Monday 14 October 2019

INM to ask High Court inspectors to probe claims computers of editors were searched

Request: Michael Doorly, Group Chief Executive of Independent News and Media. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Request: Michael Doorly, Group Chief Executive of Independent News and Media. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The chief executive of Independent News & Media (INM) has said the company will ask High Court inspectors to examine allegations that the hard drives and emails of editors and other senior staff were searched without their permission.

Michael Doorly told a meeting of staff at the media group's Dublin headquarters yesterday he was "deeply concerned" about the allegations.

INM publishes a number of leading titles, including the Irish Independent.

It has been alleged Mr Doorly's predecessor as chief executive, Robert Pitt, ordered a search of hard drives and emails of up to six editors after details of an internal memo were published in 'The Phoenix' magazine.

Mr Pitt has declined to comment on the claims, outlined in a letter sent by IT consultant Derek Mizak to the Data Protection Commissioner.

Mr Mizak claims he was asked by Mr Pitt to conduct the exercise in June 2015.

He has alleged it was conducted at night, with hard drives reportedly being removed and data copied, before the hard drives were returned. This was allegedly done without the knowledge of the staff members involved.

In the course of an hour-long meeting, during which staff expressed a range of concerns, Mr Doorly disclosed that INM has spent €2.5m to date on legal costs associated with an investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) into a separate 2014 data interrogation and other corporate controversies.

The ODCE probe was prompted by protected disclosures by Mr Pitt and INM chief financial officer Ryan Preston, and led to the appointment of High Court inspectors to the company in September.

Mr Doorly said INM was now going to suggest to the inspectors that they investigate Mr Mizak's claims.

The matter is already being examined by the Data Protection Commissioner, who received correspondence from Mr Mizak on November 26.

Mr Doorly said the claims would also be investigated as part of a review being conducted for INM by consultancy firm Deloitte.

"I will do all in my power to find out exactly what happened here," said Mr Doorly.

He added: "Anything that hurts the reputation of this organisation is not acceptable.

"I will do everything I can to restore confidence and resolve this issue and protect the good names of all who work here.

"This is a core personal priority of mine."

However, he cautioned that the Deloitte review may not provide answers as it does not have powers of compellability and certain individuals had not been co-operating with it.

Mr Doorly said that while there had been an awareness of some other issues contained in Mr Mizak's letter, he had not previously known about the alleged 2015 incident.

During the meeting, Mr Doorly sought to reassure staff that their data was safe. But he declined to answer questions from staff about rumoured redundancies in the new year.

The High Court inspectors, barrister Sean Gillane SC and solicitor Richard Fleck, have started the process of interviewing key figures involved in various INM controversies.

Their remit includes probing the alleged interrogation of INM data in 2014, allegedly authorised by then INM chairman Leslie Buckley and paid for by a company owned by INM's largest shareholder, Denis O'Brien.

Mr Buckley denies any wrongdoing, while Mr O'Brien has yet to comment.

Irish Independent

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