2012-03-02

Tom Watson MP, former News of the World editor Alex Marunchak, and the murder of Daniel Morgan


Anatomy of a Denial

Radio Four has recently been running a (at times moving, at times irritating) series on people who were intending to use the leap day of 2012 February 29 to do something special. Tom Watson MP decided to use this day (and parliamentary privilege) to relate some of the background to a brutal murder, the police corruption that has thus far thwarted any attempts to bring the killer/s to justice, and the curious role of News International in this sorry tale

An important role in this story is played by an Alex Marunchak, former chief crime reporter for the News of the World and later the paper’s Irish editor, and Tom Watson made (or reported) a number of accusations against this journalist.




Tom Watson:
The main conduit [for information obtained through Rees and Fillery’s corrupted contacts] at News International was Alex Marunchak, chief crime reporter for the News of the World and later the paper’s Irish editor. I want to focus the Minister’s attention on Marunchak in particular. Rees and Marunchak had a relationship that was so close that they both registered companies at the same address in Thornton Heath. Abbeycover, established by Rees and his colleague from News International, Greg Miskiw, was registered at the same address as Southern Investigations, run by Rees and Fillery. Rees’s confirmed links with Marunchak take the murder of Daniel Morgan to a new level.
It is important to remember that, in the days before the murder, Daniel’s family believe that he was on the verge of exposing huge police corruption. That was confirmed by Brian Madagan, Daniel’s former employer, in a statement in May 1987, in which he said that he believed Daniel was about to sell a story to a newspaper. In a second, later statement, Madagan said he believed that paper to be the News of the World and the contact to be Alex Marunchak who, until recently, still worked for the paper. BBC Radio 4’s “Report” programme also confirmed that it has seen evidence suggesting that, a week before the murder, Daniel was about to take a story exposing police corruption to Mr Marunchak and was promised a payment of £40,000. We also know, from the investigative reporting of Nick Davies at The Guardian that Southern Investigations paid the debts of Alex Marunchak.
As part of the third failed investigation, Operation Nigeria was launched. It included the surveillance of Southern Investigations between May and September 1999 and was run by the Metropolitan police’s anti-corruption squad, CIB3. It placed a bug in the offices of Southern Investigations that yielded evidence that convicted Rees for a serious and unrelated crime. Police surveillance shows frequent contact between Rees and Marunchak. I understand that the tapes made by the recording by the bug have not all been transcribed; if they were, they would yield more collusion, perhaps criminal in nature, between News International and Jonathan Rees. I hope the Minister will ask the police if that process is under way.
When Rees came out of jail, he was re-hired by the News of the World, then edited by Andy Coulson. Rees also founded a company called Pure Energy, in which Marunchak was involved. The police hold evidence to suggest that Rees discussed the use of Trojan devices with his associate, Sid Fillery. He was an associate of Philip Campbell Smith, who received a custodial sentence on Monday for a crime related to blagging. Campbell Smith is a former Army intelligence officer. I will say no more on Campbell Smith, because I do not want to prejudice the Operation Tuleta inquiry. However, I hope that I have demonstrated to the Minister a close association between Rees and Marunchak.
This is why I think that the Metropolitan police cannot be used in any further investigations: yesterday, the Leveson inquiry heard a startling revelation that Alex Marunchak — a close business associate of Jonathan Rees, then the prime suspect in a murder case — chose to put DCI David Cook and his family under close covert surveillance. The person who was investigating a murder was put under close surveillance by a close business associate of the man he was investigating. That was raised with Rebekah Brooks in 2002, the then editor of the News of the World. I would like the Minister to imagine what his response would have been to that information. A journalist employee tried to undermine the murder investigation of his close associate. Rupert Murdoch claims that News International takes a zero-tolerance approach to wrongdoing. However, far from launching a wide-scale inquiry to investigate wrongdoing, Rebekah Brooks promoted Alex Marunchak to the editor’s job at the News of the World in Ireland.
[…..]
It gets worse. I would like the Minster to request to see all the intelligence reports submitted about Alex Marunchak. I believe the Met is sitting on an intelligence report from late 2002 that claims a police contact overheard Marunchak claim he was paying the relatives of police officers in Cambridgeshire for information about the Soham murders. As far as we know, those allegations have not been investigated. I do not know whether the intelligence reports are accurate, but I do know that Alex Marunchak was involved in writing stories about how the Manchester United tops of those young girls were found. I also believe that at least one of the Soham parents appears in the evidence file of Glenn Mulcaire. The Met police failed to investigate both leads when reported in 2002 and 2006. I think that Rupert Murdoch owes the Morgan family an apology, and I do not think that he has made his last apology to the grieving parents of murdered children.
Alex Marunchak has just responded to these allegations.

