Axe victim’s family sue for access to police file

The Observer - by Martin Bright and Tony Thompson

10th September 2000

The family of a private detective axed to death in the car park of a South London pub 13 years ago is to take the police to court to get access to a report that will finally shed light on whether or not any police officers were involved in the murder or obstructed the investigation.

Daniel Morgan was found on 10 March 1987 with an axe embedded in his head in the car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham. The killing had all the hallmarks of a professional ‘hit’: the handle of the axe had been bound with plasters to hide fingerprints and although Morgan’s Rolex watch had been stolen, £1,000 of company takings was left in his pockets.

The family’s legal action centres on an independent investigation into the case by Hampshire Police in 1988 which looked into claims that several police officers were implicated in the murder.

Morgan’s business partner, Jonathon Rees, and a local police officer, Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery, were among six people arrested after the murder. No charges were brought and a number of officers were exonerated in civil proceedings.

Accusations of police involvement were first made at the inquest into Morgan’s death. His former bookkeeper, Kevin Lennon, told the court that Rees had spoken of a murder plot for many months before the body was found. “He began to talk regularly of having Daniel Morgan killed. I formed the opinion that John Rees was determined either to kill him or to have him killed. I explained to John he would be the prime suspect but he didn’t want to listen,” Lennon said.

Instead Rees told Lennon that he had developed a foolproof plan. According to Lennon’s evidence, Rees told him the murder would take place “within the jurisdiction of (south London) police station” where police officers whom Rees knew would “do it themselves or get someone else to do it for them”. The detectives would then remove any damning evidence and have the charges against the person responsible dropped.

The court heard that Fillery was one of three detectives who had moonlighted for the private detective’s firm. Morgan’s office manager, Peter Newby, told the court that the day before the murder, Morgan and Fillery had had an enormous row. The morning after Morgan was killed, Newby gave evidence that he had seen Fillery remove paperwork including that relating to his own moonlighting activities from the agency offices.

Giving evidence, Fillery admitted he was a close friend of Rees but denied being involved in the killings. Asked who he thought had killed Morgan he said: “I don’t know, he was messing about with lots of women. Would anyone kill anyone for a girl?”

In his summing up, the coroner, Sir Montague Levine, pointed out there was no forensic evidence linking anyone to Morgan’s death. The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing.

Following the verdict, the Police Complaints Authority launched an inquiry conducted by the Hampshire force. Their findings were handed to the Metropolitan Police.

The Met’s deputy assistant commissioner Roy Clark has told Morgan’s family they can see a secret Hampshire police report into the murder only if they agree to sign an undertaking that they will not take any civil action against the police as a result of what they see.

Clark has said that the family can take no copies of the report. Family members can read it in full in controlled conditions once they had signed the undertaking not to take civil action against the police. The Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence recommended that such reports should be made available to complainants, but the police are extremely resistant to the idea.

Asked by The Observer why he was not prepared to let the family have a copy of the report into the murder, Clark last night: “There are many legal and operational reasons why I am not in a position to do that.”

Chris Smith , the Culture Minister and Morgan’s local MP, has demanded Home Office action over the report. This could have wide-ranging implications for the judicial system by establishing the principle that families involved in complaints against the police can have access to the findings of any subsequent inquiries. It is not known whether the report makes any findings against the police or individual officers.

Morgan’s mother, Isobel Hulsmann, 72, said that she was appalled by the suggestion that she would waive her right to legal action over the case: “We are not prepared to change our minds on this. We have waited for 13 years and we shouldn’t have to wait any longer.”

Morgan’s brother Alastair, who with his mother has led the campaign to bring his brother’s killers to justice said: “We will accept nothing short of seeing this report in full.”

In a letter to Home Office Minister Paul Boateng in July, Smith, said: “There is an important principle at stake here. . . I feel that it is important for Alastair to be able to see this report and I would be grateful if you could intervene to allow him permission to see the report without an indemnity being insisted upon.”

The letter goes on to say that the family of Stephen Lawrence was permitted to see reports into the case without any conditions or restrictions.

A reply to Smith from Home Office Minister Lord Bassem obtained by The Observer said the Government has accepted the Macpherson recommendation that such reports should not be kept secret. “The Hampshire report is the property of the Metropolitan Police, on whose behalf it was produced. The responsibility for deciding whether to disclose the investigating officer’s report, therefore, rests with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.”

Bassem said he welcomed Roy Clark’s decision to let Morgan’s family see the report, but said the Home Office had no powers to intervene in relation to the conditions set by the Met.

The family’s solicitor Raju Bhatt said: “As a matter of principle, Daniel’s family find it abhorrent that they are being asked to sign an indemnity. We recognise that the police and the investigating officer often has a difficult job, but they need to have the confidence of the complainant.”

Bhatt said the family would continue to press the police to carry out a full review of the murder. He has written to Deputy Assistant Commissioner Clark giving him 14 days to allow full disclosure before proceeding with a legal challenge to the decision.

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