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Former employee sent to prison for deleting evidence in breach of court order

The High Court has committed a former employee to prison for six weeks for breach of a court order aimed at preserving evidence pending trial. The employee over time had emailed confidential information belonging to the employer to his own personal email account. He then transferred to a competitor of the employer, and the employer brought a claim against the employee and the competitor for misuse of confidential information.

It obtained an interim injunction prohibiting the employee from disclosing the information, and requiring him to preserve all hard copy and electronic documents pending the return date. It also prohibited him from informing anyone else about the order or tipping them off about any future legal action. Immediately on receiving the order, the employee immediately telephoned his former manager (who now worked for the competitor) to tell him about it, before deleting several emails from his personal email account, and a further 8,000 emails the next day. He also informed various family members. He then sought legal advice, following which he made a full admission to the court, and cooperated with the employer in attempts to retrieve the emails (which were unsuccessful). The court, having regard to the deliberate nature of the breaches, but also to the employee's subsequent remorse and cooperation, imposed four sentences of six weeks' imprisonment, to be served concurrently.

The case serves as a strong reminder of the importance of complying strictly with interim injunctions aimed at preserving evidence pending trial.

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