Twenty years on, police close in on detective’s killers

Independent - by Ian Herbert

9 June 2007

The events which unfolded on a March evening 20 years ago, in the car park of the Golden Lion in Sydenham, south London, have become one of Britain’s most enduring criminal mysteries. They left a Welsh private detective, Daniel Morgan, who had spent the evening in the pub with his business partner, dead beside his BMW car with an axe buried in his head.

Despite four inquiries and several arrests no one has been charged with a murder which the higher echelons of the Metropolitan Police dearly want solved, since Morgan is said to have been on the brink of exposing major police corruption when he died. But this week, the officer leading a re-examination of the evidence in the case provided the strongest hint yet that charges may be imminent.

Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook was guarded but his inference was clear: despite the unwillingness of a number of witnesses to come forward, the review of evidence and search for DNA has brought the police closer than they might have hoped to building a criminal case.

Morgan, who was born in Singapore but brought up in Llanfrechfa, Monmouthshire, had tried a number of careers before he established his Southern Investigations company in London and recruited Jonathan Rees as his partner, hoping that he could capitalise on his good police contacts.

At the inquest into Morgan’s death, the company bookkeeper, Kevin Lennon, said the partners’ good working relationship fell apart after the firm was asked to provide security for a car auction company in Charlton, south London. Morgan did not want the work but Mr Rees did, and he employed his police contacts, who were available for a spot of moonlighting.

The contract turned sour when, on his own account, Mr Rees took the night’s takings for the auction to a bank on 18 March 1986 - only to find the night safe had been glued shut. He took the cash home but claimed it was stolen on his doorstep by two men who sprayed a noxious liquid in his face.

The robbery remains an unsolved crime and many, including the car auction firm, believed it was a sham. Mr Rees agreed to the firm’s demands to repay the cash but Morgan refused to pay it out of Southern Investigations funds, insisting Mr Rees was responsible for the loss.

The inquest heard that Mr Rees was desperate to take control of the company and, after failing, tried on several occasions to have Morgan arrested for drink-driving - knowing this would mean he was finished with the agency.

The only option was to have Morgan killed, according to Mr Lennon’s inquest statement. He told the inquest of a plan to have Morgan killed at a south London police station, where Mr Rees’ police associates would “do it themselves or get someone else to do it for them” and remove the evidence.

Mr Rees and one of his police associates, Sid Fillery, were among six people initially arrested after the murder but released, though Mr Rees was later jailed for seven years for trying to plant cocaine on a woman.

Many Home Office ministers have had an involvement in the case over the years, and for the Metropolitan Police a conviction would demonstrate that it is a transparent force.

The investigation by Det. Chief Supt Cook and his team is believed to have turned up DNA evidence from a suit worn by Morgan on the night of his death. A pocket of the trousers was torn, and one theory is that the killer may have grabbed a notebook from it. New fingerprint techniques have also been used on the axe handle, which was bound with plasters to hide fingerprints.

Despite the technological advances at their disposal, the police do not seem to feel they have a single, incontestable piece of evidence against their suspects.

But the Morgan family, which has campaigned hard for a conviction, has more confidence in this inquiry. “We can’t say too much at this stage, but we are hopeful we are reaching the final lap,” said Daniel Morgan's brother, Alastair.

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Link to the website of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel
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