- TOP Murdoch man Will Lewis allegedly deleted millions of compromising emails in a criminal clean-up of evidence
- LEWIS is today on a four-person shortlist for the top job at the BBC – an interview for which he is due to have in June, but;
- NEWLY deployed legal papers now claim he oversaw the large-scale destruction of emails during a live police investigation
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
A SHORTLISTED candidate to become the Director General of the BBC masterminded a mass criminal cover-up of phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s companies, explosive High Court documents allege.
Will Lewis, the outgoing chief executive of the publisher of Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, is alleged to have overseen the systematic deletion of millions of potentially incriminating emails at the height of the phone hacking scandal.
The deleted emails allegedly implicated Murdoch’s son, James, two other Chief Executives and two high-powered lawyers accused of involvement in or knowledge of industrial-scale phone hacking, and unlawful use of private investigators, going back two decades.
“This targeted deletion was carried out by NGN in the belief that these emails would not be backed-up and would therefore be permanently lost”Claimants’ allegations
Among them is Rebekah Brooks, the current Chief Executive of News UK, which publishes The Sun and Sun on Sunday tabloids and The Times and Sunday Times broadsheets, and who was acquitted of conspiring to hack phones and pay bribes to officials after a criminal trial at the Old Bailey in 2014.
Mr Lewis was part of the Management and Standards Committee (MSC) instituted by the Murdochs in 2011 to protect their British news publishers from corporate charges as years of official denials that phone hacking at its newspapers extended beyond one “rogue reporter” started to unravel.
The 51-year-old former publisher of Murdoch’s influential Dow Jones is now a “wild card” entry into the race to succeed Tony Hall when he steps down later this year.
However, a damaging legal document, deployed today at the High Court in London as part of a major managed phone-hacking litigation sets out serious allegations against Mr Lewis that at present are due to be tested at a trial in October.
The papers – which set out the Claimants’ case alleging News UK’s predecessor News International set out to conceal and destroy evidence it was legally required to retain – claim Mr Lewis not only deliberately deleted “millions” of emails – but then permitted the wiping of back-up discs.
The alleged cover-up came as police were conducting a live investigation into phone hacking at the time, and early known victims News International’s unlawful newsgathering practice were suing the company, as part of which the company was required to preserve evidence.
Neither Mr Lewis, his colleagues, nor Murdoch’s publishing company ‘News Group Newspapers’ (NGN) has admitted, nor responded to, the allegations.
The Claimants’ document states: “Mr Lewis was part of the senior management which organised or allowed extensive deletions of millions of emails to take place without preserving back-ups, in September 2010 and in January and February 2011, even though he was aware of the need to preserve data for (a) the civil claims, which were in full swing by the time of his arrival in September 2010, and (b) by the second week of January 2011, the live police investigation.”
Rupert Murdoch first hired Will Lewis – formerly a journalist at the Financial Times, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph, where he became the youngest editor-in-chief and oversaw the newspaper’s investigation into MPs’ expenses – in 2010, to help manage the emerging phone hacking crisis.
He was Group General Manager of News International from September 2010 to July 2011 and in charge of handling the flow of evidence from the company – which was assisting despite being a suspect itself – to detectives of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Weeting relevant to their enquiries.
However, it is claimed that rather than handing all of the evidence over to the police immediately, Lewis allegedly orchestrated delays, giving time for him and his senior colleagues to destroy emails.
The other alleged plot include three people to sit as Chief Executive of News International – Les Hinton, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. Also named are John Chapman, who was the Director of Legal Affairs for News International, between July 2003 until July 2011, and Tom Crone, Legal Manager for both News Group Newspapers and News International, responsible for The Sun and The News of the World.
The key allegations are contained in a 137-page case called the Generic Particulars of Claim of Concealment and Destruction (GPoC). It has emerged fully only now in the fourth wave of claims against the Murdoch publisher to pass through the High Court. None has yet made it to a trial, as the company has so far paid off all claimants.
The allegations are that Lewis carried out two kinds of email deletions; ‘Batch deletions’ involving the email accounts of many employees, and ‘targeted deletions’ which focused specifically on powerful executives allegedly involved in phone hacking.
The orders were allegedly given by Lewis and Brooks and approved by their lawyers, with the technical deletions ‘physically’ implemented by IT managers Paul Cheesbrough and Chris Birch.
Also named is Lewis’s right-hand-man Simon Greenberg, a former Sports Editor who now works for Murdoch’s US operations.
The document adds: “Mr Lewis was heavily and directly involved in the email deletion strategy relied on by the Claimants above (including both the batch and targeted deletions).
“Together with Mr Chapman, Mr Lewis was directly responsible for drafting the vague criteria for emails to be preserved at the time of the batch deletions, which, as Mr Lewis was aware at the time, meant that any data that was considered not to fall within the criteria would be deleted.
“The targeted deletion of emails of various executives (including but not limited to James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Les Hinton and John Chapman) was carried out on about 14 January 2011 by Chris Birch on behalf of NGN, at the instruction of Paul Cheesbrough.”
The alleged cover-up was triggered, after compromising emails were found between Ian Edmondson, the News of The World’s ex-News Editor, and the paper’s £100,000-a-year in-house private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
Mulcaire had already been to jail in 2007 for hacking the Royal household and Edmondson was imprisoned in 2015 after pleading guilty to intercepting voicemails. The practice has been found to be widespread at the company, but between August 2006 and January 2011 the firm was insisting only one journalist, former Royal Editor Clive Goodman was involved.
The document states: “It (targeted deletion) was urgently carried out a few days after highly incriminating emails had been found implicating Ian Edmondson and other senior journalists in unlawful information gathering and pending further disclosure and information, averred to be pursuant to a plan devised by senior executives including but not limited to Rebekah Brooks, Jon Chapman, Will Lewis, Paul Cheesbrough, Simon Greenberg and Tom Crone to conceal evidence.”
The document adds: “Despite being under a duty to preserve it, both as a result of the existing litigation and/or the requests from the MPS and/or, in the case of Mr Chapman and Mr Crone, their professional duties.
“The process was carried out personally by Mr Birch because Essential Computing (an external IT company) were not prepared to do so themselves
“This targeted deletion was carried out by NGN in the belief that these emails would not be backed-up and would therefore be permanently lost.”
In the next part of this court report, Byline Investigates will reveal how the back-up tapes were allegedly ‘scratched’, and the timeline of events that led-up to it.
Mr Lewis has just finished a six-year-stint as Editor of the Wall Street Journal, the jewel in the crown of News Corp’s international publications.
- The case continues…