The Greater London Authority’s oversight committee is soon due to publish a report into whether Boris Johnson abused his position as London mayor to “benefit and reward” Jennifer Arcuri’s companies, over-ruling official advice in relation both to sponsorship and to her involvement with Johnson on official foreign trade missions. The story is told in a Guardian article of January 2022 here.
The discovery / disclosure point arises because the investigation was reopened when the GLA was given further documents by Arcuri and her company. It is now said in terms that documents were deleted – the Guardian article says that ‘the original IOPC inquiry was hampered by the deletion of key email and phone records at City Hall that prevented the watchdog from “reviewing relevant evidence”’. The deletions came to light because of gaps in the email trail.
When I wrote about this in June 2020, it was not clear how documents came to be missing. I reported that the investigators had said that, “some of the records it had wanted to see ‘either never existed or have been deleted’”. I said:
There is an ambiguity in this which makes my nostrils twitch. When they say that documents ‘either never existed or have been deleted’, are these two categories of documents – the “never existed” ones and the deleted ones – or one category whose absence is unexplained?
The GLA now seems clear that documents have been deleted.
I do not claim to know what rules are followed by the GLA when conducting an investigation like this. What would an English civil court do in these circumstances? A series of questions arise?
What is usual when an office holder such as the mayor hands over to his successor? The email system belongs to the office not to the office-holder, and the incoming mayor is entitled to expect to inherit all his predecessor’s correspondence. It would be proper, nevertheless, to see if any exception applied here. Since we are talking of public money whose destination had already been questioned, it is hard to think it proper to delete anything on this subject.
What investigations have been made into the circumstances of the deletion? Who actually pressed the buttons which effected the deletion? By what authority and at whose request? Although it was said by others that Boris Johnson’s visits to Arcuri’s flat were for “IT lessons”, it seems unlikely that her tuition extended to the deletion of emails from the mayoral mail room systems.
What, if any, conclusions can be drawn from the gaps in the mail boxes? What subjects were under discussion in the contemporaneous emails?
What efforts have been made to recover the missing emails? What investigations have been undertaken into the questions raised above?
Did Boris Johnson have a motive for deleting emails about Arcuri? The allegation is that he procured the payment of public money to his lover’s company in the face of official remonstrations. Johnson has not admitted an affair, but there seems no doubt that they were lovers and the payments are a matter of record. Whether or not he did actually order the deletions, he certainly had the motive for doing so.
Is it proportionate to investigate further?
Courts also concern themselves with the character of the person alleged to be responsible for document deletion. Boris Johnson lies as a matter of course (“liar” is the word which most readily comes to people’s minds when asked about him). He routinely lies to Parliament. He has lied to the Queen. He lies naturally and fluently to anyone and everyone. He will not much credit for his character when the circumstances of the deletions are investigated.
I await the outcome of the GLA investigation with interest.
Note: The original version attributed the “IT lessons” comment to Johnson himself, which was my understanding at the time. I can’t find a source for that, so have amended the reference. The point stands.