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Former INM chairman claims key evidence left out of interim report by High Court inspectors

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Former INM chairman Leslie Buckley. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Former INM chairman Leslie Buckley. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Former INM chairman Leslie Buckley. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Businessman Leslie Buckley has claimed key evidence was omitted or misrepresented in an interim report by inspectors investigating a major alleged data breach and other historical matters at Independent News & Media (INM).

The former INM chairman made the allegations in an affidavit as his lawyers brought an application seeking to have the two inspectors withdrawn.

Mr Buckley wants the High Court to have Sean Gillane and Richard Fleck recused on grounds of alleged "objective bias" on their part. Alternatively, he wants orders revoking their appointment.

Cian Ferriter SC, for the inspectors, told Mr Justice Garrett Simons yesterday the inspectors strongly refute the claims and that the application was "fundamentally misconceived". Mr Gillane, a senior counsel, and Mr Fleck, a solicitor and corporate governance expert, were appointed in 2018 by High Court President Peter Kelly after an initial investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

Mr Buckley's allegations of bias relate to an interim report they delivered to the court in April 2019. A further interim report was delivered yesterday.

In an affidavit, Mr Buckley claimed his account of critical matters was omitted from the first report, along with evidence supportive of him.

The inspectors are investigating several issues, including the "interrogation" of INM data in 2014 at the direction of Mr Buckley and paid for by a company owned by then INM shareholder Denis O'Brien.

Mr Buckley claimed this was done as part of a cost-cutting exercise where he was seeking information about a contract.

But doubts were raised about this explanation following the discovery of a spreadsheet which suggested 19 names, including those of journalists, were searched for in the data.

Also being probed are allegations by former INM chief executive Robert Pitt that Mr Buckley put pressure on him to pay an inflated price for Newstalk, a radio station owned by Mr O'Brien. The deal was ultimately abandoned.

A further issue was a proposal, later dropped, for the payment of a €1m "success fee" to Island Capital, a company owned by Mr O'Brien, in connection with the sale of INM's shares in Australian media group APN. Mr Buckley claimed the interim report omitted evidence regarding how long it took Mr Pitt to make his protected disclosure and evidence from former board members that questioned Mr Pitt's performance.

It was also alleged by Mr Buckley that certain evidence from Derek Mizak, a cybersecurity expert who helped extract INM data, was omitted.

According to Mr Buckley, Mr Mizak's evidence was the 19 names came about as a result of an algorithmic process and not from any manual input.

Mr Buckley also claimed the interim report omitted evidence that Island Capital saved INM around €10m in the APN transaction.

His application is expected to be heard in June.

Mr Buckley stepped down as INM chairman in March 2018 and the company subsequently initiated proceedings against him for alleged breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and misrepresentation.

He has previously stated he intends to robustly defend himself against each and every allegation against him.

Mr O'Brien is no longer involved in INM, after selling his shares to Belgian-Dutch group Mediahuis last year.

Irish Independent