Sunday 20 August 2017

Woman asked accountancy firm to pay her €1m to make data breach 'go away', court hears

The High Court, Dublin
The High Court, Dublin

Aodhan O'Faolain

A WOMAN has denied in the High Court trying to "blackmail" an accountancy firm into paying her €1m to resolve actions over an alleged data protection breach.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan heard the firm, Grant Thornton, mistakenly sent data to Gerardine Scanlon in September 2015 which includes deeds of appointment of receivers on properties of borrowers unconnected to her.

In January this year, Ms Scanlon asked for €1m to make the cases over the data breach go away, the court heard. She denies she tried to blackmail anyone.

The case arises after a partner in Grant Thornton was appointed receiver over some of Ms Scanlon's assets in 2013.

After becoming aware of the mistaken sending of data to her, Grant Thornton obtained orders against Ms Scanlon preventing her releasing confidential information about thousands of other parties which it sent to her on a computer disc.

The firm brought the action over her alleged refusal to confirm she would return the information, delete or destroy any copies held by her. That action was resolved in December 2015  when she agreed before the High Court to hand over the information.

On Thursday, Maurice Collins SC, for Grant Thornton, told Mr Justice Gilligan that Ms Scanlon has not complied with the order and has retained confidential data.

Mr Collins said while a failure to comply with a court order is "very serious", Grant Thornton does not want to bring an application seeking to have her attached and possibly committed to prison for being in contempt of court.

The firm was only seeking the return of confidential material, he said. There were concerns the information contained on the disk had been given to others.

Counsel also said Grant Thornton is facing actions from other parties over the alleged data protection breach. Information contained on "anonymous letters" had been "dropped into person's letterboxes", counsel said. 

During a meeting with Grant Thornton in January of this year at the Green Isle Hotel Ms Scanlon had asked for €1m to make the cases over the data breach go away.

Counsel said the demand amounted to "a form of extortion against Grant Thornton."

Representing herself Ms Scanlon, Bruhenny, Churchtown, Mallow, Co Cork, denies she breached the court's order or that she has retained any confidential information.

While she accepts meeting representatives of the company in January, on a no prejudice basis, she said Grant Thornton's allegations she tried "to blackmail it" was an attempt to "smear my name."  

She also said that she did not have the power to drop any case being brought by the Data Protection Commissioner. She said she was the person who informed Grant Thornton of the breach in the first place.

The claims and Ms Scanlon's denial were made as the High Court considered a number of pre-trial motions.

Grant Thornton wants Ms Scanlon's defence and counterclaim to its action against her struck out on grounds including they have no basis in law, are bound to fail, and disclose no cause of action.

Ms Scanlon has opposed that application.

In her application, Ms Scanlon seeks to have other parties, including Danske Bank, who appointed the receiver over her assets, The Data Protection Commissioner and the Attorney General, be joined to the action.

Those parties have opposed being joined.

The hearing resumes next week.

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