UK Gov't Destroys Key Emails From Julian Assange Case, Shrugs About It

from the because-retaining-them-meant-someone-might-access-them dept

More irresponsible handling of documents has been uncovered by public records requests. Information you’d think the government would actually want to hang onto has apparently been deleted by those charged with retaining it.

The Crown Prosecution Service is facing embarrassment after admitting it destroyed key emails relating to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy fighting extradition.

Email exchanges between the CPS and its Swedish counterparts over the high-profile case were deleted after the lawyer at the UK end retired in 2014.

The destruction of potentially sensitive and revealing information comes ahead of a tribunal hearing in London next week.

This auspicious disappearance was sniffed out by Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, who has been covering Wikileaks for the better part of a decade. And, because it’s now unavoidable, it has admitted the destruction in court as part of its filings in a FOI lawsuit brought by Maurizi.

CPS officials are now offering defensive statements about the document destruction, assuring the public, angry FOI requesters, and other government branches that they are willing to dissonantly cogitate their way out of this embarrassment.

Statement 1:

Asked if the CPS had any idea what was destroyed, a spokesperson said: “We have no way of knowing the content of email accounts once they have been deleted.”

Statement 2:

A legal manager at the CPS, Mohammed Cheema, who has been dealing with the FOI requests, said, in a lengthy witness statement in August this year, that the Assange case file comprises mainly 55 lever-arch files, one A4 file and a selection of other paper files.

He added it was very unlikely the CPS held further significant email correspondence.

I guess it all depends on when you ask the question. The second statement could be true pre- or post-email deletion, but probably more likely to be true after the scrubbing. But it’s a bit rich to ask everyone to believe these are simultaneously true — that the contents are unknown but also unlikely to be significant.

The chance something “significant” may have been deleted remains high. And it will always remain so because the absence of emails means the absence of contradictory evidence. The UK is still interested in Assange and Wikileaks, even though it hasn’t pressed the issue of extradition in quite some time. This is CPS’s excuse for the mass deletion: the communications were related to extradition proceedings that ended in 2012 and contain nothing relevant to ongoing Assange-related government activity. According to CPS, this deletion was per policy.

“Most casework papers and related material are stored for three years following the conclusion of proceedings, or for the duration of the convicted defendant’s sentence plus three months. In some cases material may be held for longer.”

The problem appears to be the policy then. If documents of interest to the public and of possible use in future prosecutions vanish just because the clock runs out, the policy would appear to run counter to the point of document retention laws. No one expects everything to be retained indefinitely, but archiving electronic documents like emails isn’t exactly a Sisyphean endeavor.

The ending of an investigation or prosecution shouldn’t trigger a countdown clock that expires this quickly, especially when governments are almost always able to withhold documents while investigations and prosecutions are still ongoing. Generally speaking, government agencies are the only ones that can say definitively when investigations end, leaving document requesters to figure this out through trial and error.

In this case, Maurizi will be continuing her FOI lawsuit against the CPS, but with some of the targeted documents already deleted, there’s little to be gained.

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Comments on “UK Gov't Destroys Key Emails From Julian Assange Case, Shrugs About It”

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Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The correct name/title is...

As I recall it Ms A and/or Ms W were known affiliates of the CIA. There is quite the possibility that these incidents were Honey Traps. Especially given the actions that we have seen from the DOJ, FBI, and other alphabet agencies, who have violated the law, their oaths, and the Constitution at their whims.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: The correct name/title is...

Not that Assange has not been railroaded ten ways from Sunday, but this sort insistence on legalistic-only definitions of “rapist” (or whatever) is seriously problematic. I wouldn’t claim Assange did anything. I also find the accusations more than suspect. But for sake of argument, if someone did what they say Assange did, regardless of legal definitions somewhere, and regardless of a conviction with respect to some legal definition of rape in use somewhere, the actions described are damn well rapey behavior.

I don’t find the OP remotely necessary, but i find reactions just as interesting as the OP. Particularly as the same pattern is visible in rather more well-documented cases.

A. Nony Mouse says:

Re: Re: Re: The correct name/title is...

You have zero idea what you are talking about. The “rapey” behavior you refer to is a claim by a woman that the second time Assange and she had sex, he failed to wear a condom.

She made this claim after she discovered Asssnge had been with a friend of hers within a few days of being with her and became incensed.

