Rarely is your whole life experience captured in a moment.
Such a moment arrived for me on 28 February 2012 as I walked up the imposing steps of the Royal Courts of Justice to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
As a police officer, I had given evidence in many courtrooms so the prospect of another session in the witness box shouldn’t really have worried me. But this was different, I was about to challenge the combined might of the country’s biggest police force, and the national tabloid press.
I was already anxious, but hearing my footsteps echo as I took each step only increased the terror – what on earth was I putting myself through, and why?
As I walked, I relived it all.
The story, for me, began a long way back, on 26 April 1999.
I was about to go into a meeting of the Serious Crime Analysis Section of the UK’s National Crime Faculty, but as I entered the room I was pulled to one side by my boss who, with a face white with shock, told me that Jill Dando had been murdered – shot dead on her doorstep as she walked to her front door.
In that instant, my professional and private lives crashed together like two cars meeting head-on at 60mph. Every murder investigation I had worked on flashed back to me – the post-mortem examinations, the crime scene photos, the CCTV images of unknowing victims in their final hours, the forensic seizures, the dreadful suffering of family and friends.
This was Jill, the wonderful, kind person who had been such a good friend to me during our years together on the BBC’s Crimewatch. Our last conversation had been just a few days before as we walked out of Television Centre together: she had been so happy talking about her forthcoming wedding and looking forward to a wonderful future, and I was so happy for her.
And now she had been murdered. Like many in the police service, I had spent years fighting and squashing down my own emotions so that I could cope with everyday life and not let anyone down.
This left me reeling. Not immediately but gradually, I discovered that it was more than I could bear. It was an emotionally challenging time for me anyway. I had recently suffered a difficult miscarriage but was pregnant again, hoping to have a brother or sister for my two-year-old daughter.
After Jill’s death, I began to have nightmares. Flashed visions and sounds of shots being fired at me as I walked along my garden path to my front door… I dreamt of masked men breaking into my home in the night and shooting me and my family. And when I was awake, no matter how hard I tried to suppress them, memories and images of Jill including snatches of CCTV showing her last movements, played constantly in my head.
"After Jill’s death I began to have nightmares ...
I dreamt of masked men breaking into my home in the night and shooting me and my family"
Then came the guilt. I had no right to be affected like this; her family and close friends were the ones who deserved sympathy. I should be professional and deal with this. And familiar, old worries returned as I condemned myself as weak and not up to the job.
Next came panic attacks. At worst they left me so crippled I felt I was having a heart attack; at best there was an underlying anxiety that kept me in a constant terror it might at any moment escalate out of control.
After my son was born – a moment of true joy – I finally took some time off work to be with him and my daughter, and endeavor to recover some equilibrium.
Then one day I returned home to find two very tall officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Witness Protection Unit waiting for me in my kitchen. My journey to the Royal Courts of Justice had begun.
My then-husband, David Cook, a police officer like me, had recently made an appeal on Crimewatch in relation to the notorious murder of a private detective, Daniel Morgan. This was 2002 and the case was already 15 years old. Morgan had been killed with an axe in a London pub car park and a series of investigations had been impeded by corruption in the police.
David, who had appeared on Crimewatch before, was given the job of asking anyone with information to come forward and announcing a £50,000 reward. He went on to become the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) on the inquiry, which lasted until March 2011.
The officers in my kitchen were there to tell me that after the appeal went out the inquiry team received intelligence that a suspect in the case had been overheard discussing David’s role and saying he intended to make life difficult for him.
This was clearly a threat not only to David but also to me, to our family, and to our home. Suspects in a murder inquiry where a man had been left dead in a public car park with an axe in his head are clearly capable of anything. One of them had already been convicted of planting cocaine in someone’s car to subvert a court case. So, we were placed under the umbrella of Witness Protection and a police panic alarm was installed in our house.
Even now, it is difficult to describe the emotions this evoked in me. I had not recovered from Jill’s murder and those terrors surged back to the surface. The nightmares returned and once again I was enduring the humiliation of fighting off panic attacks at inappropriate moments.
And whoever was behind this soon piled on the pressure. Our mail was tampered with. An email was sent to the Crimewatch office claiming (falsely) that I was having an affair. Someone called a police finance department pretending to be from the Inland Revenue and attempting to obtain private information about us.
