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A former Jones Day private equity partner had been found guilty of criminal contempt of court for ordering the deletion of a client’s messaging app in contravention of a search order, and now faces the possibility of prison.
Raymond McKeeve advised the co-founder of Ocado, Jonathan Faiman, as he sought to build a rival online grocer called Today Development Partners with another ex-Ocado employee, Jon Hillary. The group used a private messaging app, 3XC, to communicate.
Ocado sued Faiman and Hillary in 2019 for misappropriating confidential Ocado documents, causing "complete chaos", said McKeeve. When he learned that Ocado had obtained a search order against his clients, McKeeve contacted the group's IT assistant, Martin Henerey, and told him to "burn" the messaging app.
McKeeve testified that he only sent the order to prevent exposure of his wife, Belinda de Lucy. Hillary had used her name as a pseudonym in the app, which was "a source of some annoyance to me, for a number of reasons", said McKeeve. By the time of the search order, she had been elected as an MEP for the Brexit Party.
"I had been not a particularly supportive husband in the build-up to her election and found some of her campaigning irritating and thought it was a waste of time", said McKeeve. "Then, when she was elected, I think to her's and a lot of people's surprise, the media attention to everyone in and around the Brexit Party dialled up significantly. It was really vitriolic".
McKeeve, who left Jones Day in 2020, claimed to have "no idea what the Search Order related to or what in practice it meant".
"The idea that I would have committed a contempt of anything just horrifies me", he said. "The immediate response was, somebody is handing over a phone, that phone has an app that has my wife's name on it, get rid of it. It was that simple and that stupid".
Neither McKeeve nor the TDP team initially mentioned the existence of the app to Ocado's lawyers, Mishcon de Reya, or to anyone else at Jones Day. When Henery referred to the app in a conversation with a Jones Day lawyer a few days later, litigation partner Sion Richards immediately contacted McKeeve, who was at Wimbledon, and got him to come back to the office. Richards was "really angry", said McKeeve. Jones Day then came clean to Mischon about 3XC's existence.
The judge described McKeeve as "an intelligent and driven individual", who "at times exhibited a degree of arrogance", such as when the “direct and forceful” private equity specialist boasted in court that he could "annihilate" complex legal documents at high speed.
The judge rejected McKeeve's claim that he did not know the search order encompassed the app, ruling that it was in fact "the very source of his concern and the inspiration of his stated motive to protect his wife". He said McKeeve was "unduly defensive and unwilling to accept the obvious", perhaps because of his "genuine sense of shame and embarrassment".
McKeeve's intention to undermine the search order was not "trivial or technical", but "serious and adverse". It represented a "wilful intention to interfere with the due administration of justice" which, "sadly", crossed the threshold of criminal contempt, said the judge. McKeeve now faces the prospect of a fine and up to two years in prison.
Neither McKeeve or Jones Day responded to a request for comment.