Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Phone hacking: 'significant' email from News International executive emerges

High court told of message referring to hacking of 'well known individual' during hearing on civil claims against NoW publisher

News International
Phone hacking: the high court has been told of a 'significant' email from a News International executive. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
The existence of an email of "enormous significance" written by a News International executive that refers to the phone hacking of a "well-known individual" has emerged in the high court, in a hearing to discuss the progress of civil claims against the publisher of the News of the World.
Mr Justice Vos, presiding, said that the email was "sent by an executive whose identity you know" – but the name of the author, the precise content of the message, and who it was discussing remain confidential for legal reasons. But that did not stop lawyers representing hacking victims from asserting the importance of the communication.

David Sherbone, representing hacking victims in the high court on Wednesday, said that Vos should "understand the enormous significance of that email" which referred to a "well-known individual victim" and that the message contained "an instruction relating to an individual's phone".

In carefully choreographed proceedings, the court also heard that the email was first uncovered in March by News International's lawyers Linklaters in response to a search request made by the Met police. However, its existence was only disclosed to lawyers acting for hacking victims on Tuesday.

Sherborne said that he was concerned that this email was not disclosed to victims earlier even though it was of "obvious significance".

The significance of the email was underlined when Vos demonstrated to Sherborne how Linklaters would have found it using a "good old-fashioned" manual search.

In a moment of light-hearted banter, Vos motioned with his computer mouse and said the law firm would have gone up and down the inbox and outboxes on various accounts and when they came across the email would have stopped and said "gosh".

He joked that if Sherborne had had access to the inboxes, he would have put the email at the "top of the pile" of evidence, while "they [Linklaters] would put it somewhere near the bottom".

Vos added that Linklaters failed to tell phone-hacking claimants or the Leveson inquiry, he understood that the lawyers had "apologised and said in future they will do better".

Earlier the high court heard that the number of people suing News International over phone hacking by the News of the World is expected to double to 100. Hugh Tomlinson QC, for phone-hacking claimants, told Vos that 417 people had started the process of civil action and obtained disclosure of information from the publisher.

The Met police and about 50 of those were expected to go ahead with a full high court action against News International. He said this group was in addition to the 50 who had already lodged whose numbers include Cherie Blair, Wayne Rooney, footballer Peter crouch and actor James Nesbitt.

Tomlinson said many of those who had started the process of legal action were unhappy with the disclosure of information from News International and would lodge claims by the court's deadline of August. "At least tens of claimants who are proposing to issue claims rather than go through the [News International] compensation scheme or engage in direct settlement," Tomlinson said.

News international opened a voluntary compensation scheme for phone-hacking victims last year in a bid to deal with the growing scandal effectively. Michael Silverleaf, QC for News international, told the High court that the publisher had received 247 inquiries to the scheme with 79 settlements so far.

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