Wednesday 20 March 2019

Fractious relations between INM and ex-chair laid bare

Former chairman Leslie Buckley at the INM EGM in March. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Former chairman Leslie Buckley at the INM EGM in March. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Independent News & Media (INM) has told its former chairman it intends to pursue him for the cost of defending a High Court application by the corporate watchdog.

The move comes on top of a lawsuit initiated against Leslie Buckley in May claiming damages for alleged breach of duty and misrepresentation.

Mr Buckley is central to several matters examined by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), which now wants inspectors appointed to investigate further.

Recent correspondence between solicitors for INM and solicitors for Mr Buckley reveal just how fractious relations have become between the media group and its former chairman, who stepped down in March.

In one letter, McCann Fitzgerald, solicitors for INM, accused Mr Buckley of not being remotely open about material uncovered by the ODCE relating to a major suspected data breach.

It said Mr Buckley had been afforded "every opportunity" to explain the matter to INM but had declined to do so.

But Mr Buckley's solicitors, A&L Goodbody, have claimed he was "very open" and had truthfully answered all questions asked of him.

They also claimed INM was pursuing a "malicious scapegoating agenda".

The letters were exhibited in the High Court during this week's hearing to decide whether inspectors will be appointed.

According to INM, the company's IT back-up tapes were given to a third party service provider in 2014 on the instructions of Mr Buckley.

He claims this was part of a "cost-reduction exercise" where he was seeking information about a legal services contract.

However, evidence gathered by the ODCE casts doubt on this explanation and suggests a list of names, including those of journalists, barristers and former INM executives, was used to search the data.

It emerged in court that INM's solicitors had described those on the list as people who might in some way have acted adversely against Denis O'Brien, INM's largest shareholder.

ODCE material also showed extensive contact between Mr Buckley and security consultant John Henry, who was described in court as having run the "data interrogation".

INM claims Mr Buckley "misled the board as the purpose and nature of the data exercise which he directed, and the extent of his involvement in it".

In a letter to INM on July 9, Mr Buckley's lawyers said he had "no involvement in or knowledge of any other data exercise" beyond the one relating to the contract.

The letter accused INM of selective leaks. It said the "scapegoating" of Mr Buckley "has been hugely damaging and distressing to him, his family, as well as his charity, Haven, and those it serves".

The letter also sought an apology from INM.

Responding the following day, INM's solicitors said there had been no leaking and they could not see any basis for the assertion Mr Buckley was being scapegoated.

They said the question of an apology did not arise.

"With respect, your client has not remotely been open with INM with regard to any of the material relied upon by the ODCE in its application," the letter said.

It went on to say it was clear from the material Mr Buckley had been in regular contact with Mr Henry seeking and obtaining updates on searches of the data long after the data exercise was meant to have been concluded.

It said Mr Buckley had provided no explanations in this regard at all.

His account had been contradicted by the material and an explanation was required from him, the letter said.

Irish Independent

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