Did The Daily Mail Bug the Family of Stephen Lawrence?
A NOTORIOUS private investigator says he spied on the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence in a “dirty tricks” operation paid for by the Daily Mail newspaper.
Jonathan Rees told The Upsetter he was part of a group of private investigators and ex-special forces soldiers who bugged a cafe where Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother, met to discuss the police’s failure to investigate her son’s racist murder.
Stephen was stabbed to death in southeast London in April 1993. There was no ‘wall of silence’ as the Metropolitan police immediately received the names of the white thugs said to be behind the killing.
But detectives botched surveillance and arrests leaving no forensics just the spectre of incompetence, racism, corruption and a looming legal action hanging over the force.
Rees sensationally claims that the Mail was sharing the intelligence gleaned from the bugging operation with the Met’s Special Branch.
“They thought Doreen Lawrence had a hidden agenda to undermine the police and [murder] inquiry and use it as an opportunity for black power type things, and they were bugging her.”
This was not an operation sanctioned by the Met, he said, but a case of a right-wing newspaper and the police sharing a common purpose.
“The police said we don’t want any part of it, but if anything interesting pops up please let us know … We were brought in to get whatever we could get on Doreen. And not just us there were other people involved, other investigators and it was an attack on the Lawrence family.”
Rees, who brought in the ex-special forces team to bug the cafe near the Lawrence home, also says he obtained the family’s phone records.
“We were asked to get the phone records of Doreen and Neville by another investigator that worked for the Mail. They asked my firm, who had the ability to get telephone print outs, because they think Doreen was passing on all the details about the murder to black pressure groups that could use it to undermine the police.”
These bombshell allegations, if proved, would leave the Mail open to accusations of the most cynical hypocrisy for bugging the Lawrence family, then throwing its weight behind their campaign for justice.
In February 1997, after the alleged bugging operation had wound down, the Mail controversially gave over its front page to branding the five prime suspects as ‘murderers’ and daring them to sue.
Today’s allegations have potential implications for the pugnacious editor behind that front page.
Paul Dacre stepped down as editor in 2018 after 26 years at the helm of the Mail, but remains editor in chief of DMG Media, the parent company owned by hereditary peer, Jonathan Harmsworth, the fourth Viscount Rothermere.
The Mail and its sister paper the Mail on Sunday have been the staunchest allies of Boris Johnson throughout the personal and political scandals that led to his resignation, following a night of the long knives, in July.
Dacre is tipped to be handed a peerage when Johnson’s resignation honours list is published after new prime minister Liz Truss takes over today.
The so-called Lavender list must be approved by a House of Lord appointments committee, who might choose to wait for a response from the newspaper to these latest allegations.
The Mail and Dacre have not responded to an extensive list of questions posed by The Upsetter one week ago.
Similarly, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, who are divorced, did not responded to separate requests for comment.
It is understood that Baroness Lawrence OBE has been aware of the bugging allegations for some months and made contact with the Mail through her long-standing lawyer, Imran Khan.
He, too, did not respond to questions, but sources say that Khan has been asking contacts one pertinent question: Is Jonathan Rees reliable?
THERE ARE cogent reasons why the the private investigator’s allegations should be treated with extreme caution.
But there are also reasons why Rees - who for 35 years has been a central figure in conducting dark arts for the British media - could have been involved in such dirty tricks.
Rees, after all, has been to prison after breaking the law for a paying client. In that instance, he was convicted of conspiring with a bent Met detective to plant drugs on the wife of a client locked in a custody battle.
The 68-year-old Yorkshireman was also the Met’s prime suspect for plotting the axe murder of his business partner Daniel Morgan in 1987.
But Rees was spectacularly acquitted in 2011, when the case collapsed in part due to police corruption, and he was later awarded a payout for malicious prosecution.
The Morgan murder took place in the same southeast London policing area where Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death six years later on 22 April 1993.
By then Rees had developed a network of police, special forces and criminal contacts that helped him grow Southern Investigations into the go-to firm for media organisations, mainly the tabloids, wanting to bug, blag, follow and sting celebs, royals and politicians.
