Matthew Batte stars as Daniel Morgan

Murder in the car park

Or #truecrimedramasinlockdown

In my time as a journalist I met a lot of murder victims families.

We usually encountered each other soon after their loved ones death, then at a police appeal for information to catch the killer and then at some stage during the court process – most commonly after a guilty verdict is read out and the murderer is given a life sentence.

Most of the families I met had one thing in common – their loved ones murder was solved (when I was a journalist the solved rate in London was about 90%, whereas now it is down to around 78%).

Matthew Batte stars as Daniel Morgan
Matthew Batte stars as Daniel Morgan in Murder in The Car Park. Picture courtesy of Channel 4
Daniel Morgan was believed to have had information about corruption in the Metropolitan Police. Picture courtesy of Channel 4
Daniel Morgan’s Rolex was stolen from the murder scene. Picture courtesy of Channel 4

But there are two murders which will always stick with me – the first was of a woman who was stabbed to death on a train between Orpington and London Victoria in March 1988.

The second was where a man was left with an axe embedded in his skull in the car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham in March 1987.

The one thing they both have in common is neither murder has ever been solved. The killers have never been brought to justice and, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly less likely this will ever happen.

If the Golden Lion pub is familiar to you and it wasn’t just over a week ago then it is because that murder is the subject of a new three part true crime docu-drama on Channel 4 called Murder in the Car Park.

The victim was a 37-year-old private investigator called Daniel Morgan, who is said to have had information about corruption within the Met Police.

For anyone who has only seen the first episode of the programme I cannot apologise if this piece contains so-called ‘spoilers’ because it’s not an entertainment show, it is about real life and the events happened.

My message is to keep watching parts two and three and then ask questions about why the murder has never been solved.

The first time I spoke to Daniel Morgan’s brother Alastair was back in 2005 when the Metropolitan Police Authority announced it had voted to instruct the then Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair to prepare an independent review into the killing.

In the years that followed I spoke to him on several occasions when significant events happened in his family’s fight for justice for his brother.

But, as you will see over the next two episodes of the programme, most of the time has been marred by legal delays and a lot of inaction.

I wondered whether it was this frustration with the system that made Alastair want to take part in the Murder in the Car Park programme.

True crime drama is, after all, a genre of television that grabs people’s attention and gets results.

Daniel Morgan and Jonathan Rees had a drink together in the Golden Lion pub, Sydenham, on the night Daniel was murdered. Picture courtesy of Channel 4
Police investigations have failed to convict anyone for Daniel Morgan’s murder. Picture courtesy of Channel 4

This happened most notably in recent weeks when Tiger King blasted on to the screens of seemingly every Netflix subscriber back in the early days of lockdown (do you remember March?).

There were memes and TikTok dances but also calls for Joe Exotic to be pardoned, after being jailed for 22 years.

And the Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer a few years back raised issues with the investigation, prosecution and conviction of Steven Avery.

I asked Alastair Morgan what he hoped would happen now his brother’s murder is in front of a wide TV audience.

He said: “I’m glad it has been put before a wider audience. This is not before time however. We (Peter Jukes, Dee Meir and myself)  did our best in a podcast a few years back, Untold Murder, which was and still is extremely successful.  We’d done this precisely because we felt the mainstream media weren’t doing enough.

“It’s stressful seeing events played out on the screen. I had not seen the documentary prior to broadcast and was naturally very apprehensive at the way things would be portrayed. 

“At first it was distressing to see the suspects given so much space and time to put themselves across, but I thought the programmes tied things up nicely and the suspects were given ‘enough rope to hang themselves’.

“But I don’t expect anything to happen directly as a result of the documentary, apart from increased public awareness of the case.”

Alastair Morgan says the docu-drama gave the suspects ‘enough rope to hang themselves’ . Picture courtesy of Channel 4
Murder in the Car Park tells the story of Daniel Morgan’s murder through interviews with key people and dramatic reconstruction. Picture courtesy of Channel 4

Those of you who have watched past episode one will know, after the five investigations into Daniel Morgan’s murder, in May 2013 the then Home Secretary Theresa May announced there would be an independent Panel set up to look into what happened.

The Panel’s remit is to shine a light on the circumstances of Daniel Morgan’s murder, its background and the handling of the case since 1987.

After years of delays, it is now set to present its report to the Home Secretary next spring. The Panel gives its reasons for the delays on its website.

By way of comparison, if the Panel does present its findings in the spring it will have taken a year longer than the Iraq War Inquiry – and that war took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

The Panel’s task isn’t to investigate Daniel Morgan’s murder and, after all the failed investigations over the years, it seems hope for a conviction has run out.

Alastair said: “There are really no next steps for us at the moment apart from waiting for the report from the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel. Until that happens our hands are tied.

“The panel has now been sitting for over seven years in its various forms.

“I think the reason why it has taken so long, apart from the sheer volume of documents in the case, is that the Met Police have done everything they can to slow down the work.

“I suspect that the case has been so fouled up legally over the past decades that unless something absolutely extraordinary happens we will never see justice in this case.”

With the docu-drama now pushing the case further into the public eye than it has been for quite some time you can ensure it is not forgotten.

The Untold Murder podcast and the book are great ways of learning more about the case than could possibly be covered in the three episodes of the TV programme.

Then when the spring comes write to your MP and ask them to ensure the Home Secretary does not allow the Panel to delay publishing its report any further.

Daniel Morgan’s family may never get justice but they at least deserve to get answers.

Stay safe for another week!

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