While the future of the child sex abuse inquiry dominates the news agenda the media has missed an extraordinary dispute that plagued another independent inquiry – the investigation into the brutal murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan.
The independent panel also set up by home secretary, Theresa May, has until recently been deadlocked for almost a year because of a fractious argument between the retired judge appointed to run it and the panel member responsible for examining the police.
As I report on exaro news the saga ended with both the chairman and the panel member resigning from the inquiry but nobody in the media noticed even though the murder of Daniel Morgan has been one of the most high-profile scandals for years.It involved allegations of corruption by the Met Police, dodgy involvement of the media, and a bloody killing.
Despite five police investigations into the case, nobody has been convicted for Daniel Morgan’s murder. The co-founder of a private-detective agency, Southern Investigations, he was found with an axe in his head in 1987 in the car park of a pub in south London..
The dispute is significant because it is relevant to the problems facing the child sex abuse inquiry – and crosses a fault line, that if not corrected by the Home Office, will make the work of future independent panels very difficult.
Graham Smith couldn’t believe that no one wanted to know his views which were blunt to say the least. He said “The panel was behaving like a lot of Sherlock Holmes’s, and wanted to re-investigate the murder rather than research the documents”…. it was “like working for a judicial inquiry without the safeguards of being held in public”.
The judge, while not wanting to go into detail about his resignation, made it clear that he didn’t want to negotiate by himself with Scotland Yard about handing over all the files, he nevertheless wanted to establish some rules just like judicial proceedings.
He wrote in an email:“A possibility was to emulate the manner in which claims for public-interest privilege are dealt with in litigation, when disputes as to relevance and disclosure are determined by the judge.”
“I would not regard the refusal of the other members of the panel to agree to such a machinery as a resignation issue.”
It turns out both of them have complained about their experience. Graham Smith has written a strongly worded memo to Theresa May and the retired judge has written to the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, about running independent inquiries.
So here’s the nub of it. Appoint a judge and it is likely he or she will want to run an inquiry rather like a court – taking advice from expert witnesses, sifting through information and writing his or her own report.
Appoint someone else to chair a panel and the atmosphere will be more collegiate and the panel will discuss issues and have an input into the final report which is what the child sex abuse inquiry was supposed to do.
Melding the two views of an inquiry together is very difficult and requires great skill – and in some cases like the Daniel Morgan inquiry it won’t work and it falls apart. I am sure Sir Stanley and Graham Smith are decent people – but the way the Home Office constructed the inquiry did not work.
Fortunately a new head and new people have now been appointed and the hope must be that the Daniel Morgan inquiry – which has a huge duty to the distraught Morgan family to find out what really happened – can now get on with the job.
But a valuable year has been lost and lessons need to be learned before a new person heads the child sex abuse inquiry.It points to not having a judge to chair it.