Most people are aware of the phone hacking scandal and the high profile defendants at the ‘trial of the century’ last year. But neither Andy Coulson, nor Rebekah Brooks, nor phone hacking are anything like as important as the real scandal of the News of the World, which involves much more serious crimes that threaten the pillars of the criminal justice system in Britain.
2000: A Pandora’s Box of Media Crimes
The murder of Daniel Morgan and three decades of cover-up is the key thread to follow in this dark unresolved story of the police and the press. Around the turn of the millennium, a third, secret investigation into the Daniel Morgan murder led to the conviction of Daniel’s former partner, Jonathan Rees, for an unrelated charge of conspiring to fit up a mother in a custody battle. He was convicted with a police officer, and sentenced to 7 years in prison.
However, unknown till recently, the probe into Fleet Street’s prolific private detective agency Southern Investigations had also detected over 30 potential crimes involving journalists and corrupt police officers.
In March 2000 the senior officer in command of Operation Nigeria/Two Bridges, Bob Quick, sent a file to the head of the Met’s Department of Professional Standards (DPS) recommending a full criminal inquiry into senior News of the World journalists Alex Marunchak, Gary Jones (by then at the Mirror Group) and Mazher Mahmood. (See “Seven Suppressed Investigations into News of the World in 7 years – why Leveson II is needed).
But though the new editor Rebekah Brooks accompanied Marunchak to a meeting with the incoming Met chief commissioner John Stevens around the same time – nothing was done.
Worse was to come. In June of 2002, Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Cook was asked to be the front man for a fourth murder inquiry (Operation Abelard) on Crimewatch. But two days before this appearance became public a police intelligence caught Rees’ former business partner, Sid Fillery, tipping off Marunchak about Cook’s role.
Nothing was done with this intelligence, though it clearly implied some kind leak from inside the Metropolitan Police, and Cook was not warned.
Though the police failed to act, the News of the World went into overdrive. Glenn Mulcaire was tasked to target the voice-mails and bank details of Cook and his partner Jacqui Hames in June. By July the family and their young children found themselves under surveillance by News of the World employees – namely Mazher Mahmood’s photographer, Bradley Page (Exploding the Myth of the Cook/Hames affair).
By August 2002 the Abelard Team had tracked the News International van and the long lucrative partnership between Alex Marunchak and Southern Investigations. A request was sent to the DPS to mount a full financial inquiry but – you guessed it – nothing was done.
Five months later Cook confronted Rebekah Brooks at Scotland Yard with evidence of the collusion between her executive editor and Southern Investigations. The meeting was sanctioned by the Met Commissioner, Sir John Stevens.
While praising Marunchak Brooks promised to investigate further but the company did nothing. Marunchak was actually promoted.
December 2002: Burglaries and Police leaks
During Rees’ sojourn in prison, his business partner Sid Fillery was raided at the company’s Thornton Heath offices and his computer confiscated. Forensic analysis of the computer proved that former police officer had shown a “mature and active interest” in downloading images of child abuse.
In October 2003, Fillery pleaded guilty to 13 counts of making indecent images of children but was spared jail.
However, Fillery’s computer contained a wealth of other incriminating information. Searches of the hard drives revealed a continuing association with News of the World. The paper came up with one of the greatest numbers hits in subsequent searches – 106 – while the name of its senior executive Alex Marunchak appears 79 times.
In one document Southern Investigations appears to reporting back to the News of the World executive on the results of burglary – a “sortie into the address of the woman concerning Ascot.” In another document (oddly) Fillery or Rees seem to be asking Marunchak to track down the “keeper details” for a car registration. At that time Mulcaire was also doing ‘tracing’ activities, on an exclusive contract toNews of the World.
More extraordinary still is Fillery’s continued access to high level police intelligence. He seems to have the “duty states” of four CIB (3). Officers involved in the previous murder investigation into his firm – including Bob Quick. There is a also a letter from Rees to Fillery claiming he has received covert transcripts involving an informant – a potentially life threatening breach of police security.
Once again, none of this further intelligence was passed onto any of the murder investigators. More shocking still in terms of curbing these leaks or punishing the recipients nothing was done.
