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Dodgy detective made killing from tabloids

Undercover police officers who stole into the premises of Southern Investigations Ltd armed with state-of-the-art bugging devices were under no illusions about the need to ensure that no trace should be left of their visit to the drab private investigator’s office on a south London high street.

The team from Scotland Yard’s anti-corruption unit were conducting Operation Nigeria, an inquiry begun early in 1999 into the activities of Jonathan Rees, the portly owner of the detective agency who was a suspect in the murder 12 years earlier of his business partner, Daniel Morgan.

The second aim of the investigation was to gather information on Rees and his network of contacts, including bent serving police officers, dedicated to obtaining information, often illegally gathered, for sale to a number of keen and often insatiable customers: newspapers.

An internal police report made clear the calibre of Rees and his accomplices: “They are alert, cunning and devious individuals who have current knowledge of investigative methods and techniques which may be used against them. Such is their level of access to individuals within the police… that the threat of compromise to any conventional investigation against them is constant and very real.”
The bug planters nonetheless did their work well. Over the next seven months, detectives chronicled Rees’s dealings with a number of Fleet Street titles, including the News of the World, as he provided a steady stream of stories and tit-bits from his contacts.

It was a lucrative trade. Rees was recorded complaining that he was owed £12,000 by one tabloid, but his company’s biggest customer was the NOTW, paying up to £150,000 a year. As the private investigator put it: “No one pays like the News of the World do.”

Using his roll-call of informants, including bank employees and even a VAT inspector susceptible to bribes, Rees offered his clients the inside track on the arrest of the M25 murderer Kenneth Noye and the sex lives of Buckingham Palace servants.

By September 1999, Operation Nigeria had gathered little evidence on the death of Mr Morgan, but it had recorded Rees plotting to frame Kim James, a former model, by having cocaine planted in her car to allow her estranged husband to win custody of their child. Rees was convicted of the conspiracy at the Old Bailey and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, increased to seven on appeal.

After he was released from jail in 2004, only News International continued to employ the disgraced investigator after he was rehired by the NOTW under the editorship of Andy Coulson, who resigned from that role in 2007 after taking responsibility for the phone hacking scandal. Coulson, who has always denied any knowledge of Mr Mulcaire’s activities, resigned as Mr Cameron’s director of communications in January over continuing disclosures which destroyed the NOTW’s insistence hacking had been restricted to a single “rogue” reporter.

The dossier of evidence compiled about Mr Rees suggests that illicit newsgathering techniques were more serious and widespread even that suggested by the phone hacking affair, in which the NOTW eavesdropped on a swath of public figures including Princes William and Harry and Sienne Miller.

Rees’s alleged political activities encompassed a far wider range of politicians than Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Trade Secretary. Among the other targets were the former Conservative MP David Mellor, who as the former national heritage secretary threatened tighter regulation of the press and who was subsequently disgraced for his affair with an actress obtained with the help of covert recording equipment.
Gerald Kauffman, the Labour MP who chaired the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport – whose remit includes newspapers – between 1992 and 2005, may also have been targeted by Mr Rees along with Gaynor Regan, the mistress and later wife of Robin Cook, the senior Labour MP and Foreign Secretary.
Among police, his suspected targets included Sir John Stevens, now Baron Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, the career policeman who sought to root our corruption and incompetence at the Met when he ran the UK’s biggest police force between 2000 and 2005.

He also allegedly targeted Assistant Commissioner John Yates, the most senior counter-terrorism officer. Mr Yates was criticised by MPs for failing to re-open the investigation into phone hacking last year following the discovery of secret settlements between News International and the publicist Max Clifford and Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Another figure believe to have been targeted was Ian Hurst, an ex-British Army intelligence officer who had been running informers in an undercover unit in Northern Ireland. After he left the intelligence service, Mr Hurst was in close contact with Alfredo Scappaticci, or Stakeknife, an IRA informant whose cover was blown, forcing him to move between a series of safe houses.
At the Bank of England, the private investigator is suspected of conducting illict inquiries into members of the Monetary Policy Committee, which sets interest rates.
Southern Investigations are believed to have obtained financial details of the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Kent and his wife the Duchess of Kent.

Bank account information was also allegedly sought on the seventh in line to the throne Prince Edward and his wife Sophie who were the subject of press speculation about their finances.
Information was sought on Kate Middleton, amid speculation that Prince William was about to announce their engagement.
Rees’s secret work for newspapers could only be reported following his trial for the murder of his former business partner, Daniel Morgan, which collapsed earlier this year following mistakes by Scotland Yard.
News International said: “It is well documented that Jonathan Rees and Southern Investigations worked for a whole variety of newspaper groups. With regards to Tom Watson’s specific allegations, we believe these are wholly inaccurate. The Met Police, with whom we are co-operating fully in Operation Weeting, have not asked us for any information regarding Jonathan Rees.”
Jonathan Rees and the media

March 1987 Daniel Morgan, Rees’s business partner, is murdered in a south London pub car park. Detectives investigate claims that he was about to expose police corruption.
April 1999 Launch of Operation Nigeria, a new investigation into the murder and the sale of illegally-obtained information by Rees to newspapers.
September 2000 Rees is convicted, along with a detective, of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. No journalists are charged.

May 2004 Rees is released and re-employed by the NOTW under Andy Coulson.
January 2005 Glenn Mulcaire begins to hack the voicemails of celebrities on behalf of the NOTW.
August 2006 Mulcaire is arrested and convicted of illegally accessing phone messages.
April 2008 Rees is charged with the murder of Morgan, and three years later is acquitted. Scotland Yard confirms it has several hundred thousand pages of evidence from its investigations.

via http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/…

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