The Fake Sheikh – a Key Link in Daniel Morgan Murder Cover-Up

* Mahmood was very close to the Morgan murder suspects for over a decade

* Rebekah Brooks was close to Mahmood and should have known

* Senior Met Officers ignored constant intelligence about both and aided News of the World

The conviction of Mazher Mahmood last week on three counts of perverting the course of justice at the Old Bailey allows us – after two years of silence because of contempt laws – to reveal evidence that the ‘Fake Sheikh’  was the key link between Murdoch’s top management, Senior Police and the criminal underworld of Southern Investigations. 

Mazher Mahmood lies to Leveson 

Mahmood: “I’ve got bent police officers that are witnesses, that are informants… I’ve got some senior officers in Britain who are also my informants”   

Testifying at Leveson Inquiry into the ethics and culture of the press four years ago, Mazher Mahmood – one of the few reporters to have survived closure of News of the World – claimed he worked with Jonathan Rees and Sidney Fillery at Southern Investigations for only two years in 1991/1992, after he joined the world’s best selling English language tabloid from the Sunday Times. 

Mahmood had to admit this much because he boasted in the opening chapters of his book, Confessions of a Fake Sheikh, how he joined the corrupt private detective agency and crime editor Alex Marunchak bugging the apartment where Culture Minister, David Mellor, was having an affair with an actress.

Now a convicted criminal himself, Mazher Mahmood was schooled for over a decade in the dark arts under the tutelage of Fillery and Rees. 

But there is ample evidence the close relationship with Rees and Fillery continued for at least another decade.  Some snapshots…

1. Fillery acted as an ‘extra’ in several of Mazher Mahmood’s celebrated stings, including the entrapment of London’s Burning star John Alford at the Savoy in 1997, and an attempted sting against a friend of the Prince of Wales  at the Dorchester around the same time. 

The Victory then – and Now. 

2. In just one month’s sample of Southern Investigations’ invoice, in May 1997, Rees and Fillery billed the News of the World for at least five stories with Mahmood

3. In 1998 Mahmood was spotted in the Victory, a pub in Thornton Heath and Rees and Fillery’s alternative office. There he was reported to have met a plain clothes police officer selling a story about livestock being used for a marriage dowry.   

4. Fillery and Rees provided support for Mahmood on a trip to France and Belgium in July 1999 on a News of the World story about illegal immigrants.

5. In 1999,  Southern Investigations provided security for two trials of victims of Mahmood’s stings, which he had to attend as a witness. 

(Extraordinarily both of Maz’s ‘bodyguards’ were well known underworld figures, including Gary Vian, one of the five suspects in the Daniel Morgan Murder and later sentenced to 14 years for drug smuggling.) 

6. Surveillance tapes in 1999 show Rees investigating various stories for ‘Maz’ including Kenneth Noye. 

7. When Fillery rang Alex Marunchak allegedly to ‘sort out’ DCS Dave Cook before his Crimewatch appearance on the fourth murder investigation in June 2002, one of the vans conducting surveillance on the Cook family was leased by Bradley Page, Mahmood’s in house photographer. 

Extraordinarily, both of Maz’s ‘bodyguards’ were well known underworld figures, including… one of the five suspects in the Daniel Morgan Murder.

Mazher Mahmood could not fail to be aware the criminal reputation of Southern Investigations in 1991

Not only had Rees and Fillery been arrested on suspicion of Daniel’s murder four years earlier, the coroner’s inquest in 1988, which had outlined the murder plot between them, had made national headlines. 

By 1991 Southern Investigations were thought by police to have been involved in attempting to expose an undercover police officer about to give evidence against a key South London gangster, Joey Pyle, and nobble the jurors. The first trial had to be abandoned. 

By 1999 a six month probe into the private detective agency – Operation Nigeria/Two Bridges –  revealed extensive criminality and corruption, including at least thirty crimes involving journalists. 

Now a convicted criminal himself, it appears Mazher Mahmood was schooled for over a decade in the dark arts under the tutelage of Fillery and Rees. 

Rebekah Brooks and Mazher Mahmood

Rebekah Brooks joined News of the World just a couple of years before Mahmood, and they both worked together there till the late 90s  

Spotted early on by Les Hinton and Rupert Murdoch as a ‘high flyer’ Brooks moved rapidly though the editorial hierarchy at the Sunday tabloid. She was briefly moved to the Sun before returning to become the youngest ever editor of the News of the Worldin Spring 2000.

