Will Lewis – New allegations of more Murdoch message deletions

  • NEW EXPLOSIVE revelations at the High Court raise more questions about the man who has just lost out on BBC top job
  • WILL LEWIS allegedly organised and authorised the deletion of emails as part of a News International cover-up
  • EMAILS ALLEGEDLY implicating Rebekah Brooks were wiped
  • JAMES MURDOCH’S messages were also destroyed
  • THE HIGH COURT is told about the latest twist in The Sun and News Of The World hacking scandal
  • LEWIS AUTHORISED email purge a week after police launch new investigation
  • FIVE MILLION EMAILS deleted the day before police met News International to discuss searching system

The boss: Rupert Murdoch leaves News International headquarters in Wapping, east London, with News International Group General Manager Will Lewis, in July 2011 (c) Lewis Whyld/PA Archive/PA Images
The boss: Rupert Murdoch leaves News International headquarters in Wapping, east London, with News International Group General Manager Will Lewis, in July 2011 (c) Lewis Whyld/PA Archive/PA Images

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 an initial purge, in which a batch of millions of compromising emails were wiped in late January 2011.

The destruction of potential evidence took place AFTER the Metropolitan Police had launched a new top level inquiry, in which News International had pledged “full” cooperation.

However, as the police closed-in, Lewis authorised another company-wide erasure the following month, in February 2011.

The Group General Manager authorised the deletion of 5.5 million emails – all destroyed on the day before a meeting between News International executives and the police.

The meeting was specifically to discuss the preservation of emails for officers, and how they could search them for clues about phone hacking.

Will Lewis made it down to the final four for the post of BBC Director General – however, the job was given to serving BBC executive Tim Davie, which was announced today.

It is not known whether the allegations about Mr Lewis affected his chances.

BBC Portland Place. By Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY 2.0)
BBC Portland Place. By Herry Lawford (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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, and was lined-up for a final interview, for the post of Director General at the BBC.

However, he lost out at the last hurdle, amid speculation about his suitability for Britain’s most prestigious media job, and it is not known what he will do now.

The Royal Courts Of Justice. By David Castor. Licensed Under CC0 1.0
The Royal Courts Of Justice. By David Castor. Licensed Under CC0 1.0

The allegations 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.

The story mainly centres around two purges.

The first wiped ten million emails.

The second deletion destroyed a further 5.5 million emails.

However, it’s the timing of these actions, which lawyers say is suspicious.

Particularly because the police, and victims of phone hacking, had put the company on notice to preserve evidence.

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.

By the mid 2000s, the industrial-scale use of illegal private investigators was common-place at the News of the World.

The year 2006 also stood-out because the paper’s internal private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire and its Royal Editor, Clive Goodman, had both been arrested in August, for listening to the voicemails of palace aides.

Goodman quickly pleaded guilty.

However, despite this initial deletion authorised by Will Lewis, the upshot was that messages from the following year 2007, still remained on the system.

But not for long – because these were also subsequently wiped, in another purge, less than a month later, on 8 February 2011.

Questions: Will Lewis giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into Press abuse in 2012
Questions: Will Lewis giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into Press abuse in 2012

The Claimants argue, that 2007 was a key period, because that’s when Chief Executives – namely Les Hinton, James Murdoch and latterly Rebekah Brooks – began in earnest hiding evidence of activities.

The alleged cover-up took place 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 around the deletions in early February 2011.

The chain-of-events had been set-off, when an internal probe at Wapping found three suspicious emails.

But this had happened on January 6th 2011.

They were exchanges between a News Editor called Ian Edmondson, and Glenn Mulcaire, who was phone hacking for him.

This was significant, because it meant that Clive Goodman had not been the only journalist using Mulcaire, as put forward in News International’s now-infamous ‘one-rogue-reporter’ defence.

The timeline shows, that the three emails which implicated Edmondson in phone-hacking, were handed to the Met Police on 26 January 2011.

Armed with evidence of wider criminality, the MPS immediately launched a new investigation, codenamed Operation Weeting.

Edmondson was also sacked.

Detective Superintendent (DSU) Dean Haydon had been informed of his 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.

However, the police did not know what the description “recently” really meant.

Because the compromising emails had actually been discovered THREE weeks earlier.

The delay bought some time for executives, the claimants allege, in order to plan and execute mass email deletions – even though the police and victims’ lawyers had told them to preserve evidence.

NI have pleaded that the emails were deleted for “normal business reasons,” because the archive they were using had become too big and unwieldy, and was prone to crashing.

The Company has denied seeking to pervert the course of justice, and argues that it was switching email systems, at the same time as moving offices.

Their lawyers have claimed that the overlap with the police investigation, and the legal claims it was facing, was a coincidence.

It is also alleged that back-up tapes were wiped as part of the cover-up, but News claim it was done because of a data security scare.

Key email accounts, that Lewis had decided were the only ones that needed to be preserved, had been extracted in mid-January onto a laptop.

The cache was held by senior management for three weeks, before being handed over to a specialist forensic subcontractor for examination.

On 10am the day after Edmondson was sacked, Wednesday 26 January 2011, hard copies of the three incriminating emails were finally handed over to DSU Haydon.

The MPS publicly announced that afternoon the launch of Operation Weeting, to be run by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers.

But it was also on this very same day of 26 January 2011 – and over the next 48 hours upto 28 January 2011- that further suspicious activity took place.

NGN instructed an IT sub-contractor to prepare the “batch deletion” of emails – all those dating from 2005 and 2006

Former boss: James Murdoch (c) PA
Former boss: James Murdoch (c) PA

But there was hesitation.

The external IT specialist thought the deletions to be extraordinary.

He refused to press the “delete” button, so that a senior News International IT executive was required to do it.

As a result, ten million emails were destroyed on 28 and 29 January 2011.

However, a week later at the beginning of February, Will Lewis was already allegedly authorising extra deletions.

Lewis asked his own head of IT, Paul Cheesbrough, to delete more messages.

Mr Thomson 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 “cover” for the programme 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, dating from 2007 had been deleted.

More follows in Part 2 of this special court report.

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