Sometime 2005: Hacking and Undercover Officer
For over seven years, a former police officer was sent on a perilous undercover mission to penetrate Southern Investigations.
From 1997 Derek Haslam was relaying information back to the DPS about Southern Investigations and its numerous connections with the criminal underworld and corrupt officers. This is the kind of information gathering and whistle-blowing which had led to the violent death of Daniel Morgan ten years earlier. Indeed Haslam says his motive was to clear up the murder of Daniel and the violent suicide of an old friend Taffy Holmes.
It was thanks to Haslam that police managed to place the probe into the Thornton Heath offices in 1999 which provided most the material for Operation Nigeria/Three Bridges which led to the arrest and conviction of Rees. Despite the extensive risks, Haslam remained undercover for the next six years, relaying information back to his handlers.
In the late nineties Haslam had warned his handlers that Southern Investigations were boasting they could hack “any computer, any hard drive”. Despite his reservations his handlers began to require Haslam to file his confidential reports on a floppy disk by 2004.
In 2005, Haslam was targeted by a Trojan Horse (eblaster software), and his cover was blown. Despite this alarming breach of security, it was Haslam who flagged up to his handlers the suspicion his laptop had been hacked at the end of the year.
Once again the Daniel Morgan murder team was never informed of the origin of the computer hacking and nothing was done to stop the perpetrators.
December 2005: Rees, Marunchak and Murdoch
In late 2005 Rees was released from prison. Police intelligence reports from December suggest that he was back in contact with Alex Marunchak at the News of the World and planning to resume his lucrative career working for the paper and to “step up a gear” after his release from parole conditions the coming February.
Most this new work seemed to be derived from Rees’ police connections. The report claims he was planning to earn an “awful lot of money” for his ongoing connections with Marunchak and “insider” police stories, some sourced through the confidential Police Gazette. The intelligence assessment concluded that despite earning nearly £200k per annum from News International, the News of the World senior executive was short of money but that Marunchak was “still highly thought of by Murdoch and can do no wrong.”
(This allegation contrasts with Rupert Murdoch’s answer to Tom Watson MP at the DCMS Parliamentary Select Committee in 2011 when Murdoch said he could not remember Marunchak.)
What is not in doubt, however, is that on release from prison Rees was re-hired byNews of the World then under the editorship of Andy Coulson. Invoices from News International Supply Company Ltd from January 2006 show Rees was actively providing information on the new girlfriend of Prince William, Kate Middleton, during the period the royal princes and their aides were extensively hacked by Glenn Mulcaire and the NOTW Royal Reporter Clive Goodman.
More paperwork for 2006 show Rees working on the Bowman Murder in February, and records for Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and journalist Andrew Morton in June.
This evidence supports the assertion of an independent witness, who knew both Marunchak and Rees, that he saw them both together “three or four times” after Rees’ release from prison.
What did News of the World management know about this? Rees’ identity is not hidden.
Asked about the re-hiring of Rees on release from prison, Coulson’s deputy Neil Wallis claimed he might well not have known because of the system. However, News International lawyer Tom Crone told another DCMS committee he had met Rees during his earlier work for the paper.
Rees carried on working for the Sunday tabloid long after Coulson resigned in the wake of the phone hacking scandal. He was still doing work for the News of the World until his re-arrest in 2008.
April 2006: Leaks from Commissioner’s “Inner Sanctum”
The breaches in security get more serious still in the spring of 2006. After a scoping review for the Metropolitan Police Authority revealed new evidence, the new Commissioner Sir Ian Blair decided to launch the fifth investigation into the Daniel Morgan Murder – Operation Abelard 2.
But within days the highly sensitive operational decision was leaking back to one of the suspects. A wider inquiry into private investigators and corrupt police picked up a conversation by Jonathan Rees on 5 April 2006.
The next day intelligence reports reveal that Rees had heard of a leak from Sir Ian Blair’s “inner sanctum” about “proposed policy decisions” which had reportedly found their way to the former Met chief, Sir John Stevens, then a columnist at News of the World. Rees claimed he had “had this confirmed” by Alex Marunchak one of “his many employers.”
