PANEL BEATING

Inside Story of Patel's Battle for the Daniel Morgan Inquiry Report

The family of Daniel Morgan are right to be “suspicious” of Priti Patel’s last minute block on publication of the long-awaited report into the private investigator’s notorious unsolved murder in 1987.

Ludicrous reliance on the old chestnut of “national security” to justify stopping yesterday’s planned publication, after an 8-year inquiry costing £15m, has proved a spectacular own goal.

It has left the Home Secretary looking even more shifty and dismissive of a family failed for 34 years by no less than five flawed police investigations and the criminal justice system.  

Cooked Up

The Upsetter has pieced together the run up to what appears to be an 11th hour panic by Patel when confronted with a report widely expected to damn many, not just the Metropolitan police 

It starts shortly after Patel became Home Secretary in July 2019. Baroness Nuala O’Loan, chair of the Daniel Morgan Inquiry Panel, was summonsed to see permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam, whose new boss wanted to know why an inquiry costing £2m per year was taking so long. 

O’Loan is understood to have put the blame squarely on the Met’s internal probe into lead detective Dave Cook, whose coaching of supergrass witnesses had undermined the prosecution of five men suspected of Morgan’s murder. 

It was the collapse of their trial in March 2011 that eventually led to then Home Secretary Theresa May setting up the independent panel in 2013.

The trial judge’s criticism of Cook and a complaint of malicious prosecution by acquitted prime suspect Jonathan Rees forced the Met to investigate the retired detective chief superintendent.

Six years later in 2019, O’Loan was telling Rutnam the Met’s investigation of Cook was still on-going and she was therefore unable to interview him to complete her report.

It was only in April 2020 that Cook was told he would not be charged with perverting the course of justice - a decision backed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as not being in the public interest.

In August, the panel finally interviewed Cook, who alleged he’d been kept under investigation for so long because the Met wanted to “silence” him from revealing details about wider corruption in the supergrass debriefing unit and other skullduggery.

The panel looked into these allegations but were separately critical of Cook’s own conduct and notified him in writing of where they felt he had fallen short of honesty and integrity in trying to put away those he believed were guilty, otherwise known as noble cause corruption, or if you prefer, corruption.

8 Days in May

By early 2021, the panel had pretty much notified everyone else it intended to seriously criticise and had given them a chance to respond. This includes the Home Office for its lack of oversight of five police investigations costing north of £50m.

Publication of the panel’s report was set for 17 May - the same day a loosening of lockdown rules meant people could get hammered inside a pub, which looked like a good day to bury bad news.

But on 10 May, a new permanent secretary at the Home Office contacted O’Loan with news of a delay.

Rutnam had resigned over a bullying scandal (that has dogged Patel’s ministerial career) and recently won a £360,000 settlement paid by the taxpayer to save the Home Secretary’s blushes.

Matthew Rycroft, Patel’s new permanent secretary, told O’Loan publication of the report had to go back a week to the 24 May because the death of Prince Philip and the local elections had left limited space in the parliamentary timetable before the Whitsun break.

There was no mention of national security but, according to informed sources, Rycroft did say that Patel would only make a written statement to parliament rather than present the report and debate its conclusions and recommendations in the chamber of the House of Commons.

This suggested that Patel had no intention of taking ownership of the report or the past mistakes of her department. She was content to do what Home Office officials had agreed with the panel in 2013 and receive the report one day before laying it before parliament.

That approach made political sense. Her hands were effectively clean so why associate herself with a report about events a long time ago, when many voters weren’t even born, that didn’t stir the media in the same way as the Stephen Lawrence scandal.

However, looked at another way, Patel’s hands off approach was a snub to the Morgan family, whose concerns, Theresa May had promised, would be at “the centre of the process”.

So imagine O'Loan's surprise when days later on 14 May the Home Secretary personally wrote raising national security concerns and blocking publication until her officials had risk assessed the report.

Laughably, Patel claimed in the letter to O’Loan that she was exercising her responsibility as Home Secretary under the Inquiries Act by calling in the panel’s report to check compliance with the Human Rights Act (legislation so despised by her wing of the Tory party).

Firstly, the panel was not established under the Inquiries Act. The family’s wish for a public inquiry had been rejected by Theresa May, who set up an independent panel with less powers to compel witnesses and co-operation. 

Secondly, the Met had already risk assessed the report and it is further understood that MI5 had not raised any national security issues with the panel.

Not even over the activities of Jonathan Rees, whose private detective agency had targeted government figures for the mainly Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloids. Rees’s Southern Investigations had also tried to unmask ‘Stakeknife’ – an undercover agent inside the IRA - on behalf of The News of the World.

Despite all this, the spooks had no concerns, a source close to these events said. And on a more practical level, who could Patel get to do these checks anyway without deferring to the Met and the panel?

Murdoch Killed Morgan

The Home Secretary’s heavy-handed intervention was a spectacular own goal and immediately branded an attempt to cover up official misconduct by the police establishment.

Conspiracy theories spread through Twitter and the mainstream media. The funniest being that Patel was H - the fictional corrupt police puppet master in Line of Duty - to the more predictable speculation in The Guardian and elsewhere that this was all about protecting Rupert Murdoch’s media interests.