Instrumental in that growth was former Met detective sergeant Sid Fillery. He became Rees’ partner soon after the Morgan murder and was also acquitted of trying to cover up the crime while a serving officer.
At the time the bugging of the Lawrences was said to have taken place, Fillery was friendly with detective sergeant Peter Flook, the office manager for the team investigating Stephen’s murder.
Rees recalls being in the pub with Flook who would get “emotional” over the accusations of corruption against the Met and the perceived resistance coming from the Lawrence family and their lawyer.
Flook was “straight”, said Rees, and would not have agreed had he been told about what the private investigator was doing against the Lawrences. Fillery, apparently, was also unhappy with what his business partner was doing allegedly with the Mail.
“Sid didn’t agree with it. He didn’t like the idea of it, he thought we were playing with fire, which he was probably right. And he didn’t see the point of it. But he will know, confirm that yes we were asked to do this. He didn’t like the people we were working with.”
Fillery confirmed his friendship with Flook, a sailing buddy who has since died. He told The Upsetter he was unaware at the time that Rees was working on the Lawerence bugging operation for the Mail but thought the whole thing was “feasible”.
Duncan Harrahan, another former south London Met detective, also gave some support to Rees’ allegation.
Hanrahan was friendly with Rees through Freemasonry and the love of a pint. But he is also a controversial figure in the Met.
Hanrahan left the force in 1991 and threw himself into corruption as if it were a warm bubble bath. He spent the next six years as a private investigator corrupting cops for his clients.
He also worked for the red top tabloids, sometimes directly and on other occasions as a subcontractor for Rees. It was during this period that Hanrahan recalls Rees telling him about the Lawrence bugging job for a newspaper.
He told The Upsetter:
“In the early to mid 1990s, certainly before 1997, I became aware from conversations with Jonathan Rees that he was or had been involved in some covert surveillance work relating to the family of Stephen Lawrence.
This work involved covert bugging of a cafe used by Doreen Lawrence and her supporters. I cannot recall being told the purpose of the surveillance but I do recall that any story resulting from it would be damaging to Mrs. Lawrence.”
In 1997, Hanrahan was caught in a sting operation while trying to corrupt an anti-corruption cop. He turned supergrass and was debriefed over seven months then presented to court as a witness of truth to give evidence against other Met detectives.
Asked if he had mentioned the Lawrence bugging operation to his debriefers, Hanrahan said:
“Nothing about the Lawrence case was discussed during debriefing and it wasn't something I would have thought of mentioning.”
THE LAWRENCE scandal has dogged the Met for almost three decades, with the last commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, claiming the force was no longer ‘institutionally racist’ two decades after the damning finding in 1999 of the Macpherson inquiry into the police response to the murder.
The Met is currently embroiled in another judge-led inquiry this one into undercover policing. It is proceeding at a snails pace, and not because of the volume of disclosure coming from the darkest recesses of the force - quite the contrary.
The Mitting inquiry was launched in 2014 in response to disclosures that the Met’s Special Branch had deployed spies inside the Lawrence camp shortly after the murder of their son.
Undercover officers from the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) had infiltrated anti-racist groups allied to the Lawrence campaign for justice and were looking for intelligence on the family, their lawyer and any associates.
This revelation was first made in The Observer/Guardian by Peter Francis, a SDS cop who blew the whistle on his undercover mission inside black justice campaign groups which lasted from 1993 to 1997.
During this period, the Met had circled its wagons fearing the Lawrence case would become the catalyst for much-needed reform of its culture and practises.
The SDS, said Francis, was looking for any “dirt” and “disinformation” on the Lawrence family. He recalled passing unsubstantiated “tittle tattle” to a senior SDS officer that Doreen Lawrence was out drinking without her husband on the night Stephen was murdered.
The former undercover cop said the Lawrences presented a problem for the Met because they were a law-abiding, church-going family and, despite early efforts by sections of the media, Stephen could not be stereotypically cast as a gang-related black youth.