"Our mail was tampered with. An email was sent to the Crimewatch office claiming (falsely) that I was having an affair"
A chilling moment for me was noticing my daughter’s rocking horse had been moved in the garden. This probably sounds feeble, but it was always in the same place, she loved it so much and would come home from school and immediately rush to the garden to jump on it. One day it wasn’t there – it had been moved.
We had to warn my daughter’s school and my son’s nursery about the risk of strangers hanging around outside. We had to consider whether inviting our children’s friends to the house was sensible. We took our house off the market because of the risk of letting in snoopers or worse. Every aspect of our daily lives had to be reconsidered.
One morning I spotted a white van in the lane. Two occupants were clearly observing our home and as I watched from my kitchen the passenger window opened and I saw something being raised and pointed towards me. This was when my nightmares became real. I was overwhelmed by terror and fled to a friend’s home.
The next day there were two vans and when David left to take our children to nursery and school, both vehicles followed him. David was able to have one of them stopped and he later told me that they were leased to News International, the newspaper company owned by Rupert Murdoch that published the News of the World, the Sun, and the Times.
I was stunned. Why on earth were they following us, keeping us under surveillance and terrifying me? Surely, if there were any grounds for them to do this sort of thing at all, they should be looking at possible suspects for the Morgan murder and not harassing the officer leading the investigation and his wife and children?
How did the Metropolitan Police react?
I soon learned the very close connection between the Murdoch press and this murder case that was so tangled in police corruption.
At the heart of it was Southern Investigations, where Daniel Morgan had been in partnership with a man called Jonathan Rees, who specialised in cultivating relations with police officers of all ranks. After the murder, remarkably, Daniel Morgan’s place in the firm was taken by Sid Fillery, who had been a lead detective in the first investigation but who subsequently, like Rees, became a suspect.
These two were very close to a senior figure at the News of the World, Alex Marunchak, who employed them to carry out investigative work for the paper, much of it illegal. For example, Southern would use corrupt officers to gain access to secret information about ongoing investigations that would then be reported in the paper.
If the News of the World was watching me and my family and trying to intimidate us, were they doing this in an effort to help these partners in crime, even though they were suspected of the murder? Were they helping the suspects to ‘make life difficult’ for David? That would be extraordinary and outrageous behaviour from a national newspaper.
Southern Investigations was not the only organisation to have good connections inside the Murdoch press. So did the Metropolitan Police.
Dick Fedorcio, the Met’s head of public affairs, approached the then editor of the News of the World, Rebekah Brooks (then Wade), for an explanation.
"Southern Investigations was not the only organisation to have good connections inside the Murdoch press. So did the Metropolitan Police"
When the answer came back, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The explanation offered for placing David and me under surveillance was that they were investigating suspicions we were having an affair – with each other. We had by then been together for 11 years and married for four, and we had two children together. We had even appeared together in Hello! magazine as a result of my Crimewatch profile.
David, Dick Fedorcio and Commander Andre Baker met and challenged Rebekah Brooks. With the then Commissioner of the Met in the room, she repeated the ludicrous claim. But she also agreed to investigate Marunchak’s association with Rees and Fillery. As far as I am aware, nothing further was ever said in the subject and Marunchak was actually promoted.
It seemed obvious to me: Brooks and her paper were giving the finger to me and to the Met. They seemed brazenly confident they could do what they liked.
I assumed they would be called to account, and for the sake of my family and my own well-being, I let the Met get on with it. But while David continued to investigate the murder, I was soon struggling again. I found myself constantly frightened and questioning everything, every movement, every noise, every unexpected event.
I changed jobs, went part-time, tried to lead a normal family life. Eventually, our marriage – already on uneven ground – began to crumble. In 2008, despite a second career break, I left the Met to begin a new life.
It was liberating, I wrote a book with Fiona Bruce, started to carve a television career, delivered training and business consultancy. But although my general health improved, the panic attacks continued, making every step of the way a challenge.
In May 2011, by which time David and I had separated, police officers once again walked into my life. My details, they informed me, had been found in the notebooks of Glenn Mulcaire, by then notorious as a private investigator who hacked voicemails for the News of the World.
