Morgan, Marunchak and Murdoch — one remove from murder

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On the eve of Rebekah Brooks' return as CEO of News UK, the axe murder of Daniel Morgan is a continuing problem for Rupert Murdoch. New evidence undermines two crucial denials and shows up Murdoch's 'faulty memory', writes Peter Jukes from Byline.

I'll be writing a longer piece very soon  on the corporate implications for News UK on the long involvement between News of the World and its favourite detective agency, Southern Investigations — the "maternity ward where the dark arts were born". It's a story that covers three decades from the Wapping dispute to the Phone Hacking trial... 

But before I embark on that longer journey, let's cut to the chase and explore two key denials.

Alex Marunchak denies Daniel Morgan

When, in his parliamentary intervention in 2012, Tom Watson MP spoke out publicly for the first time about the relationship between Alex Marunchak and Southern Investigations, the former News of the World executive replied at some length in a written response to Press Gazette: 'Tom Watson allegations 'absolutely untrue''.

Though Marunchak didn't answer all the allegations, he was adamant about one thing:

However, Marunchak's account does not accord with witnesses from the time.

In contemporary news reportsThe Times reported Daniel was

'... due to be interviewed by West Yorkshire police about a fraud he had uncovered.'

The Daily Express said 'leaks' from the investigation said that Daniel's 'client files' held important info. At the murder inquest in 1988, Detective Superintendent Douglas Campbell told the coroner's court that Daniel was trying to sell a story of police corruption to a national newspaper for £250,000 in the days before he was murdered..

One of the key witnesses was Bryan Madagan, a veteran private investigator who ran the detective agency which employed both Rees and Daniel Morgan until 1984.  

In this tape, recorded by Ian Hurst in 2011 during his four-year long investigation into why News of the World compromised his security, Madagan reiterates his recollection of at least two police statements from 1987 to 2006: Daniel Morgan was planning to sell his story to Alex Marunchak.

(In the full version of the tape Madagan explains how he knew Morgan, Marunchak and Rees personally for many years, and had seen the last two together on several occasions since Rees' release from prison)

Why would Marunchak want to deny he knew Morgan before the murder? Why is this suggestion they knew each other, contradicted by other evidence, such a live rail?  

Rupert Murdoch denies Alex Marunchak

In his famous appearance before the House of Commons Select Committee in 2011, Rupert Murdoch was directly asked about his his knowledge of Alex Marunchak, who had been a senior executive a News Corp's best selling newspaper for nearly quarter of a century.

Mr Watson: Finally, can I ask you, when did you first meet Mr Alex Marunchak?

Rupert Murdoch: Mister ...?

Mr Watson: Alex Marunchak. He worked for the company for 25 years.

Rupert Murdoch: I don’t remember meeting him. I might have shaken hands walking through the office, but I don’t have any memory of him.

Mr Watson: Thank you.

It's somewhat hard to imagine Mr Murdoch could forget such a long term employee who rose up to be the editor of News of the World Ireland. Byline has new evidence the chair of News Corp's memory could be faulty.

As I explained in my last piece ('Phone Hacking? You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet?'), there were reports in 2005 that Marunchak still had great influence on News International and was

'... still highly thought of by Murdoch and can do no wrong.' 

Murdoch could certainly be hands on in stories involving Marunchak. In his autobiography, The Insider, Piers Morgan explains how, when he was editor of the News of the World,  Murdoch had phoned him at home in August 1994 to provide corroboration and support for a story the Sunday tabloid had published about a police investigation into Princess Diana's making nuisance calls. Marunchak had told Piers Morgan the police report had been "read down the phone" to him. Then Murdoch called when he was in the shower:

But a new bit of evidence is not inferential or from second hand reports. 

Steve Grayson, a photographer at the paper for many years, has told Byline that he recalls Marunchak receiving a direct call from Murdoch at the offices of News of the World in the early nineties.

Why would Rupert Murdoch want to deny any knowledge of or closeness to Alex Marunchak? Why is a connection with his former NOTW exec and crime editor another live rail?

If both these denials are incorrect, then there would be only one remove between the chair of the second biggest media corporation in the world and the most investigated unsolved murder in British history.  

Come back in a few days time for a more detailed examination of the corporate knowledge... 

This story was originally published on Byline on 6/9/15 under the title 'ONE REMOVE FROM MURDER: MORGAN, MARUNCHAK AND MURDOCH' and has been republished with permission. If you have corrections, queries or wish to comment in the piece itself, please contact Peter Jukes here.

You may follow Peter Jukes on Twitter @PeterJukes.

Meanwhile, if you have information that could be relevant to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, you can contact them here.

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