Former INM CEO gets access to files for watchdog's bid for inspectors at media group

By Ann O'Loughlin

Four people concerned their data may have been accessed during an alleged data breach at Independent News & Media are to get access to documents for the corporate watchdog's application, opening at the High Court next week, to have inspectors appointed to the media group.

The four are former INM CEO Vincent Crowley; former journalist Rory Godson, now a London-based financial strategy and communications adviser; and Jonathan Neilan and Mark Kenny of FTI Consulting, an investor relations and strategic communications company which did work in the past for INM.

Separately, the Data Protection Commissioner, represented by David Fennelly BL, will formally apply to the High Court tomorrow for permission to use documents provided for the inspectors' application for use in her continuing separate investigation into the alleged data breach.

The hearing of the application for inspectors, brought by the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) Ian Drennan, is due to open on Tuesday before the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, and to run for three days.

Today, Barbara McGrath BL, for INM, said there was consent to certain documents filed for the application being made available to Mr Crowley, Mr Godson, Mr Neilan and Mr Kenny.

The documents being made available relate to the alleged data breach and are to be provided by next Tuesday on terms including that the recipients maintain their confidentiality, the court heard.

The judge made orders in the terms agreed.

A large number of affidavits and exhibits have been filed for the hearing and the judge observed he expected to be doing a lot of reading this weekend of those documents in preparation for the hearing.

When he remarked it won't be "a happy weekend" given the volume of material expected to descend on him, Neil Steen SC, for the ODCE, said they had succeeded in slimming down the material to some extent.

Previously, the judge was told agreement had been reached for the Central Bank to be provided with documents in the case arising from its statutory obligations in relation to policing the Market Abuse regulations.

Arrangements were also made to provide documents to several others, including journalist Sam Smyth who, with today's four applicants, is among 19 people concerned their data may have been accessed by third parties.

The application by the ODCE for inspectors follows a year-long investigation by his office into certain issues at INM.

That investigation was prompted by protected disclosures made on dates in 2016 and 2017 by former INM CEO Robert Pitt and INM Chief Financial Officer Ryan Preston.

Mr Drennan said he wanted inspectors to investigate a range of issues including an alleged data breach at INM over some months from October 2014; a proposed purchase by INM of Newstalk Radio from Communicorp, a company of INM's major shareholder, Denis O'Brien; and a proposed fee payment by INM to Island Capital, a company also linked to Mr O'Brien. Neither the purchase nor payment proceeded.

Mr Drennan said the range of “potentially unlawful conduct” that may have taken place within INM is “extensive” and an inspector's investigation was necessary for reasons including to establish whether journalists' emails or other data was accessed over a period from October 2014, by whom, for what purpose, and whether Mr O’Brien benefited from that.

Last May, another High Court judge, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, dismissed INM's judicial review proceedings aimed at quashing the decision by the ODCE to seek inspectors.

INM’s fundamental proposition that it had a right to be consulted before legal proceedings are instituted by a public body was “novel and without precedent" and, as a matter of law, “cannot be sustained”, he ruled.

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