Lawrence Abramson says brief was 'narrow' and did not involve discussions about illegal activities
The senior lawyer at the law firm accused by Rupert Murdoch of making "a major mistake" in the News of the World investigation into phone hacking is adamant he did not discover any evidence of criminal activity at the paper.
It is understood that Lawrence Abramson insists the brief handed by News International to Harbottle & Lewis, where he then worked, was "narrow" and did not involve any discussion about illegal activities such as paying police.
The lawyer has told sources that Harbottle & Lewis did not discuss "criminal activity" with the News International executive who had hired the firm and it was "never on the radar".
Harbottle, also lawyers for the Prince of Wales, had been asked to examine about 2,500 internal emails exchanges among staff following claims by the paper's former royal editor, Clive Goodman, that his editor, Andy Coulson, knew about phone hacking and that others on the paper were also involved in the same activity.
It is believed Abramson – who now works at another law firm, Fladgate – is unhappy with reports on Friday claiming he had raised concerns with News International about criminal activities but they had dismissed them. Abramson is a commercial lawyer and would not necessarily have recognised criminal activity in the first instance.
In a letter to the culture, sport and media select committee, Abramson, says he queried about a dozen emails out of the 2,500 looked at by members of his team at Harbottle. The lawyer wanted to know if the emails fell inside his remit.
When he asked News International what he should do about them it was explained to him why these fell outside "the scope of what News International Limited ("News") had instructed Harbottle & Lewis to consider".
News International's former head of legal affairs, Jon Chapman, made similar remarks at the select committee on Tuesday when asked why a dozen emails fell outside the scope of the inquiry.
"If that's a suggestion that there were some that indicated criminal activity other than voicemail interception, I do not think he is trying to say that. I do not really understand that sentence – I have not had the benefit of looking at his evidence," said Chapman.