- NEW EXPLOSIVE REVELATIONS AT THE HIGH COURT RAISE MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT POTENTIAL BBC BOSS
- WILL LEWIS ALLEGEDLY ORGANISED AND AUTHORISED THE DELETION OF EMAILS IMPLICATING REBEKAH BROOKS AND JAMES MURDOCH IN THE NEWS INTERNATIONAL HACKING SCANDAL
- EVEN THE BACK UP DISC WAS WIPED, LEGAL DOCUMENTS ALLEGE
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
BBC top job candidate Will Lewis allegedly authorised multiple mass deletions of phone hacking emails for Rupert Murdoch.
The High Court has previously heard how Lewis organised the wiping of a batch of millions of compromising emails in late January 2011.
However, as the police closed-in, he authorised another company-wide erasure the following month, in February 2011.
Forensic details of the alleged cover-up at News International are slowly emerging during long-running civil litigation at the High Court.
Around 120 claimants are still suing The Sun, and the now defunct News of the World, for unlawful information gathering.
But their lawyers claim, that the harm which may have been done to them, was aggravated by the alleged concealment of crimes, and the destruction of evidence.
Lewis has just left the Murdoch empire, but is now lined-up for a final interview, for the post of Director General at the BBC.
However, potentially damaging allegations in the High Court, may raise questions about his suitability for Britain’s most prestigious media role.
They relate, to when he was brought into Murdoch’s Wapping HQ ten years ago, purportedly to manage the phone hacking crisis that was engulfing the News of the World.
Court documents claim that Lewis helped organise one batch of deletions, which started on the 14th January 2011.
Lawyers allege, that contained within them, were compromising messages which had originally been sent and received, in 2005 and 2006.
The police, were particularly interested in these years, because phone hacking was rife, and the paper’s internal private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire and the Royal Editor, Clive Goodman, had been arrested in August 2006.
However, messages from the following year 2007, were also subsequently wiped on 8 February 2011.
The Claimants’ lawyers argue, that 2007 was a key period, because that’s when the company executives, including James Murdoch and Les Hinton began in earnest hiding evidence of activities, amid the fall-out from the Mulcaire and Goodman convictions.
A witness statement by Mark Thomson, a senior lawyer for the claimants, sets-out a timeline of the deletion in early February 2011.
This shows, that three emails which implicated senior News Editor, Ian Edmondson, in phone-hacking were handed to the Met Police on 26 January 2011, and that the MPS immediately launched a new Investigation (Operation Weeting).
Detective Superintendent Dean Haydon had been informed of Mr Edmondson’s dismissal at 4.30pm on 25 January 2011.
DSU Dean Haydon was told that NGN had just sacked Edmondson because they had “recently” found incriminating material, which they wanted to disclose to the Police.
On the following day, Wednesday 26 January 2011, at 10am hard copies of the three incriminating emails were handed over to DSU Haydon.
The MPS publicly announced on the same day the launch of Operation Weeting to be run by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers.
But it was also on this very same day 26 January 2011, and over the next 48 hours upto 28 January 2011, that NGN instructed an IT sub-contractor to prepare the “batch deletion” of emails- all those dating from 2005 and 2006.
But the IT boss declined to press the “delete” button, so that a News International staffer eventually pressed the “delete” button for 10 million emails.
However, a week later at the beginning of February, Will Lewis was allegedly authorising the most senior IT executive called Paul Cheesbrough to delete more emails.
Mr Thompson wrote: ‘On Thursday 3 February 2011, Will Lewis emailed Paul Cheesbrough stating as follows:
“I spoke with Jon Chapman (senior lawyer) and he has given the green light to proceeding with our email migration process.”
The phrase ‘email migration process’ is a euphemism for a system of deletions, lawyers have argued.
A few days later, on Monday 7 February and Tuesday 8 February 2011, it was confirmed that all 5.5 million emails from 2007 emails had been deleted.
This means, as at the end of the 8 February 2011, a total of at least 15.5 million emails had allegedly been deleted, a criminal investigation had been announced, and 5.5 million of these were deleted one day before News International were scheduled to discuss the availability of emails with the police.
According to Mr Thomson, one detective gave the following account:
‘From 28th January 2011 to 8th February 2011 approximately 20 million e- mails were deleted from the Nl e-mail archives by Essential Computing (a sub-contractor) acting under NI’s direction.
‘The e-mails date from the period up to 2007, which is the relevant period for phone hacking activity. This action was taken despite the fact that Nl was aware of the police investigation and of the potential relevance of the material being deleted.’
Among those accused of conspiring in the alleged cover-up 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.
Mr Lewis was later a key part of the Management and Standards Committee (MSC) instituted by the Murdoch’s in July 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 earlier this month 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.
NGN deny or do not admit that a cover-up took place.