A City lawyer, who instructed his client to “burn” chat logs to prevent them from being handed over to Ocado, has avoided going to prison after being handed a substantial fine.
Ex-Jones Day partner Raymond McKeeve told an IT manager at a company founded by Ocado co-founder Jonathan Faiman, Today Development Partners (TDP), to “burn” records, after Ocado accused TDP of stealing corporate intelligence.
McKeeve will avoid going to prison but was fined a “substantial” sum of £25,000 and ordered to pay Ocado’s costs at a sum equivalent to £610,353.
The lawyer, who previously had an “untarnished professional record,” contacted TDP’s IT manager asking him to destroy internal communications records stored on an encrypted 3CX messaging system, after Ocado obtained a search order.
The court ruled that McKeeve’s instructions to destroy the documents, to avoid them being seized as evidence, had been a “knee-jerk” response that had been given by the lawyer “without careful thought”.
McKeeve admitted telling his client to delete the records in claiming he had made the instruction to protect his wife, former Brexit Party MEP Belinda Lucy, whose name they had been using as a pseudonym in the chats.
The law firm partner had “acted under pressure… in response to an unexpected situation which occasioned a sense of panic and concern,” Justice Adam Johnson said.
McKeeve had “acted impulsively and stupidly and out of a sense of personal embarrassment, and not with the intention of subverting or affecting the course of [the case],” the ruling says.
The court noted that McKeeve “is no longer working as a solicitor and has had to relinquish his former partnership position” as a result of case against him.
The ruling notes that the lawyer has now been forced to deal with “the stress and uncertainty” of the case for around three years as the result of “what was effectively a stupid mistake”.
An Ocado spokesperson welcomed the court’s ruling in stating it “further vindicates Ocado’s decision to bring the proceedings.”
“It was important to Ocado to bring Mr McKeeve’s conduct to the court’s attention as the entire system of search orders would collapse if solicitors were able to obstruct them or interfere with them, with impunity,” the Ocado spokesperson said
“This was the right thing, and as a result the solicitor was found to be liable for criminal contempt of court,” the Ocado spokesperson said.
McKeeve has been contacted by City A.M. for comment.