Sunday 17 December 2017

Former INM executive tells court of ‘bizarre and threatening’ text messages

Tim Healy

FORMER Independent News and Media (INM) executive Karl Brophy told the High Court yesterday he found a series of text messages from Denis O'Brien's spokesman to be "bizarre and threatening".

The messages arrived after a journalist rang Mr Brophy for reaction to formal complaints from the spokesman James Morrissey about negative coverage in Independent group newspapers about Mr O'Brien, who is the largest shareholder in INM.



Mr Morrissey had complained there were clear signs of a vendetta in INM against Mr O'Brien.



It followed a period of widespread coverage in much of the media, including INM titles, in which the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal against Mr O'Brien were “re-ventilated”, Mr Brophy said.



It included a large number of comment pieces, and one in particular in the Sunday Independent, which were mainly negative, Mr Brophy said.



He played no role in any of that coverage and did not give any directions about what should be written in the Sunday Independent whose editor is Anne Harris, he said. "I would be too frightened to tell Anne Harris what to do," he said.



Mr Brophy, who was appointed director of corporate affairs and content development in INM in 2010 by former CEO Gavin O'Reilly, was giving evidence on the second day of his action against INM over a decision to dismiss him from his €300,000 per year post. He is seeking damages and a declaration that a decision was unlawful.



Mr Brophy told his counsel Oisin Quinn that the letter of complaint written by Mr Morrissey was leaked to the Irish Times which contacted him (Brophy) for a comment, particularly in relation to an allegation in the letter that Mr O'Brien had never been given the right of reply before the articles were published.



Part of Mr Brophy's response was that it is not normal practice for the authors of opinion pieces to contact the people they were writing about. He also pointed out that Mr Morrissey himself had written an "aggressive" piece in another paper about the Sunday Independent and Anne Harris and she had not been contacted.



Not long after speaking to the Irish Times, Mr Brophy told the court he received the first of a series of "bizarre and threatening" text messages from Mr Morrissey. In those messages, the court heard, Mr Morrissey accused Mr Brophy of "telling lies about me (Morrissey)".



One also said: "Karl - truth comes hard to you...ask Samatha McCaughren, Paul Cullen...when you stop telling lies about me I will stop telling the truth about you...Just remind your father of the day he visited Fleishman to enquire about digging the dirt on Denis O'Brien, you want the day and time? history dear boy! James".



Mr Brophy replied to the texts that he didn't know what Mr Morrissey was on about and that it was inappropriate for him, as a representative for Mr O'Brien, to try to "bully me through text messages".



Mr Brophy also told the court that since he had been placed on "gardening leave" last May, he had continued to be paid his salary but he said it was never explained to him by anyone in INM why he could not have continued in his role.



INM denies it did anything unlawful and said he was made redundant as part of a decision to restructure its business and reduce costs. Brian O'Moore SC, for INM, also told the court yesterday there was no dispute he had been placed on gardening leave and an offer had been made for his notice period to be translated into a lump sum, but he had not taken up that offer.



Mr Brophy told his counsel that while he had been a partner in a public relations consultancy before becoming an INM executive, it was unlikely he could return to this job because he had surrendered his equity in that firm and been replaced by another partner.



As far as employment in other areas of his expertise is concerned, it had been said to him "it would be toxic at the moment and that is not a particularly good position for a communications professional to be in."



The hearing resumes next Tuesday.

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