Alex Marunchak
Mercifully I didn’t see Tom Watson’s performance but regret it came slightly too late for him to be an also-ran at the Oscar ceremony. 
It astonishes me an MP can abuse parliamentary privilege and waste everybody’s time by peddling untruths in this way. 
I have never met Watson, nor talked or communicated with him in any way. 
Perhaps I should make this clear at the outset – lest he be found crucified on a hill overlooking Jerusalem and I am held, in some way, to be responsible.

It is noteworthy that Maranchak’s opening remarks are ad hominem rather than ad argumentum and that Maranchak begins by denying a “straw man” – the unalleged “he met Watson” and “he communicated with Watson”.

Watson’s comments about my professional dealings with murder victim Daniel Morgan are absolutely untrue.
I do not doubt that Morgan’s family now believe he was on the verge of exposing police corruption before he died.
If that was indeed a motive for his death – then I know nothing about it.
The reason is that I never heard of Daniel Morgan or Southern Investigations until after his murder.
He never phoned me, contacted or met me, neither directly nor through a third party, by telephone or letter or by any other method.
Nor did he leave graffiti sprayed on walls for me to spot on the way to work which asked me to contact him.
But, I admit, for all I know, he may even have employed someone claiming to have ESP powers to contact me.
Sadly, for Mr Watson, I did not receive any ESP messages either.
Perhaps he should look into this as the basis for his next parliamentary diatribe on the topic?
I was told to cover the Morgan murder story as the News of the World’s crime reporter.Then news editor Bob Warren told me: “Find out who this man is for a start. We’ve never heard of him.”
Neither I, nor anyone else at the News of the World, offered Morgan £40,000 for his story.
Nor did we offer £100,000.
In fact we never knew he even existed prior to his murder.

More ad hominem attacks on Tom Watson, though the man who made this particular allegation is Brian Madigan. Maranchak nevertheless offers two categorical denials here: that he had never heard of Daniel Morgan until after the 1987 murder and that he had never heard of or Southern Investigations until after the murder. I rather think these denials (especially the second) should be checked.

I was promoted to associate editor of the News of the World in 1997 after 10 years on the News of the World newsdesk.
My primary job was to edit the Irish News of the World in Dublin.
[…]
I never worked on stories about the Soham murders [which happened in 2002], never wrote copy, nor interviewed anyone.
I did not pay any relatives of police officers involved in the Soham murders.
Instead, I carried on with the task of editing the Irish News of the World and commuted between Dublin and London.
Watson said in parliament he had been told a police informant claimed he overheard me boasting I had paid relatives of police officers in Cambridgeshire for information about the Soham murders. He also claimed I had written Soham stories. For the avoidance of any doubt - what Watson said is completely untrue.
In the unlikely event an experienced Fleet Street hack like myself, based in Dublin, were paying relatives of police officers in Cambridgeshire, would he be stupid enough to blurt it out in front of strangers, one of whom was a police informer? Er, no. I don’t think so.
The simple fact is that I was not involved in the Soham story. It was an English story run by the London newsdesk. I was in charge of the Irish News of the World and had no role whatsoever in the Soham story.
Another categorical denial here: that Maranchak had “no role whatsoever in the Soham story”. The Telegraph says that there is a News of the World article about the case which had Mr Marunchak’s byline on it. Again, this ought to be checkable. There is also an appeal to the argument from personal incredulity: “would [I] be stupid enough to blurt it out in front of strangers?”. A problem here is that all our thresholds for incredulity have been raised considerably by the revelations coming out on a daily basis.

