Dozens of documents that Scotland Yard should have handed over to an official inquiry into its corruption were instead left in a locked cabinet located on the same floor as its commissioner, the Guardian has learned.

The revelation relates to 95 pages of documents the force now accepts it should have given to the Daniel Morgan inquiry, investigating the unsolved murder of the private detective and the role corruption played in shielding his killers.

The inquiry was ordered by the government and reported in June 2021, damning the Metropolitan police as institutionally corrupt and for obstructing its inquiry.

The cabinet with the documents was on the seventh floor of the Met’s headquarters in Whitehall and discovered in January 2023. The commissioner and deputy commissioner have their offices on that floor, which also has open-plan offices for other Met leaders and their aides, as well as the force chaplain.

The Met accepted the failure was “unacceptable and deeply regrettable” and apologised to Morgan’s family, who have fought a campaign for justice of more than 35 years to get answers. It did not, in a statement, reveal which floor the documents were found on, nor confirm it.

The Morgan inquiry, chaired by Nuala O’Loan, also personally censured the then Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, finding she had hampered their inquiry, a finding that she denied.

The Morgan family said: “What we see here is precisely the kind of conduct that was identified as institutional corruption in the panel’s June 2021 report: it appears that the Met’s first objective remains to protect itself, concealing its failings for the sake of its public image and reputational benefit.”

Another 71 pages of material that should have been given to the official policing inspectorate, which held its own inquiry into the Morgan scandal, were also found in the locked cabinet.

Assistant commissioner Barbara Gray said: “We fully acknowledge how unacceptable and deeply regrettable this situation is. We are working to understand what has taken place and any impact. We apologise to the family of Daniel Morgan and to the panel.”

The discovery of documents on the floor where the Met’s leadership is based raised the possibility of a new discipline inquiry.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has asked the body that would refer any possible disciplinary action against former commissioner Cressida Dick, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (Mopac), to assess the newly discovered material to see if there should be a new inquiry.

Under the Police Reform Act, Mopac only assesses material if the potential inquiry would be into the Met commissioner, who at the time was Dick.

The IOPC said: “We have also asked the MPS [Metropolitan police service] and Mopac to assess whether any conduct matters should be recorded in connection with the failure to provide documents to the DMIP [Daniel Morgan independent panel] at all, or in a timely manner and to assess whether any conduct matters should be recorded as a result of the information contained in the documents.”

After the Morgan report in 2021 neither the IOPC nor Mopac thought the allegations against Dick made by the inquiry should lead to disciplinary action. The IOPC will study the new material to see if any action should follow.

The case of Daniel Morgan is one of the gravest chapters of shame in the Met’s history. The private eye was found dead in a south London pub car park in March 1987 with an axe embedded in his head.

The Met accepts that corruption blighted the hunt for his killers and no one has ever been convicted. Morgan’s family believe some of the suspects had connections to corrupt police officers and also to the now-defunct tabloid the News of the World, which closed in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

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The inquiry into the Morgan case found former commissioner Cressida Dick had hampered its work. The force denied this alongside the conclusion it was institutionally corrupt and more interested in protecting its reputation than uncovering and fixing failings.

In this latest revelation, the Met said the documents were first found in January 2023, 18 months after the Morgan inquiry report was made public.

The Morgan family questioned why it took four months to inform them after only being told by the Met on Tuesday, saying: “No explanation has been forthcoming as to why it took the Met over four months to inform us of this development.

“In the circumstances, we consider we are entitled to ask whether the information has come to light only because, as we understand it, the media had already got hold of the story.”

The seventh floor of the Met’s headquarters contains two private offices, for the Met and deputy commissioner. It is also home to the force’s leadership, which sits on its management board and works from an open-plan space. Their assistants and the force chaplain also inhabit the floor.

The Morgan family added: “We were informed last night – by way of a letter from assistant commissioner Barbara Gray – that these documents had been ‘stored in a locked cabinet at New Scotland Yard following a handover between senior officers in 2014’ and accessed only when ‘the Met forced entry into this secure storage’ in January 2023.”

In a statement, the Met said: “The paperwork was found in a locked cabinet that had not been used for a number of years at New Scotland Yard. A careful assessment has been completed to understand the significance of the documents and any potential impact.

“Some of this material should have been disclosed to DMIP [Daniel Morgan Inquiry panel] which published its final report in June 2021.”

The Met moved into its headquarters in 2016 after the Morgan inquiry was ordered by then home secretary, Theresa May, in 2013.

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