Why would Brooks want to deceive parliament about Jonathan Rees? Is the connection even more toxic for the reputation of her company than the Milly Dowler scandal?   

Oddly Brooks took over just a the point that the paper’s main provider of illegally sourced stories, Southern Investigations, was partially shut down. Jonathan Rees was arrested in early 2000 for perverting the course of justice, for which he received a seven year jail sentence.

But by her own account at the phone hacking trial in 2014, Brooks was a good friend of Mazher Mahmood’s.  (These tweets below are contemporaneous reports from the trial).

Contemporaries at News of the World go further claiming Brooks was talking to the star reporter four times a day at the height of his collaboration with Fillery and Rees in 1997.

Yet when quizzed by Labour MP Tom Watson at the DCMS select committee in 2011, after the Milly Dowler scandal broke, Brooks told parliament that she’d never heard of Jonathan Rees until a Panorama documentary exposed his email hacking with News of the World earlier that year. 

Brooks lack of knowledge of Jonathan Rees until 2011 doesn’t stand up for FIVE good reasons.

1. Brooks’ proximity to Mahmood and hourly phone calls to the star reporter when he was working with Rees and Fillery throughout the 90s.

2.  Southern Investigations issued a court order against News of the World for non payment of its fees in 1998 which involved the managing editor Stuart Kuttner. 

3. Brooks head of legal affairs, Tom Crone, admitted to parliament that he had personally spoken to Rees just prior to his conviction in 2000. 

4. Rees and Fillery and their criminal activities with News of the World were featured in two extensive articles by Graeme McClagan in the Guardian in September 2002 when Brooks as editor of the paper. 

5. Brooks was directly confronted by DCS Cook about the involvement of her senior editor Alex Marunchak with the murder suspects at a meeting in Scotland Yard in  January 2003. Stuart Kuttner’s notes prove she spoke to her managing editor and deputy editor Andy Coulson about it the next day. 

Britain’s biggest selling tabloid had been heavily reliant on the criminal underworld for its scoops. 

Oddly, the day after Brooks was confronted about continuing involvement with the personnel at Southern Investigations, she transferred to editorship of the Sun 

Why would Brooks want to deceive parliament about Jonathan Rees? Is the connection even more toxic for the reputation of her company than the Milly Dowler scandal?

Given the involvement of senior editors, the deputy editor, managing editor and head of legal at News of the World, it’s incredible Brooks had never heard of Rees.

Indeed it’s more likely most the senior News International management were aware that Britain’s biggest selling tabloid had been heavily reliant on the criminal underworld for its scoops. 

The Met’s Blind Spot to News of the World

News International, now rebranded as News UK, faces large legal claims over the activities of Mahmood in the 60 or so convictions he has secured over the last 25 years.

But the company’s use of  email deletion (spoiliation of evidence) and  ‘journalistic privilege’ to withhold evidence make it very unlikely that News Corp can be forced to disclose the emails, invoices and memos that prove their  UK newspapers had an enduring trade with corrupt police and the underworld.

However, as a public body the Metropolitan Police Service can be held accountable – especially through the promised, although delayed, second half of the Leveson Inquiry.  

The Key Questions for the MPS on Mahmood, Brooks and Southern Investigations . 

1. Why has the full extent of criminality at Southern Investigations not revealed or investigated? 

Rees and Fillery were already targets of ‘lifestyle surveillance in 1997 during which time a lot of still suppressed information was gathered by the Met.  

Many of the transcripts of the taped conversations from the bug in Southern Investigations in 1999 have been withheld from subsequent inquiries, including his important section from Graeme McClagan’s Bent Coppers:

What newspaper worked with Fillery and Rees illegally providing  drugs for their stings? Was News of the World, their main client, ever investigated? Was Mazher Mahmood, who used drug stings as his main modus operandi, ever implicated or investigated? 

2. What happened to Commander Bob Quick’s report coming out of the third Daniel Morgan murder inquiry? 

In the spring of 2000 Quick submitted a report outlining 30 crimes involving journalists and Southern Investigations to Andy Hayman. The report named three News of the World journalists (one ex) as prime targets for investigation: these were Alex Marunchak, Gary Jones and Mazher Mahmood. 

