When that emerged in 2011 the Labour MP Tom Watson made a formal complaint against the men to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which has been investigating the two men for the past three years. Watson’s original complaint, that Abramson and Chapman were under a duty to inform the police if they had come across any criminality, was not valid because there is no such duty. However, the authority believes there are grounds for the lawyers to face the solicitors’ disciplinary tribunal over allegations of seeking to cover up the scale of hacking from their clients.
Abramson’s defence, according to a source, is that, while he did receive the vital emails, they were given an erroneous subject heading by a temporary secretary and he deleted them without examining their contents. He will further tell the tribunal that Chapman could not have viewed those same emails because he did not pass them on to him.
A source, who said Abramson was interviewed about the case at Christmas 2012 and informed of the prosecution in April 2013, said: “The authority suggests they saw the emails and chose to hide them from the board. And the lawyers say they didn’t see them. The emails were sent to Abramson by a temporary secretary on a day when he was out of the office and they were marked completely differently from others of the same nature. It was a day before he was going on holiday. He didn’t read it, deleted the email and moved on, he will say.
“Abramson will ask the tribunal to consider whether that is more likely than the authority’s case: that he read them, thought they were dangerous, and gave a legal opinion to the board knowing it was wrong. The worst case for the men would be that the tribunal doesn’t believe them and believes they are part of a grand conspiracy.” A spokesman for the authority confirmed that a case had been brought against the two men, but said it was unable to comment on the charges against them because of “other proceedings”.