Former Jones Day partner Raymond McKeeve gave evidence London’s High Court on Thursday, as his dispute with Ocado around the destruction of evidence continues.
McKeeve said he had suffered from “super heightened anxiety” which led him to deliver the instructions to destroy documents deemed important in a dispute. He said this came after his wife, Belinda de Lucy, was appointed as a Brexit party Member of the European Parliament and suffered “vitriolic” press attention.
Ocado had alleged that McKeeve, who left Jones Day in January 2020, had ordered the destruction of documents regarding a dispute between his client, Today Development Partners (TDP), and Ocado.
Ocado’s contempt of court claim was dismissed by the High Court in June 2020, but the U.K. Court of Appeal then greenlighted an appeal in February 2021, with the Court of Appeal saying the High Court reached a decision that “was plainly wrong”. The High Court case reopened on Tuesday.
The wider dispute saw Ocado accuse former employee and TDP co-founder Jonathan Faiman, former Ocado employee John Hillary and TDP of obtaining and using confidential information relating to Ocado unlawfully, with a search order executed on July 4, 2019.
The court heard in November 2019 that on the morning of this search order, “shortly after 8.30am”, McKeeve had told an IT consultant at TDP, Martin Henery, to “burn it”—i.e. delete the messages relating to the case on secure messaging app 3CX.
David Cavender QC, for Ocado, asked McKeeve whether Henery had told him that the reason for using the 3CX application was so that he could communicate with Hillary while he was on gardening leave from Ocado.
McKeeve responded that he did not know it was set up for that purpose, and thought that “3CX was an enterprise-wide platform”.
When later asked about the instructions of “burn it”, McKeeve told the court on Thursday: “I have no idea why I used [those words]. It was stupidity. It wasn’t thought out at all…I don’t know what I was thinking when I sent that, other than getting Belinda’s name out of harm’s way”.
At the hearing, McKeeve, now a senior partner at corporate finance firm Dial Partners, reiterated his evidence from Wednesday afternoon that he wasn’t aware of the obligation to preserve documents. “[That was] maybe professionally negligent of me, but I wasn’t aware”, he added.
Cavendar questioned: “What on earth were you, as a corporate lawyer advising today, doing phoning the IT manager of a client, instructing him to permanently delete a telecoms app?”
He pressed that the “natural conclusion” for using the pseudonym of his wife’s name was because he knew Faiman was doing something wrong and may be found out.
McKeeve agreed “that is how it looks” but said it wasn’t the case, saying it “was a knee jerk reaction with no merit and no intelligence”.
“I still don’t know to this day why pseudonyms were used”, he continued, “I’m not proud of using my wife’s name”. He added that he was “completely overwhelmed and surprised, and shocked”, when Faiman had called him about the search order.
Addressing presiding judge Mr Justice Adam Johnson directly, McKeeve continued: “The idea that I’m in contempt of anything horrifies me…I want the court to appreciate the level of my apology is absolutely sincere.
The hearing continues with closing arguments expected on Friday.