I received information from a source that then minor BBC Crimewatch personality Jacqui Hames was having an affair with a senior officer who was appearing on her TV show.
For the avoidance of doubt, I did nothing to check this, because it was of no interest to me.
I did not look at cuttings, because I had no time, and I was editing the Irish News of the World. But I passed the tittle-tattle on to the London newsdesk as a bit of gossip, which had been passed on to me, and left it to them to deal with as they saw fit.
I do not know to this day what checks they carried out, if any at all, or indeed if they did anything about the information. Nor did I ask them to keep me posted with progress or developments. End of story.
But I do know that I did nothing more than have a 30 second conversation passing on the rumour to the London newsdesk and that was the end of my involvement.
This would appear to be a rebuttal of the claim that Marunchak put DCI David Cook and his family under surveillance though it is noteworthy that there is no explicit denial of this core allegation.

As part of my master-plan to escape Fleet Street and become a multi-millionaire I registered a limited company at Companies House in London through a chartered accountant. I believe he registered numerous companies at the same address which is the office from which he worked and rented. My name and home address was readily available from Companies House records.

The master plan was to import vodka into Britain and become so incredibly wealthy I could afford to stick two fingers up at Fleet Street. Sadly, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, and the vodka company never traded. Not once. It did not take one single penny, nor import a single drop of vodka, let alone a whole bottle-full.

Instead, I was so busy carrying out my work for the paper I never had time to turn my attention to anything else. After a couple of years on the shelf and not trading I had the firm wound up after receiving threatening letters from Companies House for not filing accounts – of which there were none to file.

Now the reference to importing alcohol is interesting because (as reported here) one "Barry Beardall" (who was employed by the Sunday Times to trick staff at a law firm into revealing details from Gordon Brown's personal file, who met Jonathan Rees in prison, and who became a partner with Rees in a company that employed Marunchak as a consultant) was (when he met Rees) serving six and a half years for a £7 million alcohol smuggling operation. Of course this may be pure coincidence, but it is a coincidence that should perhaps be set alongside the other coincidence reported here: that Marunchak’s chartered accountant registered Marunchak’s firm at the same address as Jonathan Rees’s Southern Investigations firm.

I have a signed, witnessed, dated statement of truth from the then bursar of the school attended by my sons that no one except myself ever paid school fees. These were gratefully received because they were never paid on time or in full.
Eventually these were finally settle in total after I had left the employ of the News of the World and only after the threat of legal action against me and two years after my youngest son finished university. That’s five years after he left the school.
But should anyone be interested, then I am happy to give tips to anyone interested in knowing how I managed to achieve this incredible feat and avoid paying school fees for so long. Ditto for my credit cards.
My response to Watson’s childish and infantile accusations, which have no basis in fact whatsoever, have been repeated ad infinitum whenever he mischievously makes them.But he persists in doing so, for whatever motives he has conjured up for himself. After all, he didn’t get to where he is on the Labour back benches by being stupid.

More ad hominem attacks on Tom Watson though the source of these financial allegations is actually Guardian reporter Nick Davis. One assumes that a police trawl of Mr Marunchak’s bank accounts might shed some light here.

Of course, what is often the most interesting is not what people accused of wrong-doing deny, but what they don’t deny.

What Marunchak does not deny (in this most recent set of denials) is that he knew (personally) and employed (as a source for information) and was a business partner of Jonathon Rees
It is interesting to contrast the recent denials with what he said back in March 2011:
Panorama: In 2006, whilst you were employed as a senior executive editor at the News of the World, you commissioned further research from Jonathan Rees (who had previously run “Southern Investigations”), notwithstanding the fact that he had recently been released from a seven-year prison sentence following his conviction for a serious criminal offence.
Marunchak: This is untrue. Information offered and brought in by sources of their own volition is not the same thing as being commissioned to obtain it in the first place. The conviction and sentence to which you refer, as I understand it, is currently being examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was set up by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice to assess if convictions should be referred to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration on the grounds the original conviction was unsafe.
Here Marunchak seems to be saying that though he received  (and presumably paid for)  information from Rees, he did not ask Rees for information and that Rees may, in any case, have not been guilty of the offence for which he was imprisoned. I think it is noteworthy that Marunchak makes no attempt to repeat these justifications in his more recent pronouncements.

So, to summarize, there is no new evidence here or anything that proves that Marunchak is actually guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, but there is a great deal to suggest that the authorities should now subject Marunchak’s account to a great deal more detailed scrutiny than they have so far.

Forget #horsegate; forget hacking celebrities’ phones, someone has got away with murder here and the allegations need to be fully and rigorously investigated.

Meanwhile, Tom Watson MP is to be commended for his role in bringing this matter to public attention.