Seized News International iPhones may hold evidence of hacking cover-up

 

The iPhones of two senior News International executives, which were "heavily used" during a period when the News of the World continued to deny phone hacking was rife at the paper, may hold important evidence relevant to the police investigation, the High Court heard yesterday.

Mr Justice Vos ordered News International to "preserve" the iPhones of the executives at a case management conference to discuss the latest phase of hacking claims made against Rupert Murdoch's company.

The key timeframe for phone hacking at the NOTW is regarded as between 2000 and 2006, when the paper's royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, was arrested alongside private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. NI subsequently insisted that the practice had been restricted to one "rogue reporter".

But victims' lawyers sought access to the two iPhones as they believe text messages within them – as well as email accounts accessed by them – may contain material pointing to concealment of hacking at high levels inside Wapping. Apple's smartphone was not launched in the UK until almost a year after the jailing of Goodman and Mulcaire.

David Sherborne, a counsel for the victims, told the court: "There is evidence suggesting that senior executives at News International have company iPhones which were heavily used during the period. Our primary concern is the preservation of these iPhones and the email accounts that relate to them."

News International, which has been notified by Scotland Yard to keep the iPhones secure, has not revealed the identity of the executives to whom they belong. The company's leading counsel, Michael Silverleaf QC, told the court: "It has not been established yet what these materials [held on the phones or their accounts] are, whether they exist, or whether they are relevant." He said details relating to the phones were at an "investigation stage".

The court was also told that with the addition of recent legal actions, NI are now facing up to 520 claims. Three new names have been added to the victims' roster in the last month, including Professor John Tulloch, who was a metre away from the 7 July London bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan when he detonated a bomb in his rucksack.

Hannah Pawlby, a senior aide to Charles Clarke when he was Home Secretary, also lodged a claim, as did Lewis Sproston, the boyfriend of murdered model Sally Anne Bowman.

The court was also told that lawyers involved in phone-hacking cases should have their fees capped at £600 an hour. Stating that he did not want the fees earned by barristers and solicitors to get "out of hand", Mr Justice Vos said he would set "relatively low rates" of £600 an hour for leading barristers, £330 an hour for junior barristers and between £140 and £400 an hour for solicitors.