Daniel Morgan’s Unsolved Murder
By Padraig Colman
Daniel Morgan was found dead in the carpark of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham in 1987 with an axe in his head. Three blows had been delivered with the blade of the axe to the back of the head followed by a final blow to the side. The murder weapon was a £45 Chinese-manufacture Diamond Brand chopping axe.
Morgan’s family have been waiting 34 years for some answers. An independent inquiry chaired by Baroness O’Loan was set up eight years ago. Publication of the panel’s report, which was due on 25 May 2021, was further delayed, because the current Home Secretary, Priti Patel, insisted that the report be handed to her for vetting before publication.
Daniel Morgan had an exceptional memory for small details, such as car registration numbers. In 1984, he set up a detective agency, Southern Investigations, in Thornton Heath, southern Greater London near Croydon and ran it with his business partner Jonathan Rees. Morgan had some police contacts, and his work was mainly low-level.
At the time of his murder, Morgan was having an affair with a woman named Margaret Harrison, an estate agent with two teenage daughters, and had met her at 6:30pm at Regan’s Wine Bar on Brigstock Road, in Thornton Heath shortly before the murder. Before his body was found at around 9.40, Morgan had been drinking in the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham with Jonathan Rees. At 8.00pm on the evening of 9 March, the day before his murder, Morgan met Rees in the Golden Lion, a pub he did not usually frequent, and was surprised to find to find Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery of Catford CID with Rees. Morgan got into an argument with the other two because he thought dealing with corrupt policemen was bad for business.
After Morgan’s body was found, the detective assigned to take the lead in the investigation was none other than Sid Fillery. Fillery failed to disclose that he was moonlighting for Southern Investigations or that he and Rees were close friends. A month later, Fillery and two other Catford officers were arrested and questioned on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.
Rees was married to a divorcée called Sharon, with whom he had two children. Sharon Rees had two brothers called Garry and Glenn Vian, described in a Crown Prosecution Service document as “part of the criminal fraternity”. The Vian brothers were employed by Rees at Southern Investigations as “security guards”. Three weeks after the murder, Rees, Fillery, the Vian brothers, and two other CID officers were arrested on suspicion of murder, but all were later released without charge. Garry Vian was jailed for 14 years in 2005 for drugs smuggling. Former Met constable Dean Vian, nephew of Garry and Glenn, said on camera for a TV programme, “My mum told me that Glenn had killed him, and he was paid by Jonathan Rees to do that. … Jonathan Rees and Daniel Morgan had a falling out because they were both with the same woman.” Alastair Morgan, Daniel’s brother, told the programme he absolutely didn’t believe the “love triangle”, Morgan/Harrison/Rees, had anything to do with the murder.
It seems likely that Morgan was about to expose a case of extensive drug-related police corruption implicating Rees, Fillery and other South London Met officers. Understandably Morgan did not trust the police to investigate; he himself had influential press contacts (among them, at the Daily Mirror, Alastair Campbell, who later became Tony Blair’s press secretary) and might eventually have decided to sell his story.
Morgan was prepared to be “flexible” about the law while pursuing his routine trade of debt collection and snooping on errant spouses. However, Rees seems to have operated at a different level of sleaze. Morgan had a low opinion of the police. Rees loved to socialise with Met officers at Masonic gala events in Croydon.
In April 1987, Jonathan Rees was arrested on suspicion of the murder of Daniel Morgan but was released without charge. Between Morgan's death in 1987 and 2008, five police inquiries were conducted. There were allegations of police corruption, drug trafficking and robbery. Later, police arrested Jonathan Rees and several others on suspicion of murder, along with a serving police officer suspected of leaking information. In 2009 the trial began at the Old Bailey. In March 2011, the Director of Public Prosecutions abandoned the case, and the three accused were acquitted, including Jonathan Rees. The case involved some of the longest legal arguments submitted in a trial in the English criminal courts. Nicholas Hilliard QC, for the prosecution, said that defence lawyers might not be able to examine all the documents in the case (750,000 pages dating back over 24 years) in order to ensure a fair trial.
In 2017, four men sued the Met in the high court alleging malicious prosecution. Among them were Rees and his brothers-in-law, Glenn and Garry Vian. They denied charges of murder. Those three lost their case against the Met but won an appeal in 2018 and were awarded £414,000 between them. Sid Fillery worked on the first murder investigation. He had close ties to Rees, and he went on to replace Morgan at Southern Investigations. A report by the Metropolitan Police Authority, the body that used to oversee the Met, said: “In the following months there were rumours and allegations of high-level police corruption and masonic links surrounding the investigation, but no charges resulted.”
It seems likely that reporters were engaging in illegal activities as long ago as 1987, when Daniel Morgan was killed, even though smart phones did not exist then. Between 1999 and 2003, several reporters were convicted for crimes including drug distribution, the theft of drugs, child pornography, planting evidence, corruption, and perverting the course of justice. When he was editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson hired Jonathan Rees after he was released from a five-year prison sentence in 2005 and paid him £150,00 a year for dubious services. Rees had been convicted of planting cocaine to incriminate an innocent woman. Andy Coulson later became David Cameron’s press secretary.
During the fourth investigation into Morgan’s death, the senior investigating officer, Dave Cook, told Rebekah Brooks, when she was editor of the News of the World, that he and his family were under surveillance by News of the World journalists. Cook’s wife, also a police officer, alleged that there was a campaign of intimidation against them. The staff involved were promoted not reprimanded. Brooks and her husband were frequent guests at prime minister David Cameron’s house.
An independent panel chaired by Baroness Nuala O’Loan was tasked to look at “police involvement in Daniel Morgan’s murder; the role played by police corruption in protecting those responsible for the murder … and the failure to confront that corruption”. The panel also investigated “the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the former News of the World and other parts of the media, and alleged corruption involved in the linkages between them”. Morgan’s killing might be connected to his knowledge of extensive and high-level corruption within the Metropolitan Police and dirty dealings by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. Former prime minister Gordon Brown coined the term “criminal media nexus”. Rupert Murdoch acquired the News of the World way back in 1969. News UK, the company that owns Murdoch’s British newspapers, including the august Times, declined to comment.
Where Are They Now?
Current home secretary Priti Patel was a guest at Rupert Murdoch’s 2016 wedding in London to Jerry Hall, former wife of Mick Jagger. Fellow cabinet minister Michael Gove was also an honoured guest.
Sid Fillery was subsequently convicted of child porn offences and now helps to run a pub in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk; Jonathan Rees lives with his mistress Margaret Harrison, yes that Margaret Harrison, in Weybridge, Surrey.
More on the “criminal/ media/political nexus” next week.