The board of Independent News & Media plc (INM) has said it was "horrified" when it discovered that it may have been misled by its former chairman, Lesley Buckley, about an apparent massive data breach at the group in 2014.
In an affidavit filed to oppose the appointment of High Court inspectors, the company has said it is “prepared to take such steps as are necessary to protect INM’s interests and to obtain redress from third parties if advised that it is appropriate to do so.”
It said it was “horrified” when it learned in March that third parties may have had access to INM data for an improper purpose and that if this has occurred then it believes that any person who facilitated this or “exploited such access” should be required to fully account for what happened.
It said that when it made a submission to the Data Protection Commissioner in August 2017 it did so on the basis of what it had been told by its then chairman, Mr Buckley. It said it was not the case that INM tried to “downplay” the matter.
Mr Buckley had said the work was part of a cost-cutting exercise and the board had accepted this.
INM director Dr Len O’Hagan, in an affidavit sworn on behalf of the INM board, has said that up until it received a legal submission from the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) in March of this year, it had relied on the account given to it by Mr Buckley as to what had happened in relation to back-up tapes from its computer system in 2014.
The ODCE has collected evidence indicating that journalists’ and others’ data was searched.
Dr O’Hagan said if the evidence was correct, it would appear “INM and the board were intentionally misled”.
The work conducted on the data was paid for by a company owned by businessman Denis O’Brien, who is the largest shareholder in INM and who nominated Mr Buckley to the INM board. Mr Buckley resigned as chairman at the end of March.
Dr O’Hagan said the focus of most of the matters which the ODCE is seeking to rely on for the appointment of inspectors relates to alleged wrongdoing by Mr Buckley, who is no longer on the INM board, “and/or the major shareholder, Mr Denis O’Brien”.
Opposing the appointment of inspectors, Dr O’Hagan said the group has a strong and competent board, many of the directors of which are newly appointed and fully committed to co-operating with the ODCE or any other statutory agency about any matter of concern.
It said the Data Protection Commissioner had the necessary powers to investigate the apparent data breach and that the appointment of inspectors would be hugely damaging to INM.
Mr Buckley’s spokesman said he had no comment to make and a spokesman for Mr O’Brien did not respond to a request for comment. Mr Buckley has already said he will robustly defend himself against all allegations.