Mahmood had already been spotted trying to suborn a plain clothes officer in the Victory that year. 

Can Andy Hayman recall this (now missing) report? Why was no action taken?  Why was this still left unattended despite police operations three years later into illegal activities by other private detectives working with the press (Operations Motorman and Glade)? 

3. How was Alex Marunchak allowed into a meeting with Brooks and the new commissioner, Sir John Stevens in the spring of 2000? 

According to press officer Dick Fedorcio and Stevens’ hospitality register, the incoming Commissioner met the new News of the World editor around the time the Quick report was submitted. 

Extraordinarily, the top named target journalist for illegal activities with Southern Investigations, Alex Marunchak, was allowed into this meeting with the Commissioner and Rebekah Brooks. 

What was discussed? Were notes taken? Was he involved in the decision not to pursue the News of the World journalists? (Even though a Mirror journalist was charged over working with Rees and Fillery)

4. Brooks had various social dinners with Commissioner Stevens at the Ivy Club for the next three years. Did other reports of criminal connections with News of the World never emerge?  

Various entries in Stevens’ hospitality report show long evening dinners during crucial moments of Brooks’ editorship of News of the World.  One was only a few days after the fourth Morgan inquiry demanded an investigation into the financial connection between her paper and Southern Investigations.

Was this request to investigate Marunchak – which was never acted on – discussed? 

Brooks went on from the meeting with DCS Cook in January 2003 straight to a social function with the Commissioner at Scotland Yard. 

Were the allegations about Marunchak’s involvement with Rees and Fillery,  leveled only minutes earlier, a subject of conversation? Or the Guardian revelations from four months earlier? What was Stevens’ knowledge of the surveillance placed on his senior officer investigating the Daniel Morgan murder?

5.  Why did the Commissioner meet with Mahmood in 2003 with the new News of the World editor Andy Coulson?

Mazher Mahmood was under suspicion again in 2003  as allegations of criminal activity were investigated in Operation Canopus. During this time Mazher Mahmood regularly worked with the MPS on various stings, including the farcical Red Mercury and Beckham Kidnap scoops. 

According to Mahmood, he met Commissioner Stevens for tea along with his new editor Andy Coulson in 2003. 

Were further collaborations discussed? Did the investigations into Mahmood or  previous intelligence not suggest to the MPS he was already an untrustworthy collaborator?  

6. Mahmood boasted about his high level Met connections and getting stories from ‘bent officers’ – why was this not investigated?

During his police interview in 26 October 2005 under suspicion of further charges, Mahmood happily boasted that he gleaned information both from  senior officers, and bent police officers

“I’ve got bent police officers that are witnesses, that are informants… I’ve got some senior officers in Britain who are also my informants”

Why were these connections with ‘bent police’ not investigated in 2005, especially given intelligence reports from the Victory in 1998? Were any officers disciplined or warned? Why did the police and CPS still work in alliance with Mahmood until the Tulisa sting in 2013?  

7. Why did the MPS not react to news of leaks to the murder suspects from ‘inner sanctum of Sir Ian Blair in 2006?

In April 2006, the new commissioner Sir Ian Blair agreed to the fifth Daniel Morgan murder investigation at a top secret meeting with senior staff. But within days a police intelligence report noted this had leaked out to the murder suspects with Rees claiming it had been ‘confirmed’ by (Lord) Stevens, who was by then a regular columnist at News of the World. 

Though Rees could well be lying about the confirmation, his original tip off was accurate. This allowed him and Alex Marunchak to set about trying to derail the fifth murder investigation.

 Why did the MPS not alert Sir Ian Blair? Why was Lord Stevens not warned that he was being either falsely accused or inadvertently corroborating the intelligence of the murder suspects? 

The Urgent Need for Leveson Two 

It is vital this scandal is finally resolved, not only for the health of our press and police, but our very democracy. 

Whatever the answer to these questions, the only way they can be aired is through Leveson Two, overdue now the criminal trials are over and contempt of court is not an issue.

Because of the many outstanding new issues that have arisen through the trial of Mahmood and disclosures around the murder of Daniel Morgan, it is vital this scandal is finally resolved, not only for the health of our press and police, but our very democracy. 

If you have corrections, queries or wish to comment in the piece itself, please contact me peter at byline dot com. If you have information that could be relevant to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, you can contact them here

Meanwhile please support the Second Series of Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder, due out after the panel reports.