The former chairman of Independent News and Media (INM), Leslie Buckley, has said he will fight any accusations levelled against him arising out of investigations into the company’s affairs.
INM is expected to accept the appointment of High Court inspectors to probe a series of scandals at the company when it returns to the court today.
On Monday, Mr Justice Peter Kelly approved an application by the companies regulator, the ODCE, to appoint inspectors but he postponed making the final order until today to allow INM to consider whether to lodge an appeal. It is thought an appeal is unlikely.
Mr Buckley is among those whose actions at the firm has been questioned by the ODCE and in Mr Justice Kelly’s 76-page ruling.
Through his membership of the board and his close association with biggest INM shareholder Denis O’Brien, Mr Buckley is implicated in a number of alleged corporate governance breaches, including a major data breach, an attempt to pay money to an external O’Brien-owned company for work not carried out and an attempt to persuade INM to pay over the odds to acquire O’Brien’s Newstalk radio station.
In a statement issued on his behalf yesterday, Mr Buckley said: “I note the decision of Mr Justice Kelly, President of the High Court, to appoint inspectors to Independent News & Media plc.
“I welcome the opportunity to vindicate my good name through the inspection process. As previously stated, I intend to robustly defend myself against each and every allegation. I continue to reserve my position.”
Mr Buckley stood down from the board in March this year, six months after the data breach emerged and a year and a half after the company’s former chief executive, Robert Pitt, made a protected disclosure about the attempted Newstalk deal and other issues.
In May, INM began legal proceedings against him, and in the company’s response to issues raised in court by the ODCE, it claimed Mr Buckley acted alone without the board’s knowledge. However, the inspectors could make life uncomfortable for numerous former and serving board members as Mr Justice Kelly has questioned the actions of the board collectively in responding to issues brought to its attention.
In his ruling, he said Mr Buckley only had authority to act because of his position as chairman of the board. He also backed the ODCE in its criticisms of how the board arranged for two internal reviews into the various issues.
In one instance, the board asked a senior counsel to conduct an independent review but set terms of reference too narrow for the review to be effective.
The board also commissioned consultants Deloitte to review the data breach — which involved spying on the emails of journalists, lawyers and external consultants — but, said Mr Justice Kelly: “The Deloitte report was conducted without any input from the company to which the data was sent and without any independent verification of what they were told by reference to either emails or documents.
“Even to this day it is not clear whether the data removed and taken out of the country was copied and, if so, if the copies were retained by those responsible for or benefitting from the interrogation. These matters do not appear to have been addressed in the report commissioned by the company from Deloittes and a further report sought from Deloittes has not yet been completed. Many questions remain concerning this whole affair.”
Deloitte was asked to respond to the ruling’s contents yesterday but said it “cannot comment on client matters”.
If the appointment of the inspectors is signed off on officially today, they are expected to get to work without delay. Two inspectors have been named to lead the investigation, senior counsel Sean Gillane and British corporate lawyer Richard Fleck.