Don’t miss part one of the Dark Arts true crime series: The axe murder suspect, Somerset Tory cider baron and botched art heist police probe
A Big Secret
To murder someone with an axe is unusual. It’s certainly not the preferred weapon of a contract killer, but more like something a violent thief might use. Yet Daniel Morgan was not robbed. He was found dead in the Golden Lion pub car park in March 1987 with an axe in his skull and £1000 in his pocket.
An axe might also fit happily into the hand of an insanely jealous lover or cuckolded husband blindly driven by murderous rage. Crimes of passion often leave forensic clues. Yet the axe that killed Morgan, a 37-year-old father of two young children, was specially woven with grip tape to ensure maximum leverage and no usable fingerprints or DNA.
What, then, if the person or persons responsible for the murder were not professional killers but needed to silence the private detective and had used an axe to put the police off the scent?
In detective chief superintendent David Cook, the Morgan family had finally found someone in the Metropolitan police they trusted to address these questions and solve the brutal murder, however embarrassing it was for the top brass.
When Cook took over the case in 2003, the stench of corruption, incompetence and masonic influence was undeniable, despite the Met’s best efforts for years to do just that.
Already, there had been four failed investigations into the same five suspects – Jonathan Rees, Morgan’s business partner, Glenn and Garry Vian, Rees’ brothers-in-law (the former said to be the axeman), Jimmy Cook, the suspected getaway driver, and Sid Fillery, a former detective sergeant who briefly investigated the murder and on his retirement became Rees’ new business partner.
The motive for the murder lacks clarity but the Met eventually settled on claims by witnesses that Morgan was preparing to blow the whistle on police corruption. How that concerned Rees and his circle is less clear, but where bent cops tread gangsters are not far behind and the Met threw in the possibility of links to drug dealing Irish paramilitaries.
Rees and the other usual suspects have consistently denied any involvement in the murder and say that from the outset detectives failed to examine alternative theories and motives. They point to Morgan’s adulterous private life and his at times dangerous work as a repo man and server of court summonses, which put him in the cross hairs of violent people here and abroad.
But the Met continued to insist they had the right men, who were bugged, tapped and infiltrated with a spy, all, however, to no avail. The hundreds of hours of secret recordings yielded no clear admissions and no forensics to justify a prosecution for murder.
It was not all failure, though. Rees was jailed for seven years in 2000 after bugs in his private investigation firm, renamed Law & Commercial, caught him plotting to plant drugs on the wife of a client locked in a custody battle.
In 2003, Fillery pleaded guilty to accessing indecent thumbnail images of children on his computer. And two years later, Garry Vian was jailed for fourteen years for his part in a major drug importation.
Despite these mini victories, by 2005, most senior detectives would have turned down the offer to lead a fifth murder investigation. The Morgan case was a poisoned chalice, akin to career suicide.
But Cook was flattered by the approach. He promised not to let down the long-suffering Morgan family, whose campaign for justice had almost hollowed out Daniel’s older brother.
But it was false hope, because David Cook was hiding a big secret; one that would drive him to act corruptly and plunge the Met into a massive crisis.
The Supergrass Farce
The Morgan family understood from Cook that a successful prosecution needed witnesses to the murder, which was unlikely, or at least to its cover up – people to whom the usual suspects had perhaps confessed or tried to recruit.
Such witnesses were likely to be criminals and would therefore have to be debriefed carefully before they were presented to a court as credible. This would mean admitting all their crimes in return for a reduced sentence, witness protection and in some cases a salary – a process known as ‘cleansing’.
However, the use of supergrass witnesses had been wholly discredited by the time Cook took over the case. Between 1994 and 2002, the Met’s anti-corruption squad of so-called Untouchables had coached and induced supergrass evidence against allegedly bent cops and hidden this from the court. Inevitably, prosecutions collapsed or were overturned on appeal at the cost of millions to the taxpayer, and undoubtedly some dirty cops walked free.
Assistant commissioner John Yates, the officer to whom Cook now reported, was a former Untouchable. He had overseen a discredited supergrass-led operation against a ‘Groovy gang’ of allegedly corrupt, drug dealing southeast London detectives linked to the Rees circle.
One of the supergrasses, a repentant detective in the Groovy gang, claimed his other allegations about a bent officer on the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry were suppressed to protect the Met.
Though he denied the claim, Yates was definitely not someone who had the Morgan family’s trust. Not least because after the failed fourth investigation he had presented a whitewashing report that the Metropolitan Police Authority rejected.
The family was understandably suspicious when just as their call for a judicial inquiry into the whole Morgan mess was gathering pace among politicians, Yates appeared in 2006 with news of a major breakthrough in the case.
A witness had come forward, he said, who might prove to be the ‘golden thread’ needed to bring a successful prosecution for murder against Rees and the others.
Over the next two years, Cook had many undocumented conversations with several slippery criminals while they were going through the debriefing process. These supergrasses went on to variously claim that the suspects had confessed details of the murder and in one case that he was present in the pub car park when it happened.
Then in late 2008, Rees, the Vian brothers and Jimmy Cook were arrested for involvement in the killing and Fillery for perverting the course of justice.
However, months of legal argument at the Old Bailey slowly chipped away at the prosecution case as one by one the judge excluded the unreliable evidence of the key supergrasses. More importantly, Cook was exposed for having coached two of the most important witnesses, one of whom had a narcissistic personality disorder making him prone to pointless lying and manipulation.
