Private investigator cleared of murder was on Coulson pay-roll

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The Independent Online

A private investigator acquitted of one of Britain's longest unsolved murders had extensive links with corrupt police officers and was being paid thousands of pounds to supply information to the News of the World under the editorship of former Downing Street spin doctor Andy Coulson.

Jonathan Rees, who walked free from the Old Bailey after his trial for the murder of his business partner collapsed due to Scotland Yard failures, was rehired by Rupert Murdoch's Sunday newspaper despite being sentenced to six years' imprisonment for plotting to plant cocaine in a former model's car.

The Guardian reported last night that it had written to Mr Coulson prior to his appointment to Downing Street in 2010 asking him to comment on the decision to hire Mr Rees. The paper said that Prime Minister David Cameron was also made aware of the private investigator's record and his employment by the NoW before he gave Mr Coulson a job as his spokesman.

The private detective, who worked for the NoW between 1993 and 2000 and then after 2005, enjoyed a lucrative relationship with several Fleet Street titles, using his contacts with corrupt Metropolitan Police officers, other law enforcement officials, bank workers and phone company employees to obtain illegal information.

Mr Rees, 56, who reportedly earned up to £150,000 a year from the NoW, had numerous targets including former Labour minister Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair's press chief Alastair Campbell, rock star Mick Jagger, television presenters Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, and the singer George Michael, according to The Guardian.

The private detective allegedly inhabited a shadowy world where corrupt officers and former detectives would approach him with information about celebrities and high-profile criminals, including M25 murderer Kenneth Noye.

Yesterday, Mr Rees was formally acquitted along with two other men of the murder of fellow private investigator Daniel Morgan, who was found with an axe in his skull outside a south London pub 24 years ago. The trial collapsed after the Metropolitan Police told the court last week that it had found four boxes of previously undisclosed documentation. The Crown Prosecution Service decided the admission rendered the proceedings unsustainable.

The family of Mr Morgan called for a judicial inquiry, saying: "The criminal justice system is not fit for purpose." They believe Mr Morgan had been about to reveal the involvement of corrupt police officers in a drugs ring when he was murdered.

Detective Chief Superintendent Hamish Campbell said: "It is with considerable regret that a trial cannot proceed. This current investigation has identified ever more clearly how the initial inquiry failed the family and wider public. It is quite apparent that police corruption was a debilitating factor."

Mr Rees, 56, said outside court that he should not have been prosecuted. He said up to 40 suspects for the 1987 killing outside the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham had not been investigated. Mr Rees, who ran Southern Investigations with Mr Morgan, said: "When Daniel Morgan was killed it was an awful shock to me and to our business. I lost a friend and a business partner."

During a covert operation in 1999 by the Yard's anti-corruption branch CIB3, Mr Rees was recorded talking to reporters about information obtained from his police contacts.

An internal police report stated: "Rees and [others] have for a number of years been involved in the long-term penetration of police intelligence sources... Their thirst for knowledge is driven by profit to be accrued from the media."

Police brought no charges against journalists because, it is believed, it could not be established that Mr Rees' clients would have known the source of his information.

Mr Coulson has consistently denied knowing about any illegal practices at the NoW, including the phone hacking activities of another private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire.

A NoW spokesman said: "Like other newspapers and broadcasters we pay tipsters and sources for information and stories. To date, no evidence has been brought to our attention of any wrong doing by us in relation to Jonathan Rees. As shown by recent events, if we are presented with evidence we will act on it. The News of the World operates within the law and the PCC code."