Harbottle & Lewis dragged into News International phone-hacking row

This is an archive article. For further developments on this story see Select Committee exonerates Harbottle over Murdoch’s ‘major mistake’ claim.

Emails sent to Harbottle & Lewis as part of News International’s (NI) 2007 enquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World have been retrieved from the firm as part of a fresh investigation and are reported to point to further illegal activity at the paper.

NI has since asked criminal firm Hickman & Rose to review the email dossier.

According to reports by the BBC and The Guardian, the emails, which have been passed to the police, indicate that payments were being made to police in return for information, as well as showing that phone hacking went beyond just one “rogue” reporter.

This was despite a statement made to the Commons culture, media and sport select committee in 2009 by former News of the World editor Colin Myler.

Myler told the committee that the 2007 investigation, led by parent company NI’s director of legal affairs Jon Chapman, who has since left the company, and based on the examination of around 2,500 emails, found no evidence of more widespread illegal activity at the paper.

Harbottle & Lewis was instructed in 2007 to help with the investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World after the paper’s former royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for hacking royal aides’ phones, and was sent a dossier of emails.

Following a review of the emails, Lawrence Abramson, then a partner at Harbottles, wrote to Chapman on 29 May 2007, stating: “I can confirm that we did not find anything in those emails which appeared to us to be reasonable evidence that Clive Goodman’s illegal actions were known about and supported by both or either of Andy Coulson, the Editor, and Neil Wallis, the Deputy Editor, and/or that Ian Edmondson, the News Editor, and others were carrying out similar illegal procedures.”

However, it is not clear what was Harbottle’s brief, or what its instructions were regarding the discovery of illegal activities peripheral to Goodman’s actions. In a statement, Abramson, now a partner at Fladgate, said: “Professional duty of confidentiality prevents me from commenting on this.”

According to reports, only 300 emails – out of the 2,500 mentioned by Myler – were sent to Harbottle & Lewis as part of the 2007 investigation. The 300 emails were retrieved earlier this year by lawyers acting for NI and for William Lewis – NI’s general manager who joined the company in July 2010 and is now in charge of investigating the News of the World – and were sent to the police last month.

Harbottle & Lewis declined to comment.