A News International executive may have deleted as much as 500GB of company emails between editors and staff in an attempt to hide evidence from the police.
The email archive, which stretches back to January 2005, was accessed twice by the executive, who deleted the vast majority of the emails it contained, The Guardian reports.
At least one of the deletions came as the police began investigating News International on phone hacking allegations concerning staff on the News of the World.
Bob Bird, editor of the Scottish News of the World, testified in court in December that the emails had been lost en route to Mumbai, and News International solicitor Julian Pike confirmed that there were no emails available that were older than six months.
Three months later, however, Pike apologised and said that he had been misinformed.
It now appears that the archive has been substantially deleted, but police sources have told the paper that the executive did not cover his or her tracks well enough and has been identified.
The Crown Prosecution Service has been asked to investigate whether charges can be brought for perverting the course of justice.
The existence of the archive appears to have come to light after Essential Computing, a computer firm in Bristol, detected an attempt to delete files while working on the archive. The company is understood to have then forced News International to reveal its existence to the police.
If the data can be recovered it could be key in discovering the extent of the phone hacking and how much senior management knew about where journalists were getting their information.
Several charities reportedly refused to advertise for free in the final issue of the paper, and a Facebook campaign has begun to persuade University of the Arts London to withdraw the Honorary Fellowship bestowed on former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks last year.
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