southern Investigations’ new offices at 69 Thornton Heath High Street, a man who would not identify himself came down and handed us a letter from Rees which read: ‘As you are no doubt aware, a matter which you wish to discuss is currently before the courts and is in the hands of my solicitor. I have just contacted them and am advised that it is not in my interest to enter into any form of discussion with you. I hope this does not cause you too much inconvenience and it may be at some future date that I can discuss the matter with you. However, I am sure you will understand that I must follow my solicitor’s advice.’

At Belmont Car Auction, there is a similar reluctance. Belmont’s Dave Chapman said: ‘I don't want to hear about it ever again. Ever.’

There are miscarriages of justice that we are familiar with. People locked up for years for crimes they did not commit. There are other miscarriages where no one is punished for a crime they did commit. Daniel Morgan’s murder is one such case and, as has been said in a different context, the dead have no automatic right of appeal.

Is the real culprit laughing out there somewhere? Or did the joke end when that ‘tie’ turned out to be a bloody axe? The Morgan family have not given up hope that one day they will know the answer.

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