Like a master of ceremonies in a game of Cluedo, Cook had told the witnesses what evidence he wanted to hear – it was Glenn Vian with an axe in the pub car park – and the supergrasses obliged.
In March 2011, on the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Morgan murder, the prosecution threw in the towel and the judge found that Cook had effectively perverted the course of justice in trying to secure convictions.
The Morgan family were devastated and refused to stand with Yates while a statement was read outside court. Four months later, in July 2011, he resigned as another unfolding scandal – phone hacking – exposed the cosy revolving door between the Met and Rupert Murdoch’s News of The World.
In a letter to the Morgan family Yates said, “What I do hope though is that you understand that David Cook and I tried our very best.”
In July 2011 Cook went sick. He successfully sued Murdoch and the Met over an incident that occurred when he first got involved in the Morgan case.
The News of the World had briefly put him and his police wife, Jacqui Hames, under surveillance in 2002 when he fronted a Crimewatch appeal about the Morgan case. Cook believed the intrusion was a favour to Rees and Fillery, the tabloid’s long-standing dark arts masters, and claimed it had caused the break up of his marriage.
He also lambasted the Met for failing to relocate his family or admonish Murdoch executives. Cook rightly suspected they were too close to senior officers. But in a rare concern for the taxpayer, the Met had concluded that the threat, which included blagging personal information, did not merit buying the family home.
The snub helped make Cook and Hames darlings of the Hacked Off lobby of celebrities, their lawyers and media rivals who were delighted when prime minister David Cameron invited Lord Leveson to look into press standards.
But in January 2012, their Hacked Off hero was suddenly arrested, ironically for leaking information during the Morgan case to Mike Sullivan, the crime editor of another Murdoch tabloid, The Sun.
Only then, when facing possible prison, did Cook appear to come clean about his big secret.
Death was a predominant thought
In a witness statement to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), who had ordered his arrest, Cook revealed that he was suicidal throughout his involvement with the Morgan case.
He said his marriage had really broken down in 1999 because of the effect of the assassination of Jill Dando on his wife, who co-presented Crimewatch. The estrangement from Jacqui Hames grew after he got involved with the Morgan case in 2002.
Two years later, Cook said he attempted suicide for the first time and tried again in 2009, when Hames started divorce proceedings. ‘Everything was against me, so I tried again on at least two maybe three occasions. Strangely, when I kept failing it just made me worse and on some occasions more determined … I really cannot remember much about 2009. Fighting the depression and a desire to kill myself was the predominate thought.’
It was in this acute mental crisis that Cook had cleansed the supergrasses and prepared for the murder trial of Rees and the others. But there was still one more secret to reveal.
Yates liked to nurture friendly journalists and had introduced Cook to Mike Sullivan of The Sun well before the murder trial. In fact, Yates approved of their plan to collaborate on a favourable book where it was hoped that Cook would be the hero cop who saved the Met and solved the case.
‘The book was a dream that I hoped would one day become a reality. At one point it was perhaps one of the few things that kept me alive … from 2008/9 there were times when I was not even looking to be alive when it was all finished,’ Cook wrote in his IPCC statement.
No money changed hands but Cook had financial problems because of his divorce and knew there was money in a book with a happy ending and ‘a movie deal’ attached.
It is hard to imagine a more dangerous state of affairs that the Met had overseen: A mentally unstable senior detective with money problems had manipulated witnesses in a murder trial while preparing a hagiography that would be worth more if the defendants were convicted.
In 2013, Theresa May refused the Morgan family’s call for a judicial inquiry into the long-running fiasco, but instead ordered one by a Home Office appointed panel.
The Met’s handling of corruption allegations surrounding the Stephen Lawrence case was already under examination by a Home Office appointed QC. Both inquiries are still on going and have the potential to implicate a host of senior retired and serving officers in criminal and disciplinary offences.
In 2015, however, the IPCC decided it would not be in the public interest to prosecute Cook for the leaks to The Sun – because he had retired.
The watchdog never disclosed Cook’s witness statement to lawyers representing Rees, the Vians and Fillery who were now suing the Met for malicious prosecution and misconduct in a public office. Somehow the IPCC didn’t think the statement was relevant to Cook’s coaching of supergrass witnesses.
Equally, the Met had no interest in having Cook prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. A source close to the retired officer said he had warned the Met he would not go quietly if charged.
Clearly Cook has an important story to tell about what happened inside the Met and Morgan investigation, but he declined to speak to the Cable.
Meanwhile, over in Bristol, it was no stone unturned to prosecute Rees and others for the Bulmer art heist, which had been successfully recovered in August 2015 for a £175,000 reward.
Avon & Somerset police perhaps had a point to prove that they were not ‘brain dead’, as Bulmer called the initial investigation into the 2009 robbery. But the embattled Met was also aware that their colleagues down the M4 had Rees within their grasp.
Between August 2015 and May 2016 significant resources were poured into Operation Shine, which was run out of the Portishead headquarters of the Serious and Organised Crime Unit.
Rees was charged in 2017 with defrauding Bulmer and Hiscox insurance and perverting the course of justice. The dark arts trial was set for summer 2018.
‘I can’t believe that if he wasn’t Rees he would have been nicked,’ a source in his legal team told the Cable. Adding that a conviction in Bristol would certainly assist the Met over their ongoing Morgan debacle.
What happened in the witness box would take all sides by surprise.