Discovered in the Archives: the News of the World’s One Piece on the Daniel Morgan Murder
As I explained last week in ‘Summer of 87: Two Violent Deaths, Two Rising Murdoch Stars’ the suicide of DS Alan ‘Taffy Holmes’ took place only three months after the murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan in the car park of the Golden Lion in Sydenham.
Multiple Fleet Street reports at the time linked the two violent deaths with police corruption.
Taffy Holmes took his life in July 1987 after being interviewed by officers from Operation Russell: a “police chief probe” into Commander Ray Adams, over allegations of bribe-taking that were dismissed two years later.
Meanwhile, three weeks after Daniel Morgan was killed in March 1987, his business partner Jonathan Rees was arrested along with several police officers on suspicion of plotting the murder, before being released without charge.
According to the Daily Mirror Detective Superintendent Douglas Campbell told the coroner’s court that >Daniel had allegedly been offered £250,000 from a national newspaper for a story of police corruption in the days before he was killed.
In a later witness statement, a former employer of both Rees and Morgan, was more specific. He said that Daniel was excited in the week before he was killed because he was going to sell a story of police corruption – for £40,000 – to Alex Marunchak, the crime reporter at the News of the World.
Marunchak has vehemently denied this allegation, and says he knew nothing of either Daniel Morgan or Southern Investigations, until after the murder.
So just how did News of the World and its crime reporter cover this violent summer?
1987: No Mention of Morgan but lots of Holmes
Trawling through three years of Britain’s now defunct best-selling newspaper is like time travel. There are some instantly recognisable modern themes: the looney left in the Labour Party and the awfulness of BBC. The sex ‘romps’ of soap, pop and sports stars are still a red top staple , but scare stories about gay orgies and AIDS really date the paper. Meanwhile, the Sunday tabloid outdoes its sister daily the Sun with a nipple not just on Page Three, but every other page (apologies for replication below).
Among News of the World reporters there are some familiar names, especially in the light of the phone hacking trial. James Weatherup writes mainly on celebrity affairs; Clive Goodman is prescient about the troubles of Princess Diana, Prince Charles and the royal marriage: a certain Greg Miskiw begins to try his hand at some undercover work and crime reporting .
However, during 1986-87 one crime reporter comes to the fore: Alex Marunchak. He appears first, haltingly, as a general reporter. But before long he’s peppering the paper with exclusives and front page splashes, largely based – it would appear – on excellent police contacts.
Sometimes Marunchak’s stories of murder, stabbings, rape and child molestation are sourced to named senior officers in Surrey, Kent or Essex CID or Regional Crime Officers. Others, concerning exam cheating at Hendon, cops on suspension, tracking down the gangster Ronnie Knight, or the arrest of a well connected drug dealer are attributed to a “Senior Scotland Yard detective” or a “Scotland Yard Informer.”
Despite writing often two articles a week in the News of the World through the spring of 1987, there’s no report by Marunchak about the murder of Daniel Morgan in March. Nor is there any report on the subsequent arrest of his business partner Jonathan Rees and several police officers a few weeks later, though this is covered extensively in the rest of the national press.
Stranger still, is that Marunchak had contacts who knew of the murder investigation. According to Nick Davies in Hack Attack Marunchak’s main informer at this was a former detective John Ross. Alastair Morgan recalls being told that Ross arrived at the Murder Incident Room on 2 April 1987, the day before the first six arrests.
It’s not as if Marunchak is uninterested in these allegations of police corruption. On 5 July 1987, News of the World publishes a scoop about a ‘Frank Green’ who wants to meet “Home Office Minister Douglas Hogg so he can pass on the name of a top cop who he says is in the pay of the Mafia.” According to Greene “the man is above the rank of detective chief inspector.”
Come the violent shotgun suicide of DS Holmes on 27 July Marunchak is all over the story. On 2 August, the News of the World’s crime reporter has the shocking inside story about the DS killing himself because of a police ‘probe’ into the gangster Kenneth Noye bribing a ‘top detective’.
As files of Operation Russell show, Marunchak was actively passing on information to police about Ray Adams ten days later.
Two weeks later on 16 August, for the funeral of Holmes, Marunchak follows up with an article about an alleged affair and repeating Noye/Masonic allegation.
Then it all goes quiet.There’s not one more story on Taffy Holmes or this ‘police probe’ in the News of the World for the next two years.
1988: The Sounds of Silence
What is more surprising is that there is still no coverage of Daniel Morgan, even during the explosive inquest the following April.
The News of the World is silent about the inquest, even though Daniel’s brother Alastair believes he saw Alex Marunchak attend the coroner’s court in the company of Rees
The claim by Southern Investigations accountant Kevin Lennon that ‘John Rees’ offered police a thousand pounds to kill his business partner made a front page splash on the sister daily News International paper, the Sun.
The Times, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and Evening Standard devote several editions to these startling allegations of a murder plot by Rees and former detective sergeant Sid Fillery.
But the News of the World is silent about the inquest, even though Daniel’s brother Alastair believes he saw Alex Marunchak attend the coroner’s court in the company of Rees that April
However, Marunchak’s byline is almost non-existent in the paper from February 1988 as presumably the crime reporter has now assumed an editorial role. Greg Miskiw is making the front page splashes, soon joined by Gary Jones, is the main reporter on crime stories.
Finally, in 1989, Marunchak Interviews Rees
It’s Miskiw who does most the writing in 1989, including an interview with “controversial supertec” former Detective Superintendent Tony Lundy.
Marunchak does share a credit with Steve Valentine over piece on the murderer John Cannan in April 1989. Then, on 14 May, Marunchak steps back into the light again with an astonishing interview…
As far as I can tell, this is the only piece Marunchak ever wrote about the murder of Daniel Morgan and it’s an interview with the former prime suspect, Jonathan Rees.
As the article explains this interview takes place soon after the CPS had dropped charges against Rees. But the private investigator makes an important connection between the two fatalities of the Summer of 87.
Rees told me: “Morgan and Holmes were great pals. Both were Welsh and as thick as thieves.”
This closeness between the two Welshmen is confirmed by other witnesses, which means the knot of connection between Morgan, Holmes, Adams and Marunchak gets tighter still.
However, Rees’ other assertions are less reliable. Though various reasons for Daniel’s murder – an affair, a drug deal gone wrong – had been suggested as part of a disinformation campaign over the previous two years, this is the first time that something so ludicrously low stakes as an ‘overtime scam’ was suggested as a motive.
Thee claim that Rees had to talk to the News of the World from a “hideaway” is highly unlikely. Rees and Fillery’s company Southern Investigations were openly based at the same Thornton Heath office.
Also striking is that Marunchak has failed to declare any interest. According to the company book keeper Marjorie Williams, Southern Investigations were billing the News of the World crime editor regularly thousands of pounds in cash.
If you have corrections, queries or wish to comment in the piece itself, please contact me peter at byline dot com.
Meanwhile, if you have information that could be relevant to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, you can contact them here.