Phone Hacking

Did Washington Post publisher ‘pervert the course of justice’ under Murdoch?

Will Lewis, now chief executive of an eminent US newspaper, stands accused of destroying crucial phone-hacking evidence when working for the Murdoch empire

May 08, 2024
Image: Wikimedia / Prospect
The claimants’ argument—untested in court—is that “Will Lewis was instrumental in the concealment of phone hacking”. Image: Wikimedia / Prospect

Will Lewis, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph and currently the publisher of the Washington Post, has been accused in the High Court of “perverting the course of justice” as the phone-hacking scandal reached its climax, while he was working for Rupert Murdoch in London. 

Documents deployed by claimants allege that Lewis and his close colleague Simon Greenberg played a key part in “the scheme to destroy… as much of the [Murdoch] company’s historic electronic data as possible, and were empowered... to complete this task and to conceal what had taken place.” The claimants infer that they would not have done this “without the knowledge and approval of Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch.” 

They also allege that after Rupert Murdoch, in summer 2011, set up a Management and Standards Committee (MSC) as “an independent body” to liaise with the police, Lewis and Greenberg became its sole UK-based members and, having secured the trust of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Weeting, then undermined that investigation’s effectiveness. The effect of their alleged behaviour, according to the claimants, was that the MSC “deliberately failed to fulfil its stated commitment to co-operate with the Metropolitan Police Service and participated in the strategy of concealing or destroying evidence.” 

In allegations that have not yet been tested at trial and on which the court has made no judgement, the claimants allege that Lewis and Greenberg “were involved in the perversion of the course of justice from at least January 2011 onwards” and that the two men, who had senior positions at News International from mid-2010, “participated in the strategy of concealing or destroying evidence”. They list a series of as-yet-untested claims, specifically alleging that Lewis was involved in four different phases of the deletion of millions of emails between September 2010 and February 2011; that he failed to tell police about any of this; and that he then made formal statements to Weeting that contained “false and incomplete” information.

The claimants’ case is that “Will Lewis was instrumental in the concealment of phone hacking.” He “was part of the senior management team which organised the deletion of millions of emails without preserving back-ups… despite the need for preservation due to ongoing civil claims and by January 2011, a live police investigation.”

The claimants allege that, after Lewis and Greenberg were appointed to the newly created MSC—which was independently chaired by Lord Grabiner KC, and overseen by chief executive Rebekah Brooks until her arrest on 15th July 2011—the two men “misled the Metropolitan Police Service into trusting them with confidential information” and were then allowed to make decisions “which undermined the effectiveness of Operation Weeting.” 

Apart from their alleged role in the deletion of emails, the claimants also accuse Lewis, while acting for the MSC, of failing to prevent the disappearance of eight filing cabinets full of potential evidence. Court documents record that Lewis and Greenberg were responsible for securing an area in the Murdoch building where 125 pieces of office equipment were stored and that, shortly before the police were due to start searching them, the eight filing cabinets went missing and have never been recovered. They contained material from the offices of the editor and managing editor of the News of the World

Separately, it is claimed that Lewis either knew about or was directly involved in “activities to sequestrate and/or destroy Ms Brooks’s… hard drive” containing potentially crucial evidence; that he tried to hide what had happened by refusing Weeting’s request to see the emails of IT technicians alleged to have been involved; and that there was then an attempt to “place the blame on an innocent man,” who is named in court papers.

The claimants also identify three witness or disclosure statements made by Lewis that they say were “false, misleading and/or materially incomplete” and cite Lewis’s role in telling the Met that some destruction of potential evidence had been necessary because an unnamed Labour Party sympathiser had been overheard discussing with Gordon Brown a plan to obtain Brooks’ data and to offer or sell it to the Labour MP Tom Watson. Claimants have described this as “a bad excuse for deleting evidence.” 

In May 2014, Rupert Murdoch promoted Lewis to the role of publisher of the Wall Street Journal. In January this year he became chief executive and publisher of the Washington Post. In June 2023, he was knighted in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list. Approached by Prospect for a response to the allegations reported in this piece, Lewis’s spokesperson replied: “no comment”.  

Greenberg died in September 2021. The claimant’s allegations are due to be heard at a trial currently listed to start in the High Court in January 2025. 

Subsequent to publication, the Murdoch company wrote to Prospect to stress its denial that Brooks and Lewis authorised the alleged delay and suppression of evidence and the targeted deletions of the emails of senior executives; and that emails were deleted pursuant to a plan devised by Mr Lewis or other senior executives to conceal evidence.