Still early days for High Court inspectors at INM

Inspectors presented their first interim report on INM this week and, if previous cases are a guide, there will be many more of them to come

The investigation is focused on a range of issues including a suspected data breach,   INM’s ill-fated bid for radio station Newstalk, and allegations of market abuse. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

The investigation is focused on a range of issues including a suspected data breach, INM’s ill-fated bid for radio station Newstalk, and allegations of market abuse. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

It is 219 days since two High Court inspectors were sent into Independent News & Media (INM) to investigate an alleged data breach and other serious matters but it will be many more days before their investigation is complete.

One of the inspectors, Sean Gillane SC, a criminal law specialist, handed the first interim report he carried out with British corporate solicitor Richard Fleck to High Court president Mr Justice Peter Kelly on Thursday morning. As file sizes go, it was more a thin binder than a voluminous lever-arch file.

This is hardly surprising. The early work of inspectors tends to be a scoping exercise and they usually get into the meat of their subject much later.

The investigation is likely to be slow given the myriad issues they are examining at the State’s largest media company, from the suspected data breach and interrogation of emails belonging to journalists and former executives, to INM’s ill-fated bid for radio station Newstalk, to allegations of market abuse.

It took two inspectors six years to complete their report on National Irish Bank, by which time they had submitted eight interim reports.

The INM case involved data taken from the company’s computer servers by external companies and IT consultants and interrogated outside the State in an exercise paid for by an Isle of Man investment holding company owned by Denis O’Brien. The court has heard that the project was directed by the company’s former chairman Leslie Buckley, who has denied any wrongdoing.

The many interested parties to the case complicates matters further. Mr Justice Kelly set a court date in May to hear from those eager to get a glimpse of the first chapter in the Gillane-Fleck investigation. If other issues arise from the inspectors’ work, that could prolong things.

Some of those interested parties were represented in court. They include solicitor Donal Spring, representing former INM chief executive Robert Pitt whose protected disclosure set the ball rolling to this investigation.

Mr Justice Kelly set a deadline of early October for the next interim report from the two INM inspectors, by which point it will be more than a year since their appointment. Expect more interim reports and more deadlines to follow.

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