Intelligence reports are evaluations of untested evidence, and little weight can be put on unsubstantiated assertions. But the report was cleared for action by other agencies and marked reliable. Whatever the details of the leak, the timing proves sensitive information about the Daniel Morgan murder inquiry was leaking right back to one of the prime suspects.
But nothing was done about serious leak from the office of the most important police officer in the country over one of the most sensitive murder cases in the Met’s history. And once again, the Abelard team were never informed.
(When this intelligence came to light during the later phases of Leveson Inquiry in April 2012, it caused a stir. As the Guardian reported [‘Met Police defend decision not to pursue Leaks], the 2006 intelligence came at a time when Sir Ian Blair faced “internal ructions and a hostile press” but he was not informed. The controversy was only partially aired because the Met claimed public interest immunity and Tom Watson urged the home secretary Theresa May to investigate the “suppressed Leveson evidence.”)
June 2006: Hacking Breaches Witness Protection
Having previously seen the identity of an undercover officer blown by a Trojan Horse the Met were soon aware of a more dangerous security breach which could have endangered the life of another undercover operative, and compromised witness protection.
According to the BBC Glenn Mulcaire had tracked down the identities of four people while they were supposedly hidden in the witness protection scheme. These were former criminals given new identities for their personal safety, but Freddy Scappaticci was a double agent for British security working at a high level in the Provisional IRA for many years.
By 2006, Scappaticci’s role as a double agent had attracted great press interest and was a focus of Sir John Stevens’ inquiries into Northern Ireland policing. News International documents show that his wife’s phone records were being targeted in an effort to track him in April. Police were also aware by May that year there was a plan to hack the computers of Ian Hurst, who had written about Scappaticci and was known to be in contact with him.
Though Scappaticci was eventually warned of a threat to his security in June 2006, Hurst – another former security agent – was never notified. His computers were hacked by eblaster software from May to October 2006 and information derived from the virus sent to News International. The hacking of Hurst’s computers mainly occurred when they were resident in France. A recent unrelated case of corporate computer hacking in France led to a three year prison sentence.
It took seven years for the Metropolitan Police to formally apologise to the Hurst family for lying to them about their knowledge of the hacking of their computers. There’s little doubt both the Haslam and Hurst hackings were well known to the police as, less than a year later in March 2007, this intelligence formed part of the basis for SOCA’s Project Riverside, a scoping exercise into the private investigation industry’s unlawful use of private data.
But once again, at the time nothing was done here to warn the victims, apprehend the immediate perpetrators or investigate News International.
August 2006: Subverting a Murder Inquiry (Again)
Extraordinarily, despite having been confronted about interference with the fourth Daniel Morgan murder investigation three years previously, the News of the World continued with its campaign of destabilisation during the fifth inquiry too.
In May 2006 there was an unexplained security alert when a man with a balaclava was spotted in the garden of a senior police officer. In June the police received further intelligence that Alex Marunchak and a former police officer were trying to hawk a story of Jacqui Hames’ business interests around Fleet Street, in order to compromise her husband Dave Cook, in charge of the fifth murder inquiry.
It should not be forgotten that during this period, the Met were well aware of wider allegations of criminality at News of the World. Operation Glade, an investigation into journalists across Fleet St and their connections with corrupt police officers, had interviewed the paper’s desk editor Greg Miskiw in 2004.
Meanwhile, from late 2005 throughout 2006, officers from the counter terrorism squad were investigating the hacking of the voicemails of the royal princes. This investigation, Operation Caryatid, led to the arrest of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman in August. The investigation was limited for various reasons, particularly the recalcitrance of News International which denied access to key evidence.
Among Mulcaire’s voluminous notes were phone numbers and bank details for Jacqui Hames and Dave Cook.
This time something was done. Goodman and Mulcaire were convicted, the former designated a ‘rogue reporter’ despite ample evidence of much wider phone hacking at News of the World.
And Alex Marunchak finally left the employ of News of the World after over two decades as a crime reporter, crime editor, senior executive and editor of the tabloid’s Sunday Irish edition.
That’s it. Until 5 years later when the real phone hacking and related scandals hit the news.
