Jennette Arnold: The Daniel Morgan case shows how difficult it has always been to hold the Metropolitan Police to account

Jennette Arnold: The Daniel Morgan case shows how difficult it has always been to hold the Metropolitan Police to account

Last week was difficult – a week of sad remembrances, with the anniversaries of Jo Cox’s murder and of the Grenfell Tower fire. It was also the week when Daniel Morgan’s family and their supporters finally saw the results of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel’s eight-year review into the botched investigation of his murder in 1987 and the subsequent repeated cover-ups.

The report is voluminous at over 1,200 pages, covering as it does the background to Daniel’s murder and all the subsequent reviews and inquiries into the handling of the original murder investigation.

It does not make for easy reading, for, as has long been suspected, Daniel and his family have been let down – not just once but on numerous occasions – by the Metropolitan Police and also by the media, some of whom were complicit in the miscarriage, and by politicians who failed to react in a timely and decisive manner. They have been failed by key parts of our democratic system which are supposed to protect us from harm. 

I first met Daniel’s brother Alastair some 17 years ago after (now Lord) Chris Smith, his MP at the time, referred him to me. I was his London Assembly constituency member and sat on the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), the body that scrutinised the Met and its Commissioner on behalf of Londoners at that time.

I was invited into Alastair’s home and he took me through the huge amount of material he had collected over the years. Hours later, I was in total shock after he laid out claims of a compromised and botched murder investigation, followed by the collusion, cover-ups and dissembling that had so muddied the waters that securing justice for the family seemed impossible. What could be done?

I was one of the original 23 members of the MPA, which was set up as part of the new architecture for governing London under the Greater London Authority Act (1999). We rarely took up individual cases, but such was the scale of the Daniel Morgan travesty I felt the issue had to be raised and addressed. Although my first attempts were rebuffed, once my Assembly colleague Len Duvall became MPA chair in 2004 he took an active interest in what had happened and held meetings with Alastair. 

In October 2005, MPA members used our powers under the Police Act 1996 to require the then Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, to produce a report into the murder of Daniel and the subsequent inquiries. He was lukewarm about the idea, acknowledging for the first time that the first inquiry had been compromised, but claiming that subsequent reviews had tried to correct for that, with the Met doing the best it could.

I pushed back on this, noting that Daniel’s family felt that it was only now that London politicians sitting on the MPA had got involved that their concerns were being listened to and stressing that we had to hold the Met to account on this and other relevant matters.

Our terms of reference were broad and detailed. They therefore provided a golden opportunity for the Met to actively review the murder investigation and all previous inquiries into it. But the report we eventually received in 2006 was just a summary of previous Met inquiries written by a detective who had worked on one of them.

Not surprisingly, it glossed over many aspects of concern. Conclusions and judgements from previous reviews were repeated and we got the standard Met line that, for example, the original murder investigation had been of an average and perhaps acceptable standard for the time. But, as the Independent Panel has now pointed out, in reality there had been multiple investigative failures.

The Met report concluded overall that, for the Met itself, there were no major issues to be addressed.  Therefore, no substantial learning resulted. But, as we suspected all along – and has now been confirmed by the Independent Panel – no forensics review was pursued and the Met failed to undertake a full examination and analysis of the information available to it at the time.

The Independent Panel concludes:

“Such analysis may not have been possible within the time frame given to prepare the 2006 Report [ for the MPA]. However, as a consequence, there was a failure to recognise, and a resulting inability to learn from, all the failings, systemic and individual, which such an examination should have identified.”

We had been fobbed off. 

On behalf of the MPA, its chair rejected the initial draft, arguing that it was unacceptable on a number of grounds: answers to key questions were lacking and the tone exuded a sense that everything was alright, when it clearly was not. Some changes were then made, but nothing of any substance was added to help further our understanding.

We had also planned to appoint an independent barrister to review all the case papers. But events moved on and, as a new witness had come forward, which the Met believed would lead to a new investigation, we were unable to appoint the barrister or to publish the completed 2006 report. A major opportunity to begin to address the injustices of Daniel’s murder investigation had thus been lost and Alastair’s battle would have to continue for another 15 years. 

Years of lobbying for justice followed. I tried to help by brokering meetings with new connections who might help or were sympathetic, and to support the family as best I could when they met senior police officers or politicians. It was Theresa May, when Home Secretary, who finally agreed that an independent panel of inquiry be established to shine a light on Daniel’s murder investigation and the subsequent handling of the case.  

Watching Alastair Morgan’s Channel 4 interview I was relieved to learn that he is “content” with the report as he feels it corroborates what he, his family and supporters of the Justice for Daniel campaign feel. After fighting so hard for 34 years, he needs and deserves some peace. Yet ultimately he accepts that there will be no justice for Daniel, as he does not believe that the murderer will ever be successfully prosecuted: the incompetence, lies and cover-ups have seen to that.

The Met is a bit like mercury on a plate, always re-forming and re-shaping, so we have to constantly ask questions about their integrity, openness and honesty. It’s so entrenched, so powerful, so big and it has so much past “form”. Who knows what is going on in it at any one time?

Which leads me to – I suppose – my greater concerns about the seeming inability of the numerous bodies currently in place to scrutinise the Met and hold it properly to account. Having been part of that process, I know only too well how difficult and ultimately frustrating a task that is.  

Jennette Arnold OBE was a London Assembly Member from 2000 until May 2021. In that capacity she was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority (2000-2012) and the Assembly’s police and crime committee (2012-2021). Follow Jennette on Twitter. She would like to thank Richard Derecki for his help with compiling this article. 

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