Furthermore, after a visit from Nelson Mandela in May 1993, the Lawrence case had become a beacon for all that was wrong with the policing of black communities in the UK.
Francis said the Met feared civil unrest and had he found anything detrimental about the Lawrence campaign it would have been passed to friendly journalists to “smear” the family - a tactic the SDS had used in the past.
When Francis blew the whistle in July 2012, the Mail’s crime editor, Stephen Wright, responded weeks later with a ‘special investigation’ about the “Growing doubts over the ‘plot’ to smear the Lawrence family.”
Wright quoted named and unnamed former Special Branch officers with no first hand knowledge of Francis’ undercover deployment who nevertheless doubted that the Met would stoop so low to smear the Lawrences.
It was a strange article because by 2012 the depths to which the Met had stooped in lying to victims’ families and the public were well known not just in the Lawrence case but in the cases of Daniel Morgan and Jean Charles de Meneses, the Brazilian mistaken for a terrorist and shot on the tube in 2005.
Wright signed off his article telling readers that a “new wedge” had been driven between the Lawrence family and the Met by a “single source” who had suffered a mental breakdown because of his undercover work and then successfully sued the Met.
Francis and The Guardian saw the Mail article as a pre-emptive “smear” on the former undercover cop by a force concerned about where his revelations might lead.
And in 2014 the public found out that there would be a judge-led inquiry after a leading barrister asked by the Home Secretary to examine the claims reported back that Francis was one of two ‘spies in the Lawrence camp’.
Mark Ellison QC concluded:
“It is relevant that material indicates that there was a level of indignation and a ‘thinning of patience’ at the relevant time in senior elements of the Met. This was directed not just at the protest groups seeking to use the Lawrence family campaign, but also at the statements made by the family’s solicitor on behalf of Mr and Mrs Lawrence.
The potential for such a feeling to be translated into a desire to come by information that might enable the Met to ‘even the odds’ a bit against the Lawrence family campaign in the public’s eye is obvious and must be recognised.
We recognise the potential for such indignation and ‘thinning of patience’, as it appears, was engendered in some senior quarters of the Met to have resulted in a desire to look for intelligence that might prove that the family or its advisers were not what they appeared to be.”
Francis was deployed undercover in September 1993 and replaced in 1997 by ‘David Hagan’, whose real name has not yet been disclosed.
Hagan rose within a key black justice group allied to the Lawrence campaign and even secretly briefed the Met team preparing the response to the Macpherson public inquiry on behalf of then commissioner Sir Paul Condon.
On this Ellison concluded:
“The mere presence of an undercover Met officer in the wider Lawrence family camp in such circumstances is highly questionable in terms of the appearance it creates of the Met having a spy in the family’s camp.
However, for a meeting to then be arranged to enable an in-depth discussion to take place about the Lawrences’ relationship with groups seeking to support their campaign, in order to help inform the Met submissions to the Public Inquiry, was, in our assessment, a completely improper use of the knowledge the Met had gained by the deployment of this officer.”
Neville Lawrence had told Ellison of his concern that the Mail had run an article in 1993 associating his family with a violent demonstration outside the far-right BNP’s bookshop in Kent and this was “possibly as a result of a negative briefing by the Met.”
For all its award-winning work on the Lawrence case since 1997 and other investigations of Met failings, the Mail titles have an unusual revolving door with the UK’s biggest force that goes way back.
Neil Root, author of The Murder Gang: Fleet Street’s Elite Group of Crime Reporters in the Golden Age of Tabloid Crime, said:
“The halcyon days of police-crime hack bromances were undoubtedly the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and the right-of-centre, self-proclaimed moral compass, scaffold supporting Daily Mail, from its offices at Northcliffe House, telephone number Central 6000, was at the very centre of the action, its police sources providing exclusives aplenty.”
And in the 80s the revolving door kept spinning. Chester Stern, the former head of press at the Met became the Sunday paper’s top crime reporter. Nothing has changed today. Chris Greenwood, a Daily Mail crime reporter is the current head of media at the Met.
