The Burton Copeland Files

In trying to work out how far phone hacking spread at the News of the World people have, understandably, focused on the Mulcaire papers and the court records.

But there would appear to be another set of records that have rarely been mentioned but ought to shed more light on the case. Those are the records of the ‘very thorough investigation’ by the London solicitors Burton Copeland.

Burton Copeland are referred to a number of times by the legal manager of News Group Newspapers Tom Crone, News of the World editor Colin Myler, managing editor of the News of the World Stuart Kuttner, and by Andy Coulson, in their evidence to the Commons Select Committee in 2009.

It was Andy Coulson who asked the solicitors to come in and gave them free rein to look at financial records and emails, and talk to staff:

“I brought in Burton Copeland, an independent firm of solicitors to carry out an investigation”, Coulson told Tom Watson MP. “We opened up the files as much as we could. There was nothing that they asked for that they were not given” (Q.1719).

The solicitors were given the freedom, Colin Myler said, “to absolutely oversee the investigation to cooperate with the police, to be a bridgehead, to give whatever facility the police required. It was completely hands-off, if you like, for transparency from the company’s point of view. It was a nine month investigation” (Q.1384).

During these nine months they were, according to Tom Crone, actually at News International or in contact with staff, on a daily basis:

“Burton Copeland were in the office virtually every day or in contact with the office every day”, Crone said to Paul Farrelly MP. “My understanding of their remit was that they were brought in to go over everything and find out what had gone on, to liaise with the police” (Q.1395).

The firm “looked at all of the financial records; and there was subsequently an email check done which went to 2,500 emails” (Q.1397).

This included reviewing the payments made by the News of the World to Glen Mulcaire. Mulcaire’s payments were, Stuart Kuttner said “all accounted for in the documentation” and “that is the material that either directly on their own account to the investigating police team, or through Burton Copeland, the solicitor who was looking into these things at News International, was all disclosed” (Q.1663).

By the time they had finished the law firm had amassed a considerable stack of evidence. “Burton Copeland came in”, Crone said, “they were given absolutely free-range to ask whatever they wanted to ask. They did risk accounts and they have got four lever-arch files of payment records, everything to do with Mulcaire” (Q.1396).

These lever-arch files, and the other information about emails and financial accounts would, therefore, now seem quite relevant and useful to the new police investigation.

Yet they are not in the public domain. They are not recorded in the evidence given to the Select Committee. They are not available online and, when I called Burton Copeland and asked them about the investigation I was told the firm was ‘not in a position to discuss anything’, not even if any of the files related to their investigation were in the public domain.

Perhaps, as part of its new strategy for being more open, News International could hand the files to the police to help with its new investigation.