(Adds police response)
By Alistair Smout
LONDON, June 15 (Reuters) - British police corruptly meddled in shoddy investigations into the brutal 1987 murder of a private investigator and then concealed their repeated failings, often by sowing disinformation in the media, an inquiry into the case has found.
Daniel Morgan was found murdered in a car park behind a pub in south-east London on March 10, 1987. He was killed with an axe which was found embedded in the back of his head. Nobody has been brought to justice for the killing.
After looking at the evidence, an independent panel painted a grim picture of a police force riddled with corruption: some officers had links to organised crime, some sought to sell information or stolen goods, and investigations were often suspiciously poor or partial.
In damning verdicts, the panel's chair, Nuala O'Loan, said the police had displayed "institutional corruption", while interior minister Priti Patel described it as one of the most devastating episodes in the history of the London force.
While the report found no fresh evidence of long-standing suspicions of police involvement in the murder itself, the panel was careful to say that such a conclusion rested on the available documentary evidence.
O'Loan was scathing about how the case had been handled - and about the various mistakes, poor police work and avarice of many officers concerned.
She said opportunities to gather evidence were irretrievably lost during the first investigation, while forensic work in a second investigation was described by a senior officer as "pathetic".
"The family of Daniel Morgan has suffered grievously as a consequence of the failure to bring his murderer or murderers to justice: The unwarranted assurances which they were given, the misinformation which was put into the public domain, and the denial of failings in the investigation," O'Loan said at a news conference.
"We believe that concealing or denying failings, for the sake of an organization's public image is dishonesty, on the part of the organisation, for reputational benefit. This constitutes a form of institutional corruption."
London's police chief Cressida Dick, who was criticised in the report for delaying the panel's work by failing to give prompt access to records, apologised and said she regrets that no one has been convicted of the murder.
"Our mistakes have compounded the pain suffered by Daniel's family," she said.
Patel said she had asked Dick to provide a detailed response to the panel's findings, and she would provide an update when she had received it.
"Police corruption is a betrayal of everything policing stands for in this country," Patel said. "This is one of the most devastating episodes in the history of the Metropolitan Police."
London's Metropolitan Police has more than 43,000 officers and staff and is the United Kingdom's largest police service with 25% of the total police budget for England and Wales. (Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Giles Elgood, William Maclean)
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