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15 years ago the Met’s Operation Two Bridges exposed a lucrative illegal trade between corrupt police officers, private investigators and Fleet Street. Nothing was done. But what happened to two Guardian journalists who were writing about police corruption at the same time?
As Joe Public has revealed on Bellingcat, ‘How The Metropolitan Police Covered-Up For Rupert Murdoch’s News International’ senior Metropolitan police officers knew back in 1999 that there was a phenomenal trade in illegal information atNews of the World which predated phone hacking.
A secret probe in the premises of Southern Investigations, ostensibly part of a third inquiry into the murder of former founder Daniel Morgan, caught many connections between the corrupt detective agency and senior Fleet Street journalists.
The News of the World Gets Away with It
The intelligence files of Operation Nigeria/Two Bridges identified at least 30 suspected crimes, and police files name three journalists as persons of interest: Senior News of the World executive Alex Marunchak; Gary Jones who had moved by then from NOTW to the Mirror Group, and Mazher Mahmood – AKA ‘The Fake Sheikh.’
While Southern Investigations’ Jonathan Rees was arrested and convicted for fitting up a mother in a custody battle, only one Mirror journalist was prosecuted for illicit information dealing. The main culprits, News of the World , seem to have got away without so much as a warning.
The investigation by the anti corruption command was overseen by the then Deputy Commissioner John Stevens. In his autobiography Stevens explains how the probe into SI (Operation Nigeria) morphed into Two Bridges:
The next few pages explain the operation to protect the victim of the child custody fit-up and the arrest of Jonathan Rees.
There is no mention of the Daniel Morgan murder throughout John Stevens book,even though it was the impetus of this inquiry, and a live issue throughout his tenure at the top of the Met. There’s also no mention any alleged illegal activities by journalists.
There is no mention of the Daniel Morgan murder throughout John Stevens book
A former police officer involved in major inquiries (@lamplightercop on Twitter) has told me that, for a Deputy Commissioner, Stevens took “a highly unusual active operational part in the decision-making” in Operation Two Bridges. The sourced added: “By his own admission personally intervenes to take a course of action which would result in termination of the Operation.”
Stevens was promoted to Commissioner. Soon after, in the summer of 2000 (according to Dick Fedorcio’s Leveson evidence) Stevens met the top named target in the Southern Investigations probe, Alex Marunchak, and the News of the World‘s new editor Rebekah Brooks for lunch.
Marunchak was promoted to Ireland editor for News of the World.
The third named journalist, Mazher Mahmood, went from strength to strength and collaborated with the Met in many stings and set-ups. He boasted in court and at the Leveson he secured over a hundred convictions.
Meanwhile, during his fourth investigation into the Daniel Morgan murder in 2002, Detective Superintendent Dave Cook, was put under surveillance by Mazher Mahmood’s photographer and hacked by Glenn Mulcaire.
Though Cook complained about the surveillance to Rebekah Brooks, and she subsequently met Commissioner Stevens, nothing was done about this serious allegation of perverting the course of justice.
In his autobiography, Stevens wrote of his close working relationship with the press, including Rebekah Brooks and her successor Andy Coulson.
He had tea with Coulson and Mazher Mahmood in 2003.
The Guardian Got At
But back in the summer of 2000, two freelance journalists, Laurie Flynn and Michael Gilliard, were writing a series of articles for the Guardian about problems in the police anti corruption squad (which went on to form the basis of their exhaustive book The Untouchables). But they faced mounting resistance to their work from the police, and eventually the Guardian effectively blocked their work.
Describing what happened a year later, Michael Gilliard said the Guardian editor at the time, Alan Rusbridger, denied he had been ‘got at’ by the Met. But a letter from Andy Hayman, head of the anti corruption command, surfaced a few years ago.
In the context of the new information about Two Bridges, the letter is quite startling.
Stevens had taken, according to his book, a close interest in the prosecution of Rees. Hayman was in charge of the first limited investigation into phone hacking in 2006.
Both went on to write columns for News International on retirement, though vigorously denied at the Leveson Inquiry and before a parliamentary committee this had anything to do with their investigations into the newspaper group in the past.
It remains staggering however, given that News of the World staff were subject to no less than seven police investigations from 2000-2006, that all this effort should have been expended on silencing the Guardian, while News International were given free reign.
Even more evidence that the promised LEVESON TWO inquiry into dubious relations between the Scotland Yard and the press, must go ahead.