Joe Public at Bellingcat has some startling new revelations about the long term connections between high profile employees of News International and suspects in the murder of Daniel Morgan in the private detective company Southern Investigations. These connections were reported to the Metropolitan Police 15 years ago. As Joe says: 

“The Yard’s 1999/2000 Operation Two Bridges had surveillance on Mahmood in The Victory pub, in Thornton Heath, south London by CIB3 officers (also known as the Ghost Squad), who were working from London’s Belgravia police station. An intelligence report dated 26th September 1999 damningly states:

While in the company of Rees, ‘Maz’ was with a plain clothes officer aged about 45 – officer was selling a story to Maz about inter-race marriage and the payment in dowry in the form of livestock

The ‘Rees’ mentioned in the intelligence report is private investigator Jonathan Rees from Southern Investigations. The Victory, a rundown pub in Gillet Street, Thornton Heath, is no longer there but was frequented by corrupt police officers, private detectives and journalists who often met there.

This is significant because it confirms there was a corruption cover-up by the Metropolitan Police (MPS), not only concerning Mahmood who’s currently under police investigation for alleged perjury, but also reveals the true extent of Scotland Yard’s knowledge of the wider corruption between private investigators (Southern Investigation), News International, and MPS officers stretching back 16 years – and their failure to break up the criminal nexus.”

The extent of police surveillance on Southern Investigations in Operation Nigeria/Two Bridges has long been underestimated.  Detectives detected up to 30 potential crimes committed in this ‘criminal-media nexus’ between journalists, corrupt police and private investigators. As  Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick explained to the Leveson Inquiry

“Following these events and as a result of Operation Nigeria, in around 2000, I wrote a short report highlighting the role of journalists in promoting corrupt relationships with, and making corrupt payments to officers for stories about famous people and high profile investigations in the MPS… I recommended the commencement of an investigation into such activities. I believe my report also names some newspapers but I cannot recall which ones. I proposed an investigation of these newspapers/officers on the basis that I believed that the journalists were not paying bribes out of their own pockets but were either falsely accounting for their expenses and therefore defrauding their employers or, that the newspaper organisations were aware of the reasons for the payments and were themselves complicit in making corrupt payments to police officers. “

The Two Bridge/Nigeria intelligence files named three senior journalists with their own separate file headings: Alex Marunchak, Gary Jones and Mazher Mahmood. 

In his autobiography, Lord Stevens, who was responsible for the investigation before being appointed commissioner, makes no mention of these intelligence reports, or any connection with the Daniel Morgan murder, which was the origin of the operation.  

According to a Leveson submission by the Met’s head of PR, Dick Fedorcio, Stevens had a lunchtime meeting with Rebekah Brooks (then Wade) and Marunchak around the time of Quick’s  2000 report. 

What happened next? 

Marunchak remained as a senior editor in News International, though relocating to Dublin. Mazher Mahmood then formed part of a new special investigations unit started by Brooks, headed up by Greg Miskiw, with Neville Thurlbeck as a reporter, Conrad Brown and Bradley Page as Mahmood’s video and photo experts. Glenn Mulcaire was Miskiw’s ‘man’ for phone hacking. 

Despite this report, News of the World continued with its illegal story gathering. From 1999 to 2006 its journalist were subject to no less than 7 police investigations. 

1. Operation Two Bridges above.

2. Neville Thurlbeck, a registered police informant, was tried but acquitted for alleged payments to police.

3. Greg Miskiw and another NOTW journalist was interview by police in Operation Glade about the private detective Steve Whittamore, for illegal data gathering.

4. Rebekah Brooks was subject to a brief police investigation when she admitted, in front of the DCMS select committee in 2003, to paying police officers.

5 & 6. Mazher Mahmood was investigated not once, but twice, in Operations Canopus One and Two in 2003 and 2005 into various allegations. Mahmood was interviewed under caution in October 2005 during which he alleged he had “some senior officers in Britain who are also my informants” as well as “bent police officers” as witnesses and informants. 

7. Operation Caryatid: the short and limited investigation into Royal Reporter Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire in 2006 by the counter terrorism squad. 

And these were just the official inquiries. Any investigation into the press activity around the murder of Jill Dando would have revealed extensive phone hacking and press intrusion. As Greg Callus explains of Operation Oxborough.

Jill Dando’s murder is still unsolved. It seems highly likely that she was targetted by newspapers before her death. The Met either failed to uncover this, or did not act to stop it happening to others. 

Despite all this, members of the press – and particularly News of the World – were regularly invited into Scotland Yard. Mazher Mahmood and his then editor Andy Coulson were invited to tea with Commissioner Stevens in 2003. At one point Dick Fedorcio, heading up the MPS press unit, was even sharing his Met computer with NOTW’s crime reporter, Lucy Panton. 

“Mr Fedorcio said he would meet with News of the World journalists every Friday evening under Colin Myler’s editorship to learn what stories they were planning and get ready to make arrests if they had exposed criminality through a “sting” operation.”

Many  senior officers at the Met at the time received hospitality from News International senior executives.  But a large number of the same Met officers were also  victims of phone hacking. Their immediate superiors, senior politicians from Tony Blair to Home Secretaries David Blunkett and Charles Clarke, were simultaneously hacked by Glenn Mulcaire and close friends with  News of the World executives. 

Whether this failure to follow up 7 investigations in 7 years is coincidence, wilful blindness or deliberate oversight can only be finally cleared up by the promised public inquiry to cover the relationships between the press and the police, Leveson II. 

To quote Joe Public again:

“When Rebekah Brooks stood in the newsroom and announced to staff the closure of News of the World in 2011, she told them:

“In a year you will understand why we made this decision”

Was Brooks implying there were more revelations to come besides phone hacking, and was it Operation Two Bridges?

Mark Lewis from Seddons, and lawyer for the Dowler family, remarks:

As the Fake Sheikh might have said “we’ve passed our file to the Police”. Remember, Rebekah Brooks warned that there was worse to come, we’re still at the entrance, what’s inside is far murkier. The extent of cover up, corruption and collusion is astonishing. Truth will out.

Only with the full promised public inquiry can public confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service be fully restored