James Murdoch involved in News International email deletion, court told

High court hears claim made on behalf of 17 people suing publisher of the News of the World and Sun over alleged phone hacking

James Murdoch was personally involved in authorising the deletion of emails at News International in early 2010 when the phone-hacking scandal was taking off, it has been alleged in the high court.

Acting on behalf of 17 people suing the publisher of the now-defunct News of the World and the Sun over alleged phone hacking, David Sherborne claimed on Monday there were documents, emails and meeting agendas that showed senior executives including Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks pursued an email deletion policy that removed “emails that could be unhelpful in future litigation in which News International could be a defendant”.

Email deletion, which News International has always maintained was part of legitimate housekeeping, was on the “agenda of and/or discussed and approved by” Murdoch on at least six occasions between January and April 2010, according to written arguments submitted to the court by the claimants.

The policy referred to by Sherborne aimed “to eliminate in a consistent manner across NI (subject to compliance with legal and regulatory requirements as to retention) emails that could be unhelpful in the context of future litigation in which an NI company is a defendant.” Murdoch was executive chairman of News International between 2007 and 2012. He is now chairman of the UK broadcaster Sky.

Brooks’s involvement in ordering a general deletion of emails while chief executive of News International was revealed during the criminal phone-hacking trial in 2013 in which she was acquitted of all charges. Last year, she was made chief executive of News UK, the successor to News International, which owns the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.

Rebekah Brooks
Rebekah Brooks. Photograph: Arthur Edwards/News UK/PA

Part of the evidence presented includes an email sent in August 2010 by Andrew Hickey, who was the CIO of News International, to Jon Chapman, an in-house lawyer at the company, which references both Brooks and Murdoch, saying Murdoch wanted to “draw a line” under the organisation’s time in its Wapping HQ prior to 2010.

“Fyi also spoke with her [Brooks] on this and fine with what we are doing but adamant on Jan 2010 and has discussed it with JRM who wants to draw a line under Wapping and pre-2010. Can you pop round to discuss implications with me thanks andy,” it read.

Andrew Green QC, acting for News Group Newspapers, a News UK subsidiary, said it had previously provided a “non-admission” concerning the email deletion programme, but would be prepared to set out the position again given the extent of the allegations, in particular their relation to the Sun.

Mr Justice Mann told Green that “there should be a proper pleading ... even if it turns out to be a blanket denial” and gave them 21 days to respond.

When the Crown Prosecution Service announced in December 2015 that there would be no further criminal action on phone hacking, it said it had considered evidence of email deletion and decided that there were “legitimate reasons for companies to have an email deletion policy … In this case, there is no evidence to suggest that email deletion was undertaken in order to pervert the course of justice.”

The allegations about email deletion were made during a case management hearing in the civil case, during which lawyers from NGN tried to limit the disclosure of documents and emails that the claimants say show phone hacking took place over a longer period than previously thought, and was not confined to the News of the World. NGN says the extent of disclosure asked for by the claimants is not proportionate.

News UK did not immediately return a request for comment.

A full trial is expected to take place in the new year.

Contributor

Jasper Jackson

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