Sunday 19 January 2020

Court to hear ODCE application for inspectors at INM

Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin
Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin

Jerome Reilly

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) will tomorrow seek to have inspectors appointed by the High Court to investigate affairs in Independent News & Media PLC.

The ODCE wants inspectors to investigate a suspected data breach, during which it is feared data relating to journalists, former board members and staff, as well as other individuals, was "interrogated" by outside companies.

In a statement to the stock exchange last week, INM said IT back-up tapes, containing back-up copies of electronic data stored on the company's servers, were provided to a third party service provider on the instructions of then INM chairman Leslie Buckley in 2014. Mr Buckley stepped down from INM's board last month. INM publishes the Sunday Independent, Irish Independent, Sunday World and The Herald, as well as a number of regional titles and the Belfast Telegraph.

Last Friday, Group Editor-In-Chief Stephen Rae informed journalists of a number of new initiatives.

These include the appointment of external experts to examine governance of editorial data. A "triple-lock" mechanism will also be introduced where approval will be needed from three senior executives if any editorial employee's data is to be accessed. There are rare circumstances where this may be necessary, such as in the defence of litigation or complying with court orders.

Chief executive Michael Doorly was asked if the company was looking at a mechanism to recover its costs from wrongdoers should wrongdoing be proven.

"If there is wrongdoing every mechanism under law will be pursued to recover those costs," Mr Doorly responded. The ODCE also wants inspectors to examine issues relating to INM's proposed purchase of Newstalk and to investigate whether "inside information" was unlawfully disclosed to third parties. Mr Buckley has told the ODCE the data interrogation was related to a "cost reduction exercise".

However, INM's statement to the stock exchange said ODCE correspondence suggested the data may have been "searched more extensively and for a different purpose". Mr Buckley declined to comment, but has previously said he plans to defend his position robustly.

According to an ODCE affidavit, invoices associated with the data interrogation were discharged by Blaydon Limited, a company owned by Denis O'Brien, INM's largest shareholder. Mr O'Brien has yet to comment.

Sunday Independent

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