The only life sentence handed out after Daniel Morgan was murdered in 1987, with an axe blow to the head in the car park of a south-east London pub, was for his bereaved family. For more than three decades, his brother Alastair fought tirelessly to expose corruption that he believed led to the cover-up of who killed Daniel, a 37-year-old private investigator.
“Even now, many years later, when I find out a new aspect of what took place, it brings it all back,” says Alastair, 71, who lives in Wales with his wife. “You either have to swallow it and accept the dirt, or fight back. If you do fight, you get a [personal] life sentence.”
Alastair is speaking ahead of the concluding episode of Murder in the Car Park tonight, a Channel 4 documentary about Daniel’s death and what he saw as the ripples of corruption that spread through the police, private investigators and journalists, all the way to the doors of Downing Street. It is the most investigated murder in British history, with five inquiries totalling tens of millions of pounds, but there is yet to be a conviction.
The documentary unpicks the complicated web, with which Alastair is all too familiar, having dedicated his life to justice for his brother. He has co-created a podcast and co-written a book about the case, both called Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder (untoldmurder.com). Even so, there are still revelations that were news to him in the documentary.
Alastair remembers Daniel, who was younger by a year, as a gregarious man who enjoyed being around people. He went to agricultural college, worked in Denmark and in the UK as a tour guide, before starting Southern Investigations, a small detective agency in Thornton Heath, with Jonathan Rees. Both men were married, Daniel to Iris, and had children: Alastair one son, Daniel a boy and a girl.
“He was a good friend to me,” recalls Alastair. “It was very sad and I miss him still – but here we are.”
At the time Daniel was killed, on March 10 1987, outside the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham, he was said to have been on the verge of exposing allegations of corruption in the Met Police through a drugs conspiracy, which witnesses have said he planned to sell to a newspaper for £250,000.
The main suspects in the case were the same for decades: Daniel’s business partner, Rees, former Met Police officer Sid Fillery (who later joined Southern Investigations, as its specialism evolved from bailiff work to investigations for newspapers), an alleged getaway car driver Jimmy Cook, and brothers Glenn and Gary Vian. The theory, as dramatised in the Channel 4 series, was that Rees and Fillery allegedly wanted to prevent Daniel from exposing corruption, so hired the criminal Vian brothers and Cook to help dispose of him.
But three weeks into the initial investigation into Daniel’s death, “something was already going very wrong”, says Alastair, who tried to raise the alarm. He thought the police had narrowed their investigation too early. Fillery was one of the first officers on the scene and he took Rees’ statement.
Two parallel worlds emerged in the 90s: Rees and Fillery describe this period at Southern Investigations as “good fun”. They knew each other before Daniel’s murder from Fillery’s time in the police, but say they had no plans to go into business together until a couple of years after the death. They used their connections with the police to branch into investigations for newspapers, working closely with News of the World, and later becoming embroiled in the phone hacking scandal and coming up with the idea of the ‘fake sheikh’, a disguise for tabloid journalist Mazher Mahmood, whose elaborate ‘sting’ operations involved like likes of Sven-Goran Eriksson and the Duchess of York, before he was convicted of perverting the course of justice in 2016.
Meanwhile, Alastair campaigned tirelessly for justice in his brother’s death, taking his grievances all the way to Parliament. A secret fifth investigation into the death was declared in 2006 after then-Met commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, admitted the first inquiry was “compromised”. In 2008, Rees, Cook and the Vian brothers were arrested on suspicion of murder, for organising and perpetrating the act, and Fillery on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. But none were convicted. Last year, three of them won £414,000 in damages from the Met for malicious prosecution.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions that are in the public interest – not just for me,” says Alastair, referring to his suspicions of police corruption. “So much is dirtied with this case. It’s like a nasty, dirty stain.”
Theresa May, then prime minister, announced a public inquiry into Daniel’s killing in 2013. Originally due to report within a year, the family are still waiting for its findings, now expected in 2021.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see justice, realistically,” says Alastair, quietly. “We’re expecting the report in spring next year, but we’ve been given dates to expect it several times before and it always recedes over the horizon. My mother died two years ago; she’ll never see the report or justice. The whole thing has been stressful and painful from beginning to end.”
For their mother, Isobel Hulsmann, her son’s death was always a “bitter pill”.
Daniel’s widow, Iris, and their children, Sarah and Daniel, who were young when he died, have stayed out of the public eye and away from the campaign, to preserve a sense of normality. “Iris didn’t want their lives to be defined by this,” says Alastair. “They have grown up to be well-adjusted, decent young people. Each has a child, so Daniel has two grandchildren, which he never saw and whom will never see him”.
Alastair is lucky, he adds, to have a supportive partner, but the case has been difficult for his adult son, who lives in Sweden and was a young teenager when his uncle was killed.
As the years tick by, Alastair loses hope of ever seeing someone convicted for his brother’s death. Now, following the first episode of Murder in the Car Park earlier this month, one of the suspects, Glenn Vian, has died. Coincidentally, it is Glenn who is outright accused of committing the murder by his nephew, former police officer Dean, in the documentary.
“I asked my mum who was responsible,” says Dean. “My mum told me that Glenn had killed him. Obviously, I’m just repeating what I’ve been told – but I believe it to be true.”
In some of his final public words, Glenn tells the documentary makers he would like to punch Alastair. How did it feel to be threatened on camera like that? “I didn’t take it very seriously,” he says, adding that he’s had death threats and been followed. “I’ve not done anything to that man. I was pursuing justice for my brother – a natural impulse – yet he wants to punch my lights out? It showed him for who he was.”
But it was new, even to Alastair, to see the men who had been the main suspects, Rees, Fillery and Glenn, speak openly on camera. They all deny involvement in the death, and have been cleared. They have been cleared and deny involvement in the death, as do Cook and Gary Vian. “It’s a great disappointment,” says Alastair, with a resigned voice.
For him, nothing has changed with the Metropolitan Police in the past 33 years. “If I had to guess what would happen if this occurred today, I would say exactly the same thing,” he says. That has been one of the biggest casualties in all this for me, my confidence in the police.”
Alastair compares his fight to those waged by other bereaved families, including Stephen Lawrence’s family and the Hillsborough survivors.
“It has totally reshaped the whole direction of my life,” says Alastair. He trained as a journalist in his 40s, but in the end opted to work as a freelance translator, because the flexible hours gave him time to jump on the phone or go to meetings connected to his brother’s case.
“I have this big burden on my shoulders that is always there, day in, day out,” he says. “That has to be my number one priority. You have to devote your whole life to it, otherwise you’ll be brushed aside like a piece of dust.”
Murder in the Car Park concludes on Channel 4 tonight at 9pm