The latest developments in the News International phone hacking scandal again demonstrate the importance of a clear remit at the start of any internal investigation, together with a genuine commitment to establishing the facts.

A letter from Harbottle and Lewis, the legal firm commissioned by News International to carry out an investigation into allegations raised during an Appeal against dismissal, expresses the firm’s concerns that, so much weight has been given to a piece of work of such “limited and narrow nature”.

Harbottle and Lewis are clear that a retainer was received to cover one particular dismissal case, within the confines of emails made available by News International, and not a wider investigation “to find out what the hell was going on” as reported by Rupert Murdoch at a Parliamentary Committee.

Workplace investigations conducted under the HR umbrella, e.g. disciplinary and grievance, are most effective with a clear, systematic plan of action that includes arrangements to review progress and revise the terms of reference if it becomes appropriate.

A clear statement at the beginning of any report, outlining the scope, purpose and role of investigators can help to minimise potential misrepresentation of the investigation at a later stage.

  • Adopt a systematic plan of action at the outset
  • Identify mechanisms for reviewing progress
  • Revise the plan and terms of reference only if appropriate
  • Trained investigators
  • Comprehensive record keeping throughout the process
  • Clear statement of purpose included in report


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