The murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan remains one of London’s most notorious unsolved cases.

On March 10, 1987, the 37 year-old father-of-two was hacked to death with an axe outside the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham.

Why was he killed? His family, including brother Alastair, are convinced that Daniel was close to exposing a group of corrupt police officers, but six investigations have failed to provide a conclusive answer or bring his killers to justice.

Daniel Morgan

Daniel Morgan ran a detective agency called Southern Investigations. The night he was killed he had a 90-minute meeting with his business partner Jonathan Rees at the Golden Lion. At 9pm he left by a back entrance to get to the car park, a Rolex watch on his wrist and £1,100 in his pocket.

He was later found lying on the ground near his car with an axe embedded in the side of his head. The Rolex was missing but the cash remained.

The following month Rees, his brothers in law Garry and Glenn Vian, and Sid Fillery, one of the Catford police station detectives initially assigned to the case, were arrested, only to be released without charge.

At the inquest in April 1988, the bookkeeper at Southern Investigations alleged that Rees and Fillery planned the contract killing. By this time Fillery had retired from the police, and in 1989 he joined Southern Investigations as Rees’ new partner.

The pair went on to carry out work for a number of tabloid newspapers including the News of the World and are said to have provided the information for exposes of celebrities, politicans and royalty.

A second inquiry by Hampshire Police began on 24 June 1988 following a complaint by the Morgan family to Home Secretary Douglas Hurd. Rees was again arrested, but the charges were dropped.

Between June 1998 and May 1999 police monitored the offices of Southern Investigations as part of a third investigation. Although it did not assist the murder enquiry, it did provide evidence that Rees was in a plot to frame model Kim James with drugs to help her husband win custody of their son. In December 2000 he was jailed for six years at the Old Bailey for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

A fourth investigation began in 2002 but a year later the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to go ahead with a case against Rees and two others on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

Another flawed attempt began in 2006. Two years later Rees, Garry Vian, Glenn Vian and James Cook were charged with murder and Sidney Fillery was charged with perverting the course of justice.

It was expected the trial would take place in April 2009. Two years of legal wrangling over disclosure of evidence and police handling of witnesses followed. In February 2010 a judge stopped the case against Sidney Fillery after excluding the evidence of a key witness. The charges against Cook were dropped in November. The entire case collapsed in March 2011 after prosecutors accepted they could no longer guarantee that full disclosure of evidence could be made to the defence.

The Metropolitan Police have since admitted that the original investigation in 1987 was tainted by police corruption, without giving any details of that corruption.

Alastair Morgan commented at the end of the case: “We have encountered stubborn obstruction and worse at the highest levels of the Metropolitan police. We have found an impotent police complaints system, and we have met with inertia or worse on the part of successive governments. We have been failed utterly by all of the institutions designed to protect us.”

On 10 May 2013 the Home Secretary Theresa May announced an independent panel would look into the circumstances of the case. 

The remit of the panel involved addressing questions related to “police involvement in the murder, the role played by police corruption in protecting those responsible for the murder from being brought to justice and the failure to confront that corruption, the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers and journalists at the News of the World and other parts of the media and alleged corruption involved in the linkages between them.”

Eight years later, on 15 June 2021, the panel’s report was finally published. It found that the Metropolitan Police’s failure to properly investigate the case and its attempt to cover up its failings amounted to “a form of institutional corruption”. It also criticised Met Commissioner Cressida Dick over delays in providing documents to the panel and raised concerns about links between police officers, “individuals linked to crime” and newspapers, particularly the News of the World (which was a major client of Southern Investigations between 1987 and 1989). The panel concluded that the Met Police never seriously investigated the theory that Morgan was murdered because he was about to expose police corruption.

The family of Daniel Morgan has suffered grievously as a consequence of the failure to
bring his murderer or murderers to justice, the unwarranted assurances which they were given, the misinformation which was put into the public domain, and the denial of the failings in investigation, including failing to acknowledge professional incompetence, individuals’ venal behaviour, and managerial and organisational failures.

Statement of the Panel issued by Baroness Nuala O’Loan

In July 2023, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley issued an apology to the family of Daniel Morgan after agreeing to settle a civil claim and make an admission of liability in respect of the conduct of his officers in response to the murder.

I unequivocally and unreservedly apologise for the failure of the Metropolitan Police Service to bring those responsible for the murder of Daniel Morgan to justice. From the earliest stages, his family have been repeatedly and inexcusably let down by the Metropolitan Police. This case has been marred by a cycle of corruption, professional incompetence, and defensiveness that has repeated itself over and over again. Daniel Morgan’s family were given empty promises and false hope as successive investigations failed and the Metropolitan Police prioritised its reputation at the expense of transparency and effectiveness.

Sir Mark Rowley

The Met Police said that “there still remains a possibility of solving this murder” and confirmed it was still carrying out a forensic review of exhibits linked to the case in the hope that advances in DNA and forensic technology might recover new evidence.

A £50,000 reward is on offer for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the murder. Contact police on 0203 276 7816 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Note: This case is included on our map of historical murders in London

Links and further reading:

The website set up by Daniel Morgan’s family

Daniel’s brother was also involved in the podcast series (and book) Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder Exposed.

Two other books cover the case in depth: Bent Coppers: The inside story of Scotland Yard’s battle against police corruption (Graeme McLagan) and Untouchables: Dirty Cops, Bent Justice and Racism in Scotland Yard (Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn).

Daniel Morgan murder, 24 years, five police enquiries but no justice‘, Guardian, March 11, 2011.

Original pictures of the murder scene in 1987 can be found in ‘Corrupt police are blamed for £50m collapse of murder case‘, Daily Mail, March 11, 2011.

Murder trial collapse exposes News of the World links to police corruption‘, ‘Jonathan Rees: private investigator who ran empire of tabloid corruption‘, Guardian, March 11, 2011.

Phone Hacking Scandal: Rees obtained information using dark arts‘, Guardian, June 8, 2011.

News of the World spied on detective during murder enquiry,’ Telegraph, July 5, 2011.

The website of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, which was set up in May 2013 but has still not published its report.

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  1. Motive? Either adultery or a Maltese drugs racket Morgan was tangentally linked to. Rolex? On the corpse initially, later stolen (by someone in the Met) before crime scene cordoned off. Independent panel – compromised, O’Loan connects to some dodgy plod.