Francis told The Upsetter that intelligence sharing by and with journalists who are registered as “contacts” was very much a part of Special Branch’s tradecraft.
“All I know is there was a hunt for any sort of information [about the Lawrences]. So should the police have been given anything from the media they certainly would have been very grateful to receive type thing.
There always has been extensive contact between [Special] Branch and media. The media was used.
If I found something particularly about the Lawrences, what they would have done with it I don’t know. But if they wanted to then off to the media it goes.
As soon as I went public [the Met] had a great big briefing going on with the Daily Mail. Somebody had accessed my stuff, bits and pieces, details about me, that was evident, something more than a random journalist doing a story.”
Wright was contacted three weeks ago but did not respond to a request to meet to discuss these matters on or off the record.
If Rees is telling the truth that intelligence gleaned from bugging the Lawrence family was shared by the Mail with Special Branch, then this would fall squarely within the terms of reference of the Mitting inquiry into undercover policing.
Doreen and Neville Lawrence are ‘core participants’ at that inquiry and have already expressed concerns about the way it is being run, the delays and accommodations made to the Met’s Special Branch.
The Mail has declined to say if it would appoint an independent person to investigate the allegations and any relationship the newspaper had with Rees and his companies, either directly or as a sub-contractor.
The Mail also declined to say if it had looked into whether any of its reporters past and present were registered police informants, receiving and passing on information.
Nor would it say what Paul Dacre and Stephen Wright knew about the allegations and if the newspaper had at least made its position clear to the Lawrence family.
THE TIMING of these allegations could be significant in determining what weight to attach to them.
Since the so-called phone hacking scandal blew up in 2010, a motley crew have coalesced into a lobby group looking for newspapers and their executives to sue or have prosecuted.
The lobby has included at various times celebrities caught with their pants down, a ‘reformed’ fascist benefactor, crooked journalists who saw the light as the police closed in, press reform activists, ex-cops claiming to be whistleblowers, rival media organisations and claimant lawyers with hourly rates beyond the dreams of avarice.
The Mail titles had escaped the intense scrutiny that beset Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct News of The World and The Mirror titles.
Known in some quarters as ‘The Daily Hate’ for its views on marriage, sex, migrants, welfare, empire, liberals and leftists, the Mail has been in the sights of this lobby for some time, along with Murdoch’s Sun.
Their cause has been helped by the fall out between private investigators who were once paid handsomely by newspapers for their dark arts skills then abandoned or denied when the hacking prosecutions started.
Rees told The Upsetter that he was approached by a private investigator he had worked with in the past and who was now claiming to represent a group of lawyers with a pot of money to buy dirt about the Mail.
These legal eagles apparently want to leverage suitable dirt into payouts for their clients, who are said to include royals, and huge fees for themselves.
Rees said he was happy to open up about the Mail in part because he didn’t like the newspaper’s award-winning crime editor Stephen Wright for writing stories about his long term partner, Margaret Harrison. She was being wooed by Rees and Morgan at the time of the latter’s murder.
Gavin Burrows is the private investigator who approached Rees. He confirmed to The Upsetter that he paid Rees to download his brain but will not say how much, where that money came from and the identity of the female lawyer who he said instructs him.
Rees has not signed a statement about the alleged bugging of the Lawrences but has given Burrows details to investigate further.
The world of private investigators is one of sub-contractors and deniability. A job will come in to one firm who sub-contracts to another that may specialise in bugs, phone taps, blagging phone records or surveillance.
Rees said he was subcontracted and in turn subcontracted a team of ex-special forces people operating in Surrey to bug the cafe frequented by Doreen Lawrence.
“We had people that had that type of equipment that we instructed and we paid them to do it … you share the work about with yourself and other colleagues, or other agents that you know and you present it as if it’s your equipment and your source of information but it’s not really.”
This is a world of invoices that are unlikely to stipulate the dark arts involved but may use more bland descriptions such as ‘Confidential Enquiries’ and the name of the target and client, said Rees.
