The Home Secretary's announcement of an independent panel to review the murder of Daniel Morgan is a victory for his family. And about time too. From the moment that Daniel was murdered they knew something was very wrong with the police approach. For many years they were lied to, fobbed off, patronised and dismissed as crackpots by the very people who should have been helping them – the police. The result? A family have been denied justice and guilty men today are walking free. It is one of the most, if not the most shameful episodes in Scotland Yard's history. Hard lessons need to be learnt.
Let's examine the facts: Daniel was murdered in the car park of the Golden Lion public house in Sydenham, south London on 10 March 1987. An axe was embedded in his head. Daniel had been a partner in a private investigation agency called Southern Investigations. As was the practice in those days, the initial police response was led by the local crime squad. At its head was one Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery, an officer long suspected of serious corruption. Soon after the murder, DS Fillery "interviewed" Jonathan Rees, Daniel's partner in Southern Investigations, about his movements on the night in question and his knowledge of what happened.
It is no exaggeration to say that the investigation was fatally undermined from this point. The family knew this but were ignored. Because what DS Fillery chose not to tell his senior officers was that he had been moonlighting and working for Southern Investigations at the time. Soon after the murder he retired from the police on medical grounds and joined Mr Rees as his partner. Both men, along with others, have been arrested and charged in connection with the murder – in Mr Rees's case, twice – but on each and every occasion they have been acquitted. The theory that Daniel was about to expose serious corruption and drug-dealing between police and private investigators, and was murdered because of it, is a theory that in all likelihood will never be tested before a jury.
There have been five police inquiries into the murder and, to date, nobody has been brought to justice. I had overall responsibility for the case from 2006 until the collapse of the last trial at the Old Bailey in March 2011 and know, better than most, that this is likely to remain the case. The judge said at the time that it was one of the most complex cases ever to come before the courts in this country and he was right. He also said that the police had "ample grounds to justify the arrest and prosecution of the defendants".
More than 750,000 documents were assembled, mostly not computerised – not only material gathered in the direct police investigations into the murder, but alsoduring scores of other cases involving serious crime where either the defendants or potential crown witnesses had been involved. The criminal justice system simply could not cope. The people who knew what had happened – criminal supergrasses – were so tainted that the Crown was never in a position to present them as credible witnesses. The archiving of relevant paperwork of old cases by Scotland Yard was also managed in such an appallingly chaotic way that the Director of Public Prosecutions was forced to conclude that he could not guarantee that the defence had access to all the relevant material. There has never been a better illustration of the old adage that it is better 99 guilty men go free than one innocent person go to prison.
Sir Stanley Burnton's appointment to lead an independent panel to examine the case is a tacit acknowledgment that all criminal justice routes to resolve this case have been exhausted. Unencumbered by the demands of the court processes, he is likely to identify the key issues very quickly. With notable exceptions, he will not make the mistake of successive police investigations and several generations of politicians and ignore the family. Daniel's brother Alastair, his mother Isobel and his sister Jane are remarkable people. Articulate, educated and probably, until Daniel's murder, natural supporters of the police, they have been treated quite disgracefully. It's not the court they would have chosen but they deserve their day and I expect their collective testimony to be explosive.
Sir Stanley will also forensically examine the role of the police. This will not be comfortable. In fairness to Scotland Yard, there was a clear acknowledgment by the mid-Nineties that police corruption was, if not at the heart of the case, a contributing factor. Determined and creative efforts were made to obtain the evidence needed to put people before the courts. The trouble was that they never acknowledged this to the family. The word "groupthink" gained currency during the Leveson inquiry – the slavish following of one decision without proper review or reflection. Successive Met hierarchies were guilty of this in this case. They continued to treat the family as the enemy – part of the problem rather than the potential solution. The result was the further alienation of a family that already thought the police were guilty of an appalling cover-up.
The panel will also pay particular attention to the role played by Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook. He led the case from 2002 and did more than anyone to bring the right people to justice. A feisty and outspoken individual, he was also an extremely able and committed detective. Most importantly, he won the trust and respect of the family. Disturbingly, he provides an astonishing link between Southern Investigations, the News of the World and phone-hacking when, in July 2011, it was revealed that the paper had used the detective agency to tail Det Ch Supt Cook and his wife at the height of his involvement in leading the murder investigation.
Daniel Morgan's murder provides a field day for conspiracy theorists. Most conspiracies are more cock-up than conspiracy. The case of Daniel Morgan is altogether more disturbing, as the closer you look, the worse it gets. Sir Stanley's panel is the right forum for all these issues to be ventilated. Theresa May was right to announce its formation and the family deserve nothing less.
John Yates is a former UK head of counterterrorism and executive director of G3, the Good Governance GroupReuse content