These notes revealed much more about the scale of the paper’s intrusion into my life. Mulcaire had learned my police payroll and warrant numbers, the name of the police house I lived in when I joined up in 1977, the name, location and telephone number of my place of work in 2002, my and David’s full home address and mobile phone numbers and some notes about my previous husband and his work details.
As revelations about how industrial-scale phone hacking by the tabloid press hit the headlines, I went cold. Had my personal messages been listened to, I had worked for 2 years on a confidential inquiry before leaving the Met, the security implications alone were worrying.
The notes also contained equally confidential information about David. The date at the top was 3 July 2002, a week or so before the News International vans began to appear outside our home. All else aside, this categorically proved that the paper knew full well at that time that I was married to David. Brooks’s excuse was revealed to be nonsense.
But the most shocking thing to me was that such information could only have come from my police personnel file. Someone in the Met had read this out or shown it to Mulcaire, presumably for money. And as if that was not bad enough, the Met had known about this since 2006 but had chosen neither to inform me nor to investigate this clear proof of corruption in the ranks.
A veil now fell from my eyes. I had always assumed – as all officers are encouraged to assume – that the Met had my back. But now I knew that fellow officers had betrayed me, and the Met leadership had allowed that to go unchallenged. The truth was that, far from having my back, the Met had chosen to let me, and my family suffer at the hands of a bunch of murder suspects acting in collusion with corrupt officers and a corrupt national newspaper.
I contacted David, who told me he had begun civil proceedings against the News of the World and was keen to talk about our experiences at a forthcoming public inquiry.
All around me, things had been changing in dramatic ways. The exposure of widespread phone hacking shamed the Met into launching not only Operation Weeting (investigating information from the Mulcaire notebooks) but also offshoots exploring corrupt practices involving journalists and police.
The Murdoch organisation, under pressure as never before, handed over evidence to these inquiries, and some journalists, police officers, and other public servants were arrested and charged with bribery-related offences (though so far none of this had related to my own experiences).
Then the exposure of the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone and the public outrage that followed forced politicians to set up a public inquiry into press misconduct, with a brief also to look into police and political collusion. This was the Leveson Inquiry.
David and I could see we had vital evidence for this inquiry, evidence suggesting that the Murdoch press had assisted murder suspects in destabilising an investigation and that the Met had stood back and let it happen. So we were going to apply to be ‘core participants’ in the inquiry, a status that meant we were more than just witnesses but would have privileged access to documents and shared legal representation with other victims of press abuses.
But there was a problem. David, now working at the National Crime Agency, became concerned that this was not compatible with his position and status as a serving senior civil servant, and withdrew his application. I understood this: he had his financial future to think about and his mental health, which had also suffered. This left me alone to represent the family experience at the inquiry.
I spent weeks writing my statement. It was not something I could get help with and I found it harrowing. It meant revisiting the darkest times in my life, delving back into experiences I had spent years trying to block out.
"I spent weeks writing my statement. It was not something I could get help with and I found it harrowing. It meant revisiting the darkest times in my life, delving back into experiences I had spent years trying to block out"
However, the more I wrote the more I was convinced I needed to stand up and get my voice heard. I knew there would be few other police officers able or indeed inclined to get involved, and if I could get through without anxiety overwhelming me it would be worth it. My story needed to be told.
And I knew that it needed to be told not just for my benefit and my family’s, but also in support of the family of Daniel Morgan, who by then had gone 24 years without seeing justice done, and who understood better than anyone the tangle of corruption that was responsible.
Almost unbelievably, at this moment – as I was writing my statement to the Leveson Inquiry – two things happened that caused me to believe I had once again been put under surveillance.
First, I surprised a man loitering in the alleyway beside my house, who appeared to be waiting for me to come home. And second, my new home was broken into and the only room disturbed was my study, in particular, the desk where I kept my laptop – and a hard-copy working version of my statement.
The local police investigated and improved my security, but knowing what I did by then about the power and reach of the Murdoch press, the Met police, and the Morgan murder suspects, this was simply terrifying. Old demons resurfaced and the nightmares and panic attacks returned. The stress was at times unbearable, some days I could barely remember my name.
