Wednesday 21 August 2019

Corporate watchdog against the release of INM report

'The court heard the report outlined progress made by the inspectors to date, how they intended to proceed, and certain evidential issues.' Stock photo: Depositphotos
'The court heard the report outlined progress made by the inspectors to date, how they intended to proceed, and certain evidential issues.' Stock photo: Depositphotos
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The President of the High Court will decide at a later date whether several parties are entitled to a copy of an interim report by inspectors investigating matters at Independent News & Media (INM).

The applications were each objected to by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), whose probe last year led to the appointment of the inspectors, barrister Sean Gillane SC and solicitor and corporate governance expert Richard Fleck.

Their interim report was provided to the court last month.

However, the only party who has an automatic entitlement to the report is the ODCE.

Applications were made yesterday by INM, former INM chief executives Robert Pitt and Vincent Crowley, former INM Ireland chief executive Joe Webb, former INM chairman Leslie Buckley, former INM non-executive director Allan Marshall, the Central Bank, Sunday Independent journalist Maeve Sheehan and public relations practitioner Rory Godson.

Applications were also made by DMZ IT Limited, Specialist Security Services Ltd, Reconnaissance Group Ltd, Resilient Defence Ltd, and four individuals linked to those firms.

The firms have been associated with an alleged interrogation of data taken from INM's premises.

Neil Steen SC, for the ODCE, said the report did not reach any findings or conclusions and its disclosure could adversely affect the progress of the investigation.

The court heard the report outlined progress made by the inspectors to date, how they intended to proceed, and certain evidential issues.

Mr Steen said that if the report was not released to any of the parties there would be no potential for reputational damage.

He said it had been a feature of the matter to date that information tended to percolate into the public sphere once it was outside the control of the ODCE.

The barrister said the investigation was in its early stages and akin to a police investigation. Nobody, he said, would be entitled to material from an ongoing police inquiry.

But Shane Murphy SC, for INM, said the company was in a unique position and its interests would be directly affected by any inspectors' report, whether interim or final.

He said past practice of the High Court was in favour of releasing the document.

Mr Justice Kelly said he would reserve his judgment on the various applications.

The inspectors are investigating a range of issues at the company, which owns flagship titles including the Irish Independent, 'Sunday Independent', the 'Herald', the 'Sunday World' and the 'Belfast Telegraph'.

These issues include the alleged data breach in 2014, when it is feared data tapes were taken off-site and searched for information relating to at least 19 people.

INM has said this exercise was carried out at the behest of its former chairman, Leslie Buckley, and that the rest of its then board did not know about it.

Mr Buckley has pledged to robustly defend himself.

According to the ODCE, the exercise was paid for by a company owned by INM shareholder Denis O'Brien.

Mr O'Brien has yet to comment on the matter.

The inspectors' terms of reference entitle them to investigate most of the issues raised by the ODCE, including the adequacy of the INM board's response to protected disclosures made by former chief executive Mr Pitt and former chief financial officer Ryan Preston.

Also being examined are concerns over the circumstances surrounding a proposed acquisition by INM of Newstalk, a radio station owned by Mr O'Brien.

Irish Independent

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