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Sensemaker: Murder and institutional corruption

Sensemaker: Murder and institutional corruption

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The Israeli Defense Force carried out air strikes on the Gaza Strip in retaliation for incendiary balloons that Hamas sent into southern Israel (more below).
  • Slovakia’s Supreme Court ordered a retrial of oligarch Marian Kocner who was accused of masterminding the murders of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancĂ©e, Martina Kusnirova.
  • Newly released emails revealed that Donald Trump pressured the Justice Department to overturn his election defeat, a plan the then-acting deputy attorney general called “pure insanity”.

Murder and institutional corruption

On 10 March 1987, private investigator Daniel Morgan was found dead in the car park of a south London pub. An axe was embedded in his head. After five investigations and an inquest brought no one to justice, the government appointed an independent panel of experts to examine the case in 2013. Their report was published yesterday. 

Here’s what they found:

  • Allegations that police corruption routinely hampered the murder inquiries weren’t fully investigated. The Metropolitan Police accepted that corruption was a “major factor” in the failure of the original 1987 investigation, but the panel found the police had “repeatedly failed to take a fresh, thorough and critical look” at all its past failings.
  • It was this failure by the Metropolitan Police that gave the panel its headline finding. In “concealing or denying” those past failings for the sake of its public image, the Metropolitan Police engaged in “institutional corruption.” Baroness O’Loan, who chaired the panel, said the experts “have not seen evidence such that we are satisfied that what happened in the past 34 years might not continue to happen”.
  • The lack of candour from the Metropolitan Police around its own failings, which included the ostracism of officers who tried to report wrongdoing, was something that the panel itself grappled with. When the panel began its work in 2013, then-assistant commissioner Cressida Dick, who now heads the Metropolitan Police, refused to grant it access to key information. Some information was only disclosed in March. The panel received no explanation for this initial refusal and foot dragging, which “caused major delays and further unnecessary distress to the family of Daniel Morgan”.
  • The panel rightly drove home that the family of Morgan, who was married with two young children, “suffered grievously” as a result of police failings, especially because the Metropolitan Police had given them “unwarranted assurances” about the murder investigation. 

Morgan’s family has campaigned for justice for over 30 years now. They received tips as early as 1988 that Morgan was trying to sell a story about police corruption to a newspaper, and began to suspect this was why he was killed.

One of the panel’s most striking findings was of an “illegal trade in confidential information”. Metropolitan Police officers sold information they obtained illegally to Southern Investigations, the firm Morgan co-founded, which sold it to journalists on the News of the World. The panel called the trade “a form of corruption” and a breach of the rules of professional conduct for editors. It was also lucrative. The News of the World had become a major client of Southern Investigations and, ultimately, of the Metropolitan Police.

The first arrests in relation to the murder, in April 1987, targeted Morgan’s co-founder at Southern, Jonathan Rees; his brothers-in-law Gary and Glenn Vian; and Metropolitan Police Sergeant Detective Sid Fillery who moonlighted for Southern, would replace Morgan there, and had actually worked on the murder investigation. But they were all released without charge.

After the fifth and final murder inquiry, which used bugs at Glenn Vian’s home that generated reams of material, the men were finally charged in 2009. But the court proceedings fell apart within two years over issues around police informants and disclosure. And, just as they did, journalists found that Rees was earning £150,000 a year from selling illegally obtained information about celebrities and people in the public eye to the News of the World. The Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid collapsed.

Rees and his colleagues fared better. They sued the Metropolitan Police for malicious prosecution, and won substantial monetary damages on appeal.

In reaction to the panel’s report, Home secretary Priti Patel said the Metropolitan Police’s behaviour “irreparably damaged the chances of successful prosecution”. For Morgan’s family, the only justice left is the full implementation of the report’s recommendations, including protections for police whistleblowers, serious vetting of officers, a statutory duty of candour – and the re-examination of key evidence from the murder inquiries.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

European values
Hungary’s parliament adopted legislation that blocks anyone from sharing any content portraying homosexuality or sex reassignment with minors. The restrictions extend to advertisements and sexual education, which is itself restricted by the law to government-approved teachers and organisations. Fidesz, the conservative ruling party of the prime minister Viktor Orban, said the goal was “the protection of children” from paedophiles. Human rights groups denounced it as anti-LGBT discrimination, arguing the law conflated LGBT people with paedophiles. Orban’s critics see the law as an attempt to rally support from his conservative base ahead of next year’s elections. “This law goes against everything we regard as our common European values,” said Germany’s deputy foreign minister Michael Roth.

New things technology, science, engineering

Wuhan lab speaks
A senior Chinese scientist from the Wuhan Institute of Virology gave a rare interview to the New York Times ($). Shi Zhengli, who researches coronaviruses of bat origin, denounced the theory that Covid escaped from her lab. “I don’t know how the world has come to this,” Shi said, “constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist.” Until recently, most people agreed with her view. But the idea of a lab leak – promoted by former US president Donald Trump and so dismissed as a conspiracy theory – has gained credibility over the past few weeks. Joe Biden ordered US intelligence to come to a conclusion on the virus’ origins within the next three months. Most scientists agree that there’s little evidence to support the lab leak theory, but many feel it was dismissed too quickly. A full and impartial investigation – one that China denied the WHO – is, like the scientists say, the best way of settling the issue. “I’m sure that I did nothing wrong,” Shi said. “So I have nothing to fear.”

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Mandatory jab
Boris Johnson’s government is set to legally require NHS workers and care home staff to have Covid vaccinations. The idea is to reduce transmission of the virus in hospitals and care homes. Unions oppose the plan. Lawyers suggested it might breach the European Convention on Human Rights and the Equality Act. Only around 10 per cent of NHS workers and 16 per cent of care home workers are unvaccinated. As Pat Cullen, acting general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The RCN believes that making the vaccine easily available is the best way to increase uptake.”

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Peace out
The Israeli Defense Force carried out air strikes in the Gaza Strip early this morning. It said it was in response to incendiary balloons that Hamas militants sent into southern Israel from Gaza. This latest fighting breaks a hard-won, but fragile, truce struck last month. It began when Israel’s new coalition government allowed a far-right Jewish march to go through Palestinian areas of Jerusalem last night – despite objections from Arab and leftist parties in the coalition, and despite threats of retaliation from Hamas. So far, there are no reports of casualties. But Gaza hasn’t recovered from the last conflict, which resulted in at least 250 Palestinian deaths and 13 Israeli residents’ deaths, and the destruction of housing and infrastructure. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new prime minister, has previously said that those who launch balloons are “terrorists” who should be killed.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Lina Khan 
In 2017, law student Lina Khan had her paper, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox“, published in the Yale Law Journal. Examining Amazon’s dominance across sectors – not just retail, but logistics, publishing, marketing, film production, cloud computing, and so on – her paper concluded that prevailing antitrust thinking was outdated. The problem with it was its basis in consumer welfare theory: that policymakers should only intervene if prices rise so much, as a result of monopoly power, that consumers suffer. The thinking, Khan found, was ill-suited to companies like Amazon that keep prices low but dominate entire business infrastructures, giving them power over competitors. The paper made Khan a star: she joined Columbia University Law School as a professor. Still 32 years old, Khan has just been appointed by Joe Biden as chair of the Federal Trade Commission. Her appointment is a signal that the Biden administration will be tough on tech.

Thanks for reading, and please share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Photographs by Getty Images, Shutterstock

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