News Group Newspapers are instructed to search databases for evidence it concealed wrongdoing – which they deny exists
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
RUPERT Murdoch’s News UK repeatedly lied about the true scale of illegal newsgathering at its tabloid newspapers and destroyed millions of emails and hundreds of computer hard drives in a major criminal conspiracy, according to documents revealed at the High Court in London.
The company – which publishes The Sun, and until it closed in the hacking scandal the News of the World – sought to pervert the course of justice by ordering evidence to be destroyed even after it had been legally required to retain it, according to lawyers acting for alleged victims of Press intrusion.
The slew of damaging claims – seen by Byline Investigations in a wide-ranging, 70-page legal document – come as Mr Murdoch is attempting to engineer a £11.7 bn takeover of Sky by 21st Century Fox.
TV watchdog Ofcom is weighing-up the evidence and will announce its findings in a report – which has been postponed until after the General Election – on June 21st.
A similar review by Ofcom in 2012 judged that James Murdoch’s behaviour as Executive Chairman of News Group Newspapers during the 2011 phone hacking scandal “repeatedly fell short of the conduct expected of him” – but decided there was “no reasonable basis to conclude” he was involved in any wrong-doing.
The evidence upon which Ofcom based that conclusion is now facing a new test, with News UK poised for the first time, next month, to start handing over documents relating to allegations of phone hacking at its market-leading tabloid The Sun, as well as any conspiracy to destroy evidence after the hacking scandal broke.
On Friday, News UK’s lawyers Clifford Chance faced criticism at court for failing to properly address the vast majority of allegations levelled at the company and its employees.
Having been granted extra time to respond to the claimants, who say their phones were hacked by The Sun – something News UK denies – the company produced a defence largely consisting of what amounts to a series of ‘no comments’.
Lawyers for the claimants have asked News Group Newspapers (News UK) to provide emails and documents relating to alleged hacking and cover-ups to destroy the evidence.
One example involved the Spice Girls, the pop group that was the subject of huge tabloid interest from the mid-nineties onwards.
NGN has agreed to look for evidence that the Spice Girls were hacked in 1998.
Documents connected to News UK’s Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks and Sun on Sunday Editor Victoria Newton are being searched to find out if they contain references to hacking and the Spice Girls.
Lawyers for the claimants are focussing on a dozen allegations of hacking and destruction of evidence that could be linked to Brooks, but no evidence has been found yet.
Brooks denies hacking and concealment of evidence and her lawyers say this did not happen.
News UK has also agreed to search archives connected to the former Deputy Editor of the News of The World, Neil Wallis.
Wallis – known as ‘The Wolfman’ on Fleet Street for his resemblance to a sci-fi movie comic character and aggressive newsroom style – is linked to alleged hacks on the Royal Family, Sienna Miller and former Home Secretary David Blunkett.
He was cleared of hacking at a criminal trial.
Lawyers for NGN have denied that voicemail interception took place at The Sun and that claims of a cover-up are not true.
NGN has vowed to fight the case, when it comes to trial in October, vigorously.
Counsel for NGN, Anthony Hudson QC, told the court the company had electronically searched its files and got 29,000 hits which needed to be manually reviewed further.
The hearing dealt with disputes between the claimants and NGN over further document searches that maybe required.