INM executive blames O’Brien for dismissal

A former executive of Independent News and Media has launched a High Court action against the group claiming its biggest shareholder, Denis O’Brien, was behind the decision to oust him from his €300,000 job.

Karl Brophy, who was director of corporate affairs before his dismissal in April, is seeking a High Court declaration that a decision to dismiss was unlawful.

The executive, given the job by former INM chief executive Gavin O’Reilly, is also seeking damages.

He says the decision was taken on spurious grounds of alleged misconduct and without regard to his contractual entitlement of two years’ severance.

Last May, he sought a High Court order to prevent his dismissal and while this was not granted, the court did give an injunction restraining INM from acting further on its decision to terminate his employment pending further hearing, and also preventing it from divulging confidential information to the media in relation to his employment.

INM denied it did anything unlawful and said he was made redundant as part of a decision to restructure its business and cut costs.

Yesterday, the full hearing of his action against INM began before Ms Justice Mary Laffoy.

Opening the case, Oisin Quinn SC, for Mr Brophy, said his client was now seeking a declaration that the decision of Apr 26 last to terminate his employment was unlawful and he was also seeking damages.

He had effectively been put on “gardening leave” since May 11, receiving his salary but not attending work, counsel said.

On Apr 19, Mr O’Reilly stood down and the new CEO, Vincent Crowley, told Mr Brophy, who had been dealing with press communications, that another PR consultant would handle the press release in relation to that because Mr Brophy had worked with Mr O’Reilly and it might be difficult for him to do that particular job, counsel said.

A few days later, Paul Connolly, an INM director nominated by Mr O’Brien, brought court proceedings over the €1.87m exit package for Mr O’Reilly, an action later settled, counsel said. Mr Brophy handled the communications for the company in relation to this, giving advice to Mr Crowley, counsel said.

On Apr 26, the board decided to terminate Mr Brophy’s employment and a day later Mr Crowley told him his employment would be problematic because of recent coverage in INM titles concerning Mr O’Brien. Mr Brophy said he had no role in this coverage.

Mr Crowley also criticised him that he had not done enough to “recast the digital offerings of INM”, although Mr Brophy said he had been frustrated within the company in his efforts to do so.

Mr Brophy said he wrote an article for the Irish Mirror in 1998 about Mr O’Brien and this resulted in a successful libel action by Mr O’Brien. He had also broken stories related to the Moriarty Tribunal which were “not particularly flattering of Mr O’Brien”.

He knew Mr O’Brien was not particularly forgiving “of people who had slighted him”. He sought assurances from Mr O’Reilly, as part of taking up the new job in INM, that if Mr O’Brien took over the company that he would “not be the first up against the wall with a blindfold on, which is what actually happened.”

The hearing continues.

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