Reliability of News International's email trawl is questioned

Hacking inquiry may be delayed after Murdoch firm admits to 'technical issues' with data search

The reliability of News International's trawl for internal emails relating to the phone-hacking scandal was thrown into doubt at the High Court yesterday, as the firm admitted there were "technical issues" with its software.

The newly discovered problems with NI's computer database search emerged as the company was forced to ask for the postponement of a hearing in its case against Mary Ellen Field, a former adviser to model Elle Macpherson.

Ms Field is claiming compensation from NI after being sacked by Macpherson, who blamed her for leaking a series of stories to the tabloid press. Macpherson was a victim of News of the World phone hacking, which Ms Field claims was the actual source of the articles.

NI wants her case dismissed, claiming that Macpherson's phone was hacked only after Ms Field was sacked.

But yesterday NI's counsel Michael Silverleaf QC admitted that there were newly discovered "technical issues with data extraction software" that required a postponement.

He told the court he did not know if the software difficulties were affecting the "integrity" of data searches at NI, which have been previously conducted in conjunction with the Met's Operation Weeting investigation. Earlier this month at a hearing of the latest wave of civil actions brought by victims of phone hacking, it was revealed that NI had disclosed just 12 internal emails from a data trawl that focused on the period 2000 to 2005.

NI has spent £1m on what the Metropolitan Pol-ice has termed "disclosure searches" of its databases and archives. Other document searches and forecasts for similar exercises next year will take the cost of the overall data trawl past £7m. Last year Scotland Yard admitted it was involved in searching 300 million NI emails as part of investigations into phone hacking at the publisher's now-closed Sunday tabloid, the News of the World.

Evidence found in databases that had been thought "destroyed", but were subsequently reconstructed, has been crucial to the Met's investigation of hacking and the bribery of public officials.

The revelation of problems with NI's email trawl comes barely a week after Mr Justice Vos, the judge in the second wave of civil actions, ruled that further disclosures from the Rupert Murdoch-owned company's databases could not be justified.

In the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday, Mr Silverleaf could not give assurances that the newly discovered "technical issues" would not affect the rest of civil and criminal actions going through the courts.

Following the postponement of Ms Field's case, her lawyer Mark Lewis, who has been a key legal figure throughout the hacking scandal representing a number of high-profile victims, said: "This raises questions of reliability of [NI's] reconstruction of missing documents. It may be that we will now never know the full extent of this documentation." He added: "This has a wider impact. Not just about Mary Ellen Field, but an impact on all other cases."

Ms Field's case will now be heard in November after NI was given time by Mr Justice Vos to re-ex-amine the extent of the data extraction problem.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
booksNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015