The Threat to the Criminal Justice System and the Need for Leveson II
It seems that for many years News International was like a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ in which any police probe got rapidly lost, never to return.
We know there were at least seven police inquiries from 1999 onwards into News of the World that went nowhere. Most of these involved serious allegations into payments to police officers. But the more detailed evidence above suggests that, had the police acted on the intelligence that they had, there could been many more serious criminal inquiries.
The duty of care to senior officers and their families involved in a dangerous murder investigation, or those on witness protection, or acting undercover, are three of the most important requirements of any police force. To breach it risks serious harm and perhaps murder, and threatens the very foundations of the criminal justice system.
A former Scotland Yard protection officer explains that “the Witness Protection Unit was otherwise known as the ‘Criminal Justice Protection Unit. The very name was chosen to amplify the importance of this essential Police discipline.” He quotes a witness protection manual that says that intelligence systems and witness protection are “two essential” requirements against organised crime.
Having reviewed the breaches outlined above the officer of many years standing adds:
“I am amazed that so little appears to have been done to protect those that were involved in this highly sensitive and potentially extremely dangerous situation.”
Yet the News of the World and its employees broke these key laws with impunity over many years, with police knowledge.
The silence and inactivity of the Met over these years of almost monthly warnings cannot be put down to tacit approval. But fear of the dominant news organisation must have played a part. Also, previous oversights by senior Met officers must have given the new generation some leverage over their predecessors.
Whatever the internal politics, senior police officers during this period could not fail to be aware that Rupert Murdoch and his senior executives regularly socialised and interacted with prime ministers and home secretaries over the decades. The News of the World in particular, Murdoch’s papers in general, could make or break a senior police officer’s career. They could hound him or her persistently (as the Sun is currently doing to the DPP Alison Saunders) or they could provide good publicity and eventually even publishing deals.
But probably even more powerful than this was a decades long history of collusion between the Metropolitan Police and the Murdoch papers, a web of connections and interests which would make any probe toxic for both institutions. A can of worms does not begin to describe this: only former prime minister Gordon Brown’s phrase “a criminal-media nexus” does the story justice.
That is why Prime Minister David Cameron cannot renege on his promise to follow through with Leveson Two – a closer scrutiny of police and media relations now most the related trials are over and the contempt of court threat has gone.
Daniel Morgan’s Family
If this seems overly historical or political, think of it another way. What can be more important for a society than the prevention and detection of murderers?
For over 28 years Daniel Morgan’s brother Alastair has been campaigning for some justice for his dead brother, and some final transparency about the murder. He knew fairly early on this involved police corruption. It’s only in these latter years that the extent of media interference and collusion has been exposed.
Thirty years is an unbearably long time to fight against the deceptions of the police, the cowardice of politicians or disinterest of the Home Office. Above all Alastair, who once trained to be a journalist, hoped for support from the great whistle-blowers in the press. Eventually he found some support and allies here and there.
But all along, unknown to him, he was secretly engaged in a shadow battle with the most powerful newspaper group in the country, whose employees were involved for decades in lucrative deals with the murder suspects, and then were actively engaged in subverting the murder investigations.
Senior executives at News International have been aware of this for many years, but have done nothing to aid Alastair or the bereaved family.
Whether or not Rupert Murdoch can remember Alex Marunchak it’s time his organisation – as much as the Metropolitan police – should accept some corporate responsibility for this tragic perversion of the principles of journalism from transparency and justice to cover-up and injustice.
This post originally appeared on the Byline website and is reproduced with permission and thanks
If you have corrections, queries or wish to comment in the piece itself, please contact me peter at byline dot com.
Meanwhile, if you have information that could be relevant to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, you can contact them here.
Previous articles in this series have explored key players in the year Daniel was killed (Summer of 87: Two Violent deaths, Two Rising Murdoch Stars): the quickly established lucrative relationship between News of the World and the murder suspects (Discovered in the Archives: the News of the World’s one piece on the Daniel Morgan Murder); and then the role of News of the World in derailing further murder inquiries (How much did Rebekah Brooks know about the Daniel Morgan Murder).
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