LONDON—A British High Court judge has ordered News Corp.'s U.K. tabloid-newspaper unit to search a number of its computers for evidence that the company concocted and started carrying out a plan to conceal phone hacking-related evidence
Geoffrey Vos, the High Court judge who has been presiding over civil claims related to voicemail interception at News Corp.'s now-closed News of the World, told a courtroom Thursday he had seen evidence suggesting executives activated a preconceived plan to hide emails in 2010, just before the phone-hacking matter began mushrooming into a major global scandal, British media reports said.
The judge alleged that the evidence he had seen suggested that a News Corp. unit, under the direction of senior management, triggered a plan to delete crucial emails after actress Sienna Miller formally asked the company in 2010 to save any electronic correspondence related to the interception of her voicemail, the reports said.
Last year, the company agreed to pay Ms. Miller £100,000 ($154,890) in damages related to the hacking of her phone.
In the courtroom on Thursday, Mr. Vos told the lawyer representing News Corp. that the matter raised "compelling questions about whether you concealed, told lies, actively tried to get off scot free," according to a report in British newspaper, The Guardian.
Now, lawyers for both sides are drawing up the precise terms of the court order that will force News Group Newspapers, the U.K. tabloid-newspaper unit of News Corp., to search specified computers for detailed evidence of the alleged plan to delete emails. The lawyers will present the order to the judge for approval in the next couple of days, a person familiar with the matter said.
News Corp. owns The Wall Street Journal.
News Corp. has neither admitted nor denied allegations that its executives sought to destroy evidence. Lawyers for victims of phone hacking say they have seen evidence of such behavior in emails that were revealed during the civil litigation disclosure process—emails that Mr. Vos would have seen.
The evidence, which has not been made public, places the alleged concealment of evidence during a time when News Group Newspapers was overseen by Rebekah Brooks, who was the company's top U.K. newspaper official at the time.
She resigned amid the phone-hacking scandal last July and was subsequently arrested by police but has not been charged. A spokesman for Ms. Brooks declined to comment specifically on the matter. He said Ms. Brooks maintains her innocence in all criminal allegations and is working to clear her name.
In December, News Group Newspapers agreed to calculate compensation for victims of phone-hacking on the basis that such actions occurred, paving the way for a raft of settlements announced on Thursday.
News Group Newspapers "made no admission as part of these settlements that directors or senior employees knew about the wrongdoing by NGN or sought to conceal it," the company said in a statement on Thursday.