An IT firm has told MPs it was aware of nine occasions when News International asked for emails to be deleted over the past 15 months but said it noticed nothing untoward about the requests, insisting the deletions were standard practice.
India-based HCL Technologies wrote to the Commons home affairs committee in response to questions about its relationship with the publisher of Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers, including the News of the World until its closure three weeks ago.
It said it did not store any emails or other data for News International but confirmed it managed the company’s computer systems. HCL said there were nine instances where the publisher requested the deletion of emails between April 2010 and July this year, but stressed that these kinds of discussions were “not at all unusual or untoward” for an IT services provider to have.
The requests included wiping more than 200,000 delivery failure messages, pruning old emails from the archives to stop the system crashing, and deleting duplicate emails after users were moved to a new version of software.
HCL’s lawyer, Stuart Benson, wrote to the committee: “My client is aware of nothing which appeared abnormal, untoward or inconsistent with its contractual role… It is of course a matter entirely for News International, the police and your committee as to whether there was any other agenda or subtext when issues of deletion arose, and that is a matter on which my client cannot comment.”
He stressed that because HCL did not store any data for News International, any suggestion that the IT firm deleted material held on behalf of the publisher was “utterly without foundation”. Internal News of the World emails have become a major focus for investigations into the phone hacking and police bribery scandals.
Top lawyers Harbottle & Lewis were hired by News International to defend a claim for wrongful dismissal by the News of the World’s former royal reporter, Clive Goodman after he was jailed for phone hacking in 2007.
The legal firm trawled through a large number of internal emails from the accounts of six people at the newspaper, including those of Goodman and former editor Andy Coulson.
It then wrote to News International in May 2007 to tell the company that nothing had come to light that contradicted the theory that the hacking had been restricted to a single rogue reporter working with a private detective.
But Lord Macdonald QC, the former director of public prosecutions who is now advising News International, told the home affairs committee last month that a police probe into alleged illegal payments to officers could have been launched as far back as 2007.
He said it was “blindingly obvious” when he reviewed a Harbottle & Lewis case file containing nine or 10 emails that the material had to be referred to the police.
A News International spokesman said: “Since January, News International has been actively working with the police on Operation Weeting with regards to email data and other computer information which may be relevant to their inquiry.
“NI keeps backups of its core systems and, in close co-operation with the Operation Weeting team, has been working to restore these backups.”