Hackgate VII: Some more questions…

The Guardian has run an interesting story on the deletion of apparently relevant evidence in the Hackgate cases: the Mysteries of Data Pool 3.  Key points appear to be:

“…Murdoch’s Management and Standards Committee has now handed them what may be the largest cache of evidence ever gathered by a police operation in this country, including the material that led to Saturday’s arrests.

“… including one particularly vast collection that may yet prove to be the stick that breaks the media mogul’s back. It is known as Data Pool 3.

“It contains several hundred million emails sent and received over the years by employees of the News of the World – and of the three other Murdoch titles.”

Data Pool 3 is now (reportedly) being searched by the Police.  The Guardian make this prediction:

“Third – and most nightmarish – Data Pool 3 could yield evidence of attempts to destroy evidence the high court and police were seeking. Data Pool 3 itself was apparently deliberately deleted from News International’s servers.

If proved, such conduct would be serious because it could see the courts imposing long prison sentences; and because it could have been sanctioned by senior employees and directors.

There is nothing in the story to specifically link the destruction to any of the lawyers involved.  If they are, this will dwarf the Tobacco/BATCo controversy, taken much more seriously in Australia than in the UK.

What they do say is this:

“During the summer of 2010, the actor Sienna Miller decided to sue the NoW for hacking into her voicemail. At the same time, according to evidence in the high court civil claim, internal emails were being sent urging that [a pre-existing] deletion plan be executed. Still, it was not.

“On 6 September 2010, Sienna Miller’s solicitor, Mark Thomson of Atkins Thomson, wrote to News International asking them to “preserve all the documents in your possession relating to our client’s private life”.

“On 9 September, an internal message pressed for the emails to be deleted “urgently”.

A key question for us is, who did Thomson write to (presumably NIs outside lawyers or Tom Crone) and what response if any did that prompt from the lawyer(s) in the chain between that and deletion.  This is emphasised by what Mr Justice Vos is reported as having said last month:

“Only three days after the solicitors for Sienna Miller had written their letter before action, asking specifically that the company should retain any emails concerned with the claim, what happened was that a previously conceived plan to delete emails was put into effect at the behest of senior management.”

As far as I am aware, we do not know whether Julian Pike was involved in the chain of correspondence emanating from Mr Thomson. I suspect not.  In relation to him, though, the story notes some interesting other details which emphasise concerns raised by me in previous posts.  Julian Pike from Farrer and Co has had to apologise for misleading the high court with a statement in December 2010 claiming NI were unable to retrieve emails more than six months old.  It appears from his evidence to the Select Committee that in Deecember 2010 he was  aware that his client had mislead of Parliament.    For me, this underlines the significance of his failure to cease to act.  In apologising, the Guardian reports, he, “acknowledged that News International could retrieve emails as far back as 2005 and that none had been lost en route to Mumbai. He said he had been misinformed.”  I imagine that he was also not that surprised when he found out he had been misinformed.  A plausible interpretation is that he had already seen how his client was engaging in a cover-up and relied on his client’s assertions that documents were not recoverable.  He nevertheless continued to represent them through a discovery exercise.  Professional embarassment is sometimes a very apt phrase.

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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One Response to Hackgate VII: Some more questions…

  1. rob says:

    The Court who heard the Sheridan perjury case involving the NOTW could also have been “misled” over the emails that went “missing” in transit to Mumbai.
    The weavers in the web that they made? As the unravellling increases it takes a lot to get it to hang together (appropriate phrase?) again.

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