HCL technologies, an Indian-based IT firm that manages the company’s computer systems, said yesterday that it had been asked to dispose of internal emails on nine occasions between April 2010 and July 2011.
The disclosure follows claims by Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has campaigned on hacking, that there had been an attempt to destroy data at the HCL storage facility in Chennai in apparent efforts to cover up the scale of the phone hacking scandal. The company said it did not know of anything “abnormal, untoward or inconsistent” behind the requests to delete them.
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, said he was surprised by the letter and said the MPs would continue questioning the company about its role in the hacking scandal.
“The fact that so many emails have been deleted at the request of News International raises a number of further questions which we will continue to probe the company about,” he said.
In a letter, sent on behalf of HCL by Stuart Benson, a lawyer, the company disclosed that it had been involved in discussions about deleting emails nine times since April last year. It said: “It is of course entirely for News International, the police and your committee as to whether there was any other agenda or subtext when issues of deletion arose, and that is a matter on which my client cannot comment and something which you will no doubt explore direct with News International."
HCL said it “does not hold any information belonging to News International (nor has it ever held such information) relevant to the subject matter of the current investigation”.
Instead, it said, HCL’s role was to manage the IT systems at News International “including servers, applications, databases, email systems networks etc”.
In the letter, HCL disclosed that News International asked three times for emails to be deleted in April last year. One request was for the deletion of email inboxes of people who had left the company, although this was not carried out.
There was a second request to delete “200,000+ plus delivery failure messages”, although these were erased before HCL could “initiate any action”. In the same month emails of an employee who was still at the company were deleted.
In May, 21,000 messages “which were apparently stuck in the outbox” were deleted, while in July another “public folder” of emails was erased.
Last September more emails were erased as part of a process that involved “pruning the historic email archives”.
There was a further request in January this year to delete more data from the database. HCL said it could not assist and suggested an unnamed third party firm helped. The two final requests to delete emails were in February and July, when the company was “migrating” information between two software systems.
Last night, a News International spokesman said: “Since January, News International (NI) has been actively working with the police on Operation Weeting with regards to email data and other computer information which may be relevant to their inquiry.
“NI keeps backups of its core systems and, in close co-operation with the Operation Weeting team, has been working to restore these backups.”