Failures by police and prosecutors to disclose evidence and handle “supergrass” witnesses led to the collapse of a trial of three men accused of committing one of Britain’s most notorious unsolved murders.
A report into the case of private investigator Daniel Morgan, who was found with an axe embedded in his skull in a south London pub car park in 1987, ordered 17 separate reforms after finding that a succession of mistakes and oversights led to last year’s acquittal of three suspects after five separate investigations into the killing over 25 years.
Alastair Morgan, Daniel’s brother, who has campaigned tirelessly to see the killers brought to justice, said the findings meant that Home Secretary Theresa May must now decide on whether to grant the Morgan family’s demand for a judge-led inquiry into the murder and the repeated failures to catch the perpetrators.
Mr Morgan, who believes his brother was murdered because he was about to expose police corruption, said: “The ball is now firmly in Mrs May’s court. The police have told us today that, in addition to this report, there is no fresh forensic evidence in the case. It is now right that we should have judicial inquiry into the 25 years of hell that my family had been through.”
The joint Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service review found that Scotland Yard faced an uphill task in having to sift through 750,000 pages of material gathered by previous investigations when it launched Operation Abelard II in 2006 - the latest attempt to unravel a killing which is steeped in claims of police corruption.
Daniel Morgan ran a private detective agency, Southern Investigations, at the time of his death. His business partner, Jonathan Rees, was one of the three men acquitted of the murder last March.
The report found that throughout the Abelard II investigation detectives failed to realise the relevance of some archived information and did not disclose boxes of material to defence lawyers, including three crates of documents which police had stored in their evidence room but failed to record or assess.
The review stated: “The main reason for the withdrawal of the prosecution was the Crown’s inability to fully satisfy their disclosure obligations.”
Police also made multiple errors in their handling of three supergrass witnesses whose testimony was considered crucial to the prosecution case.
One witness, who claimed to have seen the aftermath of the murder in car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham, was found to have been allowed breach rules by contacting the officer in charge of the Morgan murder team.
The same witness was also found to have been “probably” prompted by an unnamed senior officer to implicate two brothers - Glenn and Gary Vian - in the killing and to have been tipped off by police that he had been caught lying about his father’s death so he could come up with an explanation.
Investigators listed 17 areas where good practice for detectives and lawyers should be changed, including a thorough investigation of the credibility of witnesses before they are allowed to enter a supergrass programme and improvements in the archiving of material from previous investigations.
The Yard and the CPS said it would implement the recommendations. The Home Office said it would study the report’s findings.