Daniel Morgan murder: Blame culture means police and other public bodies will continue to cover their tracks – Tom Wood

If conspiracies are to your taste, the latest report into the 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan is a must-read.
Daniel Morgan's murder does not appear to have been given the same level of priority that it would have had today (Picture: Metropolitan Police/PA)Daniel Morgan's murder does not appear to have been given the same level of priority that it would have had today (Picture: Metropolitan Police/PA)
Daniel Morgan's murder does not appear to have been given the same level of priority that it would have had today (Picture: Metropolitan Police/PA)

The review, chaired by Lady Nuala O’Lone, spares no one. From freemasonry to the press to the retirement jobs of ex-police officers, all are lambasted, named and shamed.

The killer ‘institutional’ tag is again deployed. We have become familiar with the charge of ‘institutional racism’, now it’s ‘Institutional corruption’. It’s the ultimate smear, so loosely defined that it’s almost impossible to defend or rebut.

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You can almost sense the frustration seeping from the pages of the report. Many of the criticisms seem justified, but in its determination to lay blame, the review misses important points.

When boiled down, there are three questions arising from the death of Mr Morgan. Why was the initial murder investigation so badly botched? Why were the four subsequent reinvestigations unsuccessful? And, most importantly, why have police tried their best to conceal their failings over the intervening years?

The answer to the first question goes a long way to answer the second.

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Daniel Morgan was found fatally injured in the car park of a London pub in 1987. The fact that an axe was embedded in his head would have instantly eliminated accident or self-harm, so the initial response to this obvious murder is highly instructive.

The investigation was first allocated to a detective sergeant, a junior rank, from the local police station. The crime scene was left unprotected and initial forensic examination was inadequate. How could this be? In the 1980s, there were highly proficient crime-scene procedures. Why were they not put into practice? The answer may lie in the identity of the victim.

Daniel Morgan was a private investigator, an occupation that covers a multitude of sins. At the top end, PIs are highly professional operators, in fields like forensic accountancy.

But at the bottom end, many are simply debt collectors and in the 80s some worked for unscrupulous journalists, intruding into the lives of tabloid targets. It seems that Mr Morgan worked at the bottom end of this spectrum. He would not have been short of enemies.

What is clear is that, for whatever reason, Mr Morgan’s death was not seen as a priority. Back in the 80s, all murder victims were worthy but some were more worthy than others. In high crime areas, choices had to be made. His death was obviously not high on the list. It couldn’t happen now, all police forces have homicide commands or, as in Scotland, major investigation teams, that ensure a consistently high standard of investigation.

But the hopelessly flawed initial investigation had consequences. Subsequent re-investigations of Mr Morgan’s death could not rectify the initial mistakes. Forensic evidence lost at the scene is lost forever. There were suspects, arrests, even arraignments but the evidence just wasn’t there.

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As for the demand for candour in public institutions, it’s easier said than done. Of course It would be good to live in a benign learning environment, where continuous improvement was encouraged. But the truth is that we don’t, we live in a blame culture, and if you want proof just listen to the discourse between or Scottish and Westminster governments.

While fault finding prevails, covering your tracks will always seem like a logical option. Reports that only lay blame do nothing to improve.

Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable.

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