Detectives investigating phone hacking at the News of the World will have to trawl through 11 million emails after News International sources revealed yesterday that the company has given the Metropolitan Police access to an extensive archive of in-house communications that stretched back "over a period of many years".
Earlier this month at the High Court, Mr Justice Vos, who is managing a selection of civil cases against the now defunct newspaper, described as "significant" a new tranche of previously undiscovered documents.
The scale of the email archive is the latest development in a saga of conflicting accounts that at one point had NOTW executives in Scotland stating that six months' worth of emails had been sent to Mumbai in India and then lost. After an investigation by the Information Commissioner's office, NI later stated that its Mumbai explanation had been a "mistake".
The company denied yesterday that the emails had been part of a compulsory "disclosure" order. A spokeswoman for NI said: "We continue to co-operate fully with the Metropolitan Police in its investigations into phone hacking and police payments."
Mark Lewis, the lawyer acting for a number of hacking victims against News International, described the number of emails in NI's archive as "amazing" and added: "This calls into serious doubt the first police investigation under the former assistant commissioner, Andy Hayman, who described his efforts as 'not leaving a stone unturned'.
"Lord Justice Leveson [who is leading the judicial inquiry into phone hacking] must establish why that investigation was so inadequate and the subsequent review undertaken by John Yates [the former assistant commissioner at the Met] was also, in his own words, 'pretty crap'."
Labour MP Tom Watson, on the Commons culture committee investigating the use of illegal intercepts by the NOTW, asked: "Why did it take so long for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp company to disclose 11 million emails? This information comes out in dribs and drabs. It is now time for full and open disclosure without weasel word excuses."
The "lost emails" account was given during the perjury trial last year of Tommy Sheridan, the former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party. The former editor of the NOTW's Scotland edition, Bob Bird, claimed he had been told that emails requested by Mr Sheridan's lawyer, Aamer Anwar, had gone missing in India.
Mr Anwar, commenting on the scale of the email archive now opened to the Met, said: "First everything was lost in a black hole in Mumbai; then they said they'd looked and couldn't find any communications. None of this was likely for an international media company worth billions. Someone, or a group of News International execs, must have known these emails existed and could be looked at. A trail of who knew must exist and they should be held to account."
On another front, the NOTW's former assistant editor Ian Edmondson has joined its former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck,in claiming unfair dismissal. He will tell an employment tribunal tomorrow that he was a whistleblower and his dismissal was unwarranted. Both men have been arrested in the hacking investigation.