He cannot remember who sub-contracted him because most of his invoices have been seized by the Met and never returned following his many arrests for the Morgan murder, for perverting the course of justice and during the hacking inquiry.
However, he recalled that when he was arrested for hacking, detectives at Sutton police station confronted him with invoices seized from his office, especially if they named well known individuals and royals. He also remembers being asked about the Lawrences during this interview.
“They came in and took all our files away, and they knew about all this. We got quizzed during the interviews when I was arrested. Not that I entered into any conversation with them, but they were bringing up, ‘What’s this invoice about so and so? What’s this invoice about Prince Charles? What’s this invoice about various things?’ I don’t know … Fuck all, go away. So we covered out tracks.”
Rees recalled being asked where he had obtained a police document about the Lawrence case. He believed his invoice to the firm who sub-contracted him for the Lawrence bugging job was likely among the material the Met has seized over the years.
Rees says he spent a few days doing surveillance on the cafe and recalls an operative he had subcontracted showing him transcripts of the bug to read. He said these transcripts were being passed to the Mail, who then shared the raw intelligence with Special Branch.
So as well as the Special Branch files, there could be evidence of the bugging of the Lawrences in the files of the Met’s anti-corruption unit, who oversaw the targeting of Rees, Fillery and Southern Investigations.
The Met, however, shredded a lot of these police corruption files or said they had misplaced them. Some, however, may be stored at the Home Office as part of Dame Nuala O’Loan’s 8-year inquiry into the Met’s handling of the Daniel Morgan murder.
It concluded in 2021 that the Met was “institutionally corrupt” - in that protecting its officers and reputation was the over-riding objective than being straight with the Morgan family and the public.
GAVIN BURROWS admits he was a master of the dark arts for the UK media. But he claims to have gone through a period of soul searching and came clean about his apparently well paid past antics in a BBC documentary broadcast last year.
Burrows gives the impression he has gone from working for newspapers against the royals, to working for the royals against newspapers.
In the BBC documentary about the relationship between Princes William and Harry and the press, Burrows apologised for putting Harry’s former girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, under surveillance.
He told The Upsetter that he had also foiled an attempt in 2002 to steal Harry’s DNA during a polo match.
Burrows agreed to be a witness for Harry’s legal action against the News of the World, who he says he worked for along with other UK newspapers.
Burrows now claims he is “very close” to Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, who have been in long-running litigation with the Mail newspaper group.
However, the apparently repentant private investigator refuses to identify his client or clients but indicated it was a female lawyer who was once close to Princess Diana.
Burrows is keen on writing his memoirs about his work for newspapers and oligarchs. He also tells a story about working for Special Branch.
According to Burrows, a Sunday Times journalist asked him to give some work to MI6 whistleblower Richard Tomlinson. But Special Branch - who act when the intelligence services don’t want to show out - asked him to quietly keep them posted. “All good fun and games,” he told The Upsetter.
Rees is certain that Burrows was one of the private investigators involved in the Lawrence bugging operation for the Mail.
Burrows denies this, which has annoyed Rees, 68, who said it may have been a long time ago, and he has had Covid, a heart attack and sepsis in the last 18 months. But he is certain Burrows was on the Lawrence job.
Not so, says Burrows. His role in the Lawrence bugging allegation is to try and stand up what Rees is saying for his mysterious client with supposed royal connections.
Burrows may be close to Harry and Meghan, but Rees says he is not motivated by any sense of righteousness of their battle with the UK media.
“I don’t like what he’s done to the royal family. Not that I am any big royalist but I do like the queen and I think he’s a treacherous ginger haired pillock and I don’t fucking like her.”
So there it is. A bombshell allegation from a master of the dark arts and a newspaper silent after over one week of waiting for answers.
Perhaps the best way to sift fact from fiction is for the Mail to do what it often recommends other media organisations should do when facing tricky allegations it has brought to light: Appoint someone truly independent to look into this and publish the results.
To quote the English proverb: What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.
And so it goes.
For the second exclusive about the Lawrence case later this month.