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July 22, 2015

News International lawyer fined £20k over review of emails which fuelled cover-up claim

By PA Media Lawyer

Solicitor Lawrence Abramson, the man hired by News International – now News UK – to look through emails for evidence that staff knew about phone-hacking has been fined £20,000 for unprofessional behaviour.

Abramson, who was at the time the managing partner at law firm Harbottle and Lewis, was also ordered to pay £15,000 in costs.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (DST) imposed the penalty as it found that he was guilty of unprofessional behaviour.

In 2007 Mr Abramson was instructed by Les Hinton, the then executive chairman of News International, to examine a mass of emails between various staff on the News of the World to see if there was evidence that other News of the World staff knew about phone-hacking.

The review was launched after the newspaper's former Royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted of phone-hacking and jailed.

Abramson was asked to conduct an independent review so that there could be no accusations of a company cover-up.

But he admitted that he had failed to look at "toxic" emails which appeared to show evidence of illegal activity, despite having been warned about them by junior staff in his office who were working on the review under his supervision.

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His failure to identify wrongdoing contributed to the decision by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee to allege in May 2012 that MPs had been misled and that News International had staged a cover-up.

Labour MP Tom Watson, a member of the committee, referred Abramson and Jon Chapman, who was at that time News International's legal director, to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), accusing them of having hidden potential evidence of illegal activities.

But in a decision published yesterday the tribunal cleared Chapman – who left News International in 2011 – of all three charges against him.

Abramson admitted failing in his duty to his client, but was cleared of two further charges, of compromising or impairing his independence and his integrity.

Finding that Abramson had failed in his duty to his client, the SDT said that he was "entirely culpable for his misconduct in relation to his proper standard of work", adding: "His misfortune was wholly self-inflicted."

But it described his error as a "genuine, major, but inadvertent oversight", adding that his "misconduct was a single episode in a previously unblemished career".

The SDT's decision, disclosed yesterday, was finalised in February, after hearings in October and December last year, but withheld from publication because of the risk that publication could prejudice phone-hacking trials either taking place or pending at the time.

Picture: The former News International building in Wapping, credit Reuters

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