Thursday 19 September 2019

High Court receives the first interim report from the inspectors at INM

Stock photo
Stock photo

Tim Healy

The High Court has received the first interim report of the inspectors appointed to investigate the conduct of affairs of Independent News & Media (INM).

The report was presented yesterday to the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, who had appointed the two inspectors - barrister Sean Gillane SC, who specialises in criminal law, and Richard Fleck, a UK based solicitor and corporate governance expert - last September.

Mr Gillane sought and secured the permission to provide the report to the court. A further report may be delivered in October, but a date for that will be fixed later.

Neil Steen SC, for the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) Ian Drennan, sought a copy of the report and the judge said he had a statutory entitlement to that.

The judge noted it was for the court to decide whether to give others a copy of the report. Shane Murphy SC, for INM, said it would be seeking a copy.

The judge, noting other parties may wish a copy and may not be aware of the application, said he would fix Friday, May 3, for hearing anything the ODCE has to say relating to the report and regarding any parties to whom the report should be furnished. He would also hear applications from others for the report.

The ODCE had sought the inspectors' appointment arising from his concerns over a number of matters, including an alleged data breach at INM in 2014.

The ODCE applied to the High Court early in 2018 following investigation into matters raised in the protected disclosures made in 2016 and 2017 by former INM chief executive Robert Pitt and former INM chief financial officer Mr Ryan Preston.

Arising from that investigation, the ODCE raised concerns about issues including an alleged data breach at INM in 2014. That involved data being exported from the jurisdiction and interrogated by third parties in what then INM chairman Leslie Buckley, who stepped down in March 2018, has said was a cost-cutting exercise called Operation Quantum.

Mr Drennan had said the purpose of the data interrogation "remains unclear but which certainly appears to be suspect and requiring further investigation".

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 the protected disclosures.

In his judgment last September appointing the inspectors, Mr Justice Kelly said what was alleged was "very serious".

He said there was evidence, including concerning the alleged interrogation of data of journalists and others, suggestive of INM's affairs being conducted for an unlawful purpose.

Irish Independent

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