Ocado, the online grocery service, has welcomed the decision by the Court of Appeal which permits it to proceed with committal proceedings against the solicitor Raymond McKeeve for contempt of court after instructing an IT manager to “burn” an internal messaging system.
Background to the Ocado case
The case started when Ocado sued Jonathan Faiman, Jon Hillary and Today for conspiracy to misappropriate and misuse confidential business information for the benefit of Today. Faiman was in fact one of the founders of Ocado but sold his stake in 2010 for £7m. Had he held onto those shares they’d now be worth over £500m.
Faiman is accused of conspiring with the then senior employee of Ocado, Hillary, to gain access to confidential documents. Hillary admitted this breach of contract owed to Ocado which then led to a Search Order from the High Court and also contained a threat of imprisonment for failure to comply.
Faiman is in a tough spot as in an unrelated case he is being sued by his friend and Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko for debts of £57m with his assets being frozen in the process and now claims that T0day is at risk of collapse.
It was heard by the court that T0day’s solicitor McKeeve, who is also a friend of Faiman’s, messaged the company IT manager Martin Henery instructing him to “burn it” in reference to an internal messaging system called 3CX. The solicitor has admitted this instruction and has also referred himself to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
McKeeve had previously been cleared of contempt in June of last year with the case being described as ‘both fragile and disputed’ but Lord Justice Davis called this decision ‘plainly wrong’. McKeeve had claimed he had panicked and that his motive was to protect his wife Belinda de Lucy, the former Brexit Party MEP, from being dragged into a potentially embarrassing investigation.
Neill Abrams of Ocado has said: “Raymond McKeeve intentionally and irretrievably destroyed materials that were subject to a Search Order obtained by Ocado. He is an experienced lawyer and, at the time, was a partner at a leading law firm. It is not acceptable for an officer of the Court to intentionally breach a Search Order without facing any consequences. The decision by the Court of Appeal today is important for Ocado and important for justice.”
Having won the appeal, the committal proceedings will take place following the conclusion of the main proceedings which are due to take place in the first half of 2022.
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