The crux of the matter comes down to whether or not she uttered a sentence of the form “use a condom” or she did not when they were alone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The correct name/title is...

I must have missed when he faced his accusers in court instead of fleeing judicial process and hiding out in an embassy. Not the act of an innocent man. More like the act of a guilty fugitive.

Have you learned nothing from Weinstein? Moore? Cosby? Trump? And all the other men, of all political persuasions, all parties, all races, all ages who used their power to assault women? It’s not really a difficult lesson to absorb, you know. But apparently some of you are just too misogynistic, too caught up in your own toxic masculinity, to get it.

The rest of you know I’m right. Assange is a rapist, and there’s a high probability that the cases we know about so far aren’t the only ones. Very, VERY few of the men who engage in sexual assault only do it once or twice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The correct name/title is...

That — stating that only what’s been proven in court matters — is a ridiculous position.

At this point, nothing has been proven in court as regards Roy Moore. But we now have 5 victims — all on the record. We have the corroborating statements of over three dozen other people, one of whom was also a DA. We have the statements of the people associated with the YMCA. We have the statements of the people associated with the mall. We have his signature in a victim’s yearbook.

NONE of this may ever be introduced in a courtroom because it may be too late, under Alabama state law, to bring charges. That doesn’t mean it can or should all be summarily discarded. (Let’s note that Roy Moore himself could, if he so chose, force it into a courtroom. All he has to do is file a defamation suit against the Washington Post and pursue it through the discovery phase, at which point there seems like doubt that most/all of this would be introduced by the defendants. Of course, Moore will never do this, because discovery works both ways, and he wants no part of that.)

This discussion here, however, is not a criminal proceeding and it’s not taking place in a court of law, so it’s disingenuous to insist that it use the same evidentiary standards.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The correct name/title is...

I must have missed when he faced his accusers in court instead of fleeing judicial process and hiding out in an embassy. Not the act of an innocent man. More like the act of a guilty fugitive.

And you also missed the bit where what he was alleged to have done would not have been regarded as rape in the UK or US – only in Sweden – and even then it is a special category,

More importantly you missed the fact that the whole rape allegation was arguably a trick to get him to a place where he could be extradited to the US because of completely different issues. That was the reason he fled – not the rape accusation itself. He is on record as being perfectly willing to answer the rape charge provided he was not moved to a jurisdiction where the other issue could be raised to extradite him to the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 The correct name/title is...

Women (not just these two) have been telling you that Assange is a predator for seven years. SEVEN YEARS. You just don’t want to hear it. Your mind is closed to the truth because it’s inconvenient for you. You don’t like the idea that your “truth-telling crusader” (who is actually just Putin’s errand boy) is just another garden-variety creep who preys on women whenever he has the opportunity.

You’re probably still defending Moore and Cosby and Trump and Weinstein and all the other rapists, for exactly the same reason. You don’t want to change your view of them. You don’t want to see them for what they really are.

And not only does this do a disservice to the truth in their cases, but it does a disservice to the truth in the case of all the other men — the majority — who are decent people and would never engage in this kind of behavior. You can’t stand up for the good guys if you’re not willing to denounce the bad guys.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 The correct name/title is...

Given the prevalence of sexual abuse and the fact that it’s massively under-reported, can you blame them?

I’m not saying such statements are true, but women subjected to assault after assault after belittling comment after dismissive gesture, etc., would be pretty hard pressed to think otherwise. I’m just lucky that I know so many decent men.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: The correct name/title is...

Really accurately it should be noted that he was accused of rape in Sweden, on a legal basis that does not exist in the UK or the US.

The person who made that accusation did so long after the event and under the influence of a now discredited lawyer who had ulterior motoves.

Later that charge was withdrawn by Sweden, although the UK (strangely) continues to pursue him for evading arrest for it…
You may not like Julian Assange – but no-one involved in this affair comes out well from it.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Maybe ask the other 4 EYES for their backup copy.

Give the sheer amount of data scooped, ignoring if its protected client data or other rules, I’m voting it is improbable they don’t have another copy of them.
Of course they won’t want to admit they do because that might raise questions about what other docs they have scooped up and have they been reviewed & disseminated.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: "public records"

Just imagine the government’s reaction to someone doing the same to them…

“We received your subpoena, and after searching for relevant files, we didn’t find any that we think match your requirements. As per our privacy policy, we have now destroyed all the documents you claim you have a right to, that we don’t want to give up.”

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