News of the World publisher News Group Newspapers has been accused of deliberately destroying evidence in an attempt to cover-up the full extent of phone-hacking at the defunct tabloid.
It was alleged at the High Court yesterday – where NGN parent company News International settled with 37 phone-hacking victims – that computers used by former NoW journalists had been destroyed in 2010, months before the Met launched its hacking investigation Operation Weeting.
The claim was made by the lawyer for the hacking victims, Jeremy Reed, who said that eight computers used by former reporters at the paper were destroyed when the company moved from Wapping to Thomas More Square in August 2010.
According to The Daily Telegraph, Reed yesterday told Mr Justice Vos that News International’s head of IT Paul Cheesbrough had said: ‘We have destroyed all the computers from that time.’
Reed claimed: ‘Here is a company that has deliberately destroyed the key computers and it is now standing here saying ‘we’ve only got the ones from after that so it’s disproportionate to search them’.’
A joint statement issued by the law firms Bindmans, Atkins Thomson and Steel & Shamash also noted that yesterday’s settlements had been agreed ‘on the basis that senior employees and directors of NGN knew about the wrongdoing and sought to conceal it by deliberately deceiving investigators and destroying evidence”.
News International, however, has denied this amounts to an admission of guilt over the cover-up claims. It released a statement yesterday evening saying: “Today NGN agreed settlements in respect of a number of claims against the company.
‘NGN made no admission as part of these settlements that directors or senior employees knew about the wrongdoing by NGN or sought to conceal it.
‘However, for the purpose of reaching these settlements only, NGN agreed that the damages to be paid to claimants should be assessed as if this was the case.”
Meanwhile, in comments quoted in today’s Guardian, Justice Vos suggested that NGN had made an ‘an admission of sorts” that it had carried out a cover up, when he told the publisher that he had seen evidence which raised “compelling questions about whether you concealed, told lies, actively tried to get off scot free”.
This includes emails showing that after the actress Sienna Miller wrote to NGN asking it to retain emails relating to phone-hacking ‘a previously conceived plan to conceal evidence was put in train by NGN managers”.
As part of yesterday’s settlement, the judge ordered NGN to continue searching for more evidence of hacking.