I was helped in this period by an extraordinarily disparate group of people gathered together with the common aim of not letting the tabloid press get away with it – again. This was Hacked Off.
Attending Hacked Off events and talking to others caught up in press intrusion and bad behaviour, I discovered the extent to which a culture of lawlessness and indiscriminate targeting had affected so many people from so many walks of life. I found I was part of something much bigger and was keen to take up and champion their causes as well. Finally, I didn’t have to dwell purely on my situation: it was so much emotionally safer for me to fight their causes alongside my own.
My appearance at the inquiry was set for 28 February 2012 and late one evening in January I received a call from David. He had that morning been arrested for ‘malfeasance in public office’, accused of disclosing confidential information to a journalist. With remarkable timing, the Murdoch organisation had discovered emails between him and a crime reporter. He was utterly devastated, and I feared for what he might do now he had been bailed.
The next few weeks followed in a blur, I found myself in rooms full of people barely knowing who they were or why I was there, but surprisingly when it came to the 28 February, I had a clearer head than I had experienced in a while. I just had to concentrate on one thing – getting through my evidence without a panic attack. I think I managed, though it was difficult and distressing.
You can watch or read my evidence to the Leveson Inquiry HERE.
It should be no surprise that my testimony, implicating the Murdoch press in the darkest wrongdoing, did not make newspaper headlines. Even as I entered the witness stand, someone somewhere was revealing that Rebekah Brooks had been loaned a police horse by the Commissioner of the Met, and that was the story that would dominate the news reports.
After what I have seen, it is hard for me not to connect the dots between the break-in at my home and this conveniently placed news story. Knowing what I would say, they had an interest in distracting the public’s attention.
Leveson Part Two
When I spoke that day in 2012 I knew, or at least I believed, that it would be only the first part of my engagement with the inquiry. As with a lot of other witnesses, there were things I could not say or could not explain fully at that time because of ongoing criminal investigations.
Moreover, the inquiry chair, Sir Brian Leveson, was prevented from drawing conclusions about criminal activities for the same reason – because some relevant matters were sub judice.
The plan was that once those investigations had run their course and people had been cleared or convicted, the inquiry would return to pick up all of these important loose ends. Leveson Part Two, as it was called, would tackle criminal activities involving the press and the police head-on.
Like a lot of other people, I underestimated the power of corruption. Not only did the Cameron government break its promises and refuse properly to implement the recommendations of the Leveson Report on press regulation, but it also delayed and delayed on launching Leveson Two.
Then in 2018, after Cameron had been replaced by Theresa May, the government cancelled Leveson Two altogether. So there would be no moment of truth for the press in relation to industrial-scale criminality and in particular, for me, no tough questioning of Murdoch executives about the campaign of intimidation against me and my family.
Why were we put under surveillance? Who at Murdoch headquarters ordered it and who paid for it? How far were they prepared to go? Who followed my children to school? Who in the Met sold my confidential police service records to Glenn Mulcaire? Who broke into my home and why, and who ordered that?
I may never know the answers.
In the bigger picture, what was the relationship between the Murdoch press and Southern Investigations? How far did their collusion in corrupting police officers go? Who was responsible, and who knew? Who were those officers, and who in the Met knew? And darkest of all, did the Murdoch organisation help frustrate the investigation of the Daniel Morgan murder?
A panel of inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan is currently set to report soon, whilst no one has been compelled to give evidence, they have been scrutinising and taking evidence for 8 years now.
I hope they are able to offer Daniel’s family some answers.
Reflecting on my Leveson appearance, I have no regrets. The fight goes on. People are still falling victim to a culture of self-interest and collusion among the press and politicians, their free speech denied.
The overriding thought I’m left with is that when you have a government (of whatever colour) colluding so closely with a powerful press, and with a police service cowed by political pressure, it is almost impossible for an ordinary member of the public to get justice or have any transparency to understand the decision-making processes that affect them.
Where do people like me go when the police have let them down? There is nowhere because it is not in the interests of the press, to tell the truth, and politicians are either too close to the press or too scared of them to stand up and make them accountable.
This is surely not the kind of country I, and I’m sure many like me, want to live in. In the words of Detective Superintendent Ted Hastings in the BBC’s Line of Duty: ‘When did we stop caring about honesty and integrity?’