The High Court has set aside six days in October for the hearing of former Independent News & Media (INM) chairman Leslie Buckley’s application for the recusal of inspectors investigating a major suspected data breach at the company in 2014.
Mr Buckley wants the appointment of barrister Sean Gillane SC and solicitor Richard Fleck revoked on grounds of “objective bias”, claiming they omitted key evidence from an interim report.
The claims have been rejected by the inspectors.
Mr Justice Garrett Simons today set a October 13 start date for the hearing of the application. The court heard Mr Buckley may also file a further application seeking to stay part of the inspection.
Any such application is expected to be firmly opposed by the inspectors. Their counsel, Cian Ferriter SC, said it would have “potential to do huge prejudice” to their work.
Sean Guerin SC, for Mr Buckley, said it wasn’t his client’s position that the work should be stayed entirely. He said “the appropriate line” to draw would be when the inspectors are ready to begin cross examining witnesses.
Following an application from former INM shareholder Denis O’Brien, the judge ordered that he be given a copy of the second interim report of the inspectors.
Applications from several people for permission to use certain documentation in possible future litigation against INM and Mr Buckley over the alleged data breach were adjourned to a later date.
The inspectors are investigating several issues, including the “interrogation” of INM data in 2014 at the direction of Mr Buckley and paid for by one of Mr O’Brien’s companies.
Mr Buckley claimed this was done as part of a cost-cutting exercise where he was seeking information about a contract.
The discovery of a spreadsheet which suggested 19 names, including those of journalists, were searched for in the data raised doubts over this explanation.
Among other issues being probed are claims Mr Buckley put pressure on former INM chief executive Robert Pitt to pay an inflated price for Newstalk, a radio station owned by Mr O’Brien. The deal was ultimately abandoned.
In an affidavit, Mr Buckley rejected allegations he improperly favoured Mr O’Brien over other shareholders. Mr O’Brien is no longer involved in INM, after selling his shares to Belgian-Dutch group Mediahuis last year.
In the affidavit, Mr Buckley said he felt his life has been ruined by the allegations and that former trusted friends and colleagues had shunned him in social settings.