‘INM 19’ members seek State papers for new lawsuits over data leak

Journalist Sam Smyth among seven preparing to sue company and former chairman

Former INM chairman Leslie Buckley. ODCE head Ian Drennan’s affidavit contained a series of allegations about the 2014 data leak, including that it was secretly engineered by Mr Buckley, who chaired the board as a representative of its then major shareholder, Denis O’Brien.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Former INM chairman Leslie Buckley. ODCE head Ian Drennan’s affidavit contained a series of allegations about the 2014 data leak, including that it was secretly engineered by Mr Buckley, who chaired the board as a representative of its then major shareholder, Denis O’Brien. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Certain members of the so-called INM 19 whose personal data was allegedly compromised as part of a huge data leak at Independent News and Media will on Wednesday ask the High Court to let them use State documents to prepare fresh lawsuits against the company and its former chairman Leslie Buckley.

The application will be made by high-profile media solicitor Simon McAleese, as well as six members of the INM 19 – journalist Sam Smyth, former INM executive Andrew Donagher, and PR executives Mark Kenny, Jonathan Neilan, Harriet Mansergh and Jenny Kilroy. All are legally represented by Mr McAleese.

The cohort of seven will ask the court for permission to use certain evidence about the data leak at INM that was gathered by the State’s corporate watchdog, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. It includes a lengthy affidavit filed in 2018 by Ian Drennan, who heads up the ODCE, as part of his application to have court inspectors appointed to investigate the company.

Mr Drennan’s affidavit contained a series of allegations about the 2014 data leak, including that it was secretly engineered by Mr Buckley, who chaired the board as a representative of its then major shareholder, Denis O’Brien.

Mr Drennan also wrote in his affidavit that the alleged activities at the company may have been part of “the broader use of INM for the benefit of” Mr O’Brien at the time. Mr Buckley denies any wrongdoing.

INM and Mr Buckley are already being sued over the alleged data leak by two other members of the INM 19 – former executives Gavin O’Reilly and Karl Brophy – who left INM after Mr O’Brien ousted Mr O’Reilly in 2012 in a boardroom row.

Evidence

They received permission last year to use Mr Drennan’s affidavit as evidence in their case. This week’s application by Mr McAleese and his clients is the first indication that other members of the INM 19 are now preparing to sue.

Mr McAleese is not a member of the INM 19. However, when the ODCE was first investigating the INM data leak during 2017, Mr Buckley claimed to investigators that the publisher’s back-up IT tapes were removed and secretly searched in order to find evidence of what he asserted was a costly legal contract between Mr McAleese and the INM regime under Mr O’Reilly.

Mr McAleese will tell the court on Wednesday that this statement by Mr Buckley was damaging to him. The other six are preparing legal cases against INM and Mr Buckley over the leak of their data. All seven separate lawsuits are expected to be filed in coming weeks.

Mr Smyth and Mr Donagher, as well as Mr Kenny and Mr Neilan, who ran a PR firm that worked for INM under the O’Reilly regime, were all previously granted access to Mr Drennan’s affidavit. Ms Kilroy and Ms Mansergh, a daughter of Fianna Fáil politician Martin Mansergh, will on Wednesday formally ask for similar access.

All seven will then request permission to enter the affidavit in evidence in their upcoming lawsuits.

It is expected that INM will not oppose the applications, as similar relief has already been granted by the court to Mr Brophy and Mr O’Reilly, establishing a precedent.

The application will take place in front of Mr Justice Garrett Simons, who is also due to take submissions tomorrow as part of an ongoing attempt by Mr Buckley to halt the High Court inspectors’ investigation of him.