Former Jones Day partner Raymond McKeeve has been found liable for contempt of court in the longrunning Ocado scandal.
While a previous 2020 High Court decision dismissed contempt of court claims against McKeeve, he has now been found liable of intentionally destroying some of the documents relating to a previous dispute.
In the judgment handed down on Wednesday, Justice Adam Johnson said destroying the evidence was a “sufficiently serious interference with the due administration of justice”.
Justice Johnson highlighted a “degree of arrogance” from McKeeve during the High Court proceedings, based on “the evidence he gave about his ability to ‘annihilate’ complex legal documents at high speed”.
All other claims, including destruction of other specific evidence, were dismissed, the judgment added.
The Justice added that while he found McKeeve’s expression of regret to be “entirely genuine”, McKeeve “could not quite bring himself to accept that what he had done wrong might amount to contempt of court”.
Online supermarket delivery service 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 greenlit an appeal in February 2021, with the Court of Appeal saying the High Court reached a decision that “was plainly wrong”.
Giving evidence to the High Court in June, 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.
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.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Ocado said: “We felt compelled to bring this solicitor’s conduct to the attention of the court as it was the right thing to do. Ocado has been vindicated in its decision to do so.
“We welcome the judgment but take no joy in it. It is regrettable that a solicitor failed in his duty to uphold the administration of justice and was found to be in criminal contempt of court.”
Costs and further appropriate sanctions will be decided in a further hearing on October 4, according to an explanatory note on the judgment.
All parties were approached for comment.