In truth, the Morgan family have campaigned for most of the last 34 years alone. Rival media used the murder and the family’s isolation to open a new line of attack in the phone hacking scandal.

These late arrivals to the Morgan cause highlighted the willingness of Murdoch’s UK media empire to contract Rees in the dart arts of news gathering despite being the number one suspect for an axe murder and having a conviction for planting drugs on the wife of a client locked in a custody battle.

The many complex reasons for the Met’s failure to solve the Morgan murder thus became entangled and lost in criticism of the same force’s failure to properly investigate complaints about tabloid monitoring of celebrities’ phone messages for scoops.

Dave Cook helped push the theory through tame journalists in large measure because he felt senior Met management had failed to support him after the News of the World put him very briefly under surveillance in 2002 following his appointment as the public face of the new murder hunt.

The issue of whether media and police corruption worked in tandem to frustrate solving the Morgan murder gained enough traction, especially after the Leveson Inquiry into press standards concluded in November 2012, that it became part of the panel’s terms of reference to examine:

“the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the News of the World and other parts of the media and alleged corruption involved in the linkages between them.”

Control Freakery

Ironically, Patel’s move against the panel has re-energised what was waning media interest in the Morgan murder, as reporters struggled to grab editors’ attention until the Home Secretary’s letter of 14 May made it a political story.

Her decision to “vet” the report smacks of political control freaky mixed with a dysfunctional relationship with her civil servants.

A furious O’Loan went public on 18 May with a press release describing Patel’s interference as an attack on the panel’s independence. Fieldfisher, the panel’s lawyers, suggested a legal challenge was possible if the Home Secretary didn’t back down. 

Crisis meetings continued over last weekend with the panel refusing to hand over the report. After negative press, Patel went on the offensive claiming on Channel 4 News that it was the “right” thing for her to see the report ahead of publication.

Dick Fight

Clearly the Home Secretary wants more time and one theory is because she is considering the future of Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick.

As The Upsetter recently revealed in The Times, Dick is expected to be criticised in the report over obstructing the release of sensitive police documents to the panel. 

According to Theresa May, the panel would take a year to report from when the Met disclosed all the necessary documents. She told Parliament in 2013:

Recognising the volume of material that must be catalogued, analysed and preserved, the Panel will seek to complete its work within a year of the documentation being made available.

As an assistant commissioner at the time, Dick’s job was to liaise with the panel over the disclosure process. She was familiar with the Morgan case having just overseen a largely self-serving joint report with the CPS into the collapse of the murder trial.

Sources say Dick tried to persuade the panel’s first chairman, Sir Stanley Burnton, a former Lord Justice of the Appeal Court, to agree to be the only person who could see certain documents. 

The Morgan family got wind of what they saw as Dick’s "grooming" of Sir Stanley, who lost their confidence and resigned on 19 November 2013 citing “personal reasons". The former judge went on to sit on the interception of communications commission.

Nuala O'Loan became the new chair of the panel in July 2014 and is said to have been frustrated with the continued delays in releasing police material, including after Dick became Met commissioner in April 2017.

Alastair Morgan, Daniel’s brother, blames Dick for his 89-year-old mother, Isobel Hulsmann, not getting to see the report before she died in November 2017.

He told The Upsetter:

"I hope that the Commissioner is criticised in the report because it has taken too long because of the activities of the police and most of this time it was on her watch. This meant my mother died before seeing the report."

And in spite of the criticism coming Cook’s way, the former detective still retains his support. Morgan said:

"I know there had been obstruction in the Met. The prosecution of Dave Cook was designed to slow down the panel from completing its work."

The son of Daniel Morgan was given special dispensation to fly to the UK for publication of the report. Opening up for the first time in The Guardian, Daniel Morgan junior said:

“For us, the Met is a failed institution – one that can’t demonstrate the capacity to admit failure and act upon it accordingly. Instead, the Met seems solely focused on protecting itself … I urge the DMIP to take whatever steps are in its power to stand up to the home secretary,to ensure that its independence and integrity are not compromised.”

Confidence in the Met is already rocked by repeat racial profiling of black people and criticism in the Daily Mail of “a culture of cover up” over the VIP paedophile scandal. This may present Patel with an opportunity to replace Dick, whose contract ends next year but could be extended until 2024.

For now, three powerful women, the Home Secretary, the Met commissioner and a Baroness are duking it out in private making it unlikely the Morgan family and the public, who picks up the bill, will get to see the panel's report any time soon.

And so it goes.

Update

In a humiliating climb down for Priti Patel, the home secretary will not be given the report ahead of publication to vet at will on supposed national security grounds.

In a statement on 28 May, the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel said:

An agreement has been reached that a small team from the Home Office will be permitted to read the report in advance of publication, under strict viewing conditions, at the premises of the Panel. As was always envisaged, the Home Secretary will be provided with a copy of the report to read before publication.

There are no redactions in the Panel’s report, which is complete. In the unlikely event that any redaction is applied by the Home Secretary, this will be clearly indicated in a footnote.

It is further understood that any redactions Patel wishes to make will be run past the Morgan family, who she has managed to alienate even further with such a clunky power play.

Barring further ego tripping, the report will be published by parliament on 15 June.