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PR company says it's a 'mystery' how their computer files on Denis O'Brien ended up on USB stick which was sent anonymously to the businessman

Published 16/10/2015

Denis O'Brien had hired a private investigator to look into his claims of an alleged conspiracy to damage him
Denis O'Brien had hired a private investigator to look into his claims of an alleged conspiracy to damage him

A consulting company has told the High Court it is a “mystery” how material from its computers relating to billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien ended up on a USB memory stick placed in an envelope sent anonymously to Mr O’Brien.

Michael Collins SC, for Red Flag Consulting, said his side are very concerned how the firm’s computers were accessed and how documents from those ended up on Mr O’Brien’s desk.

It was not known whether the firm’s computers were hacked or someone had passed on the information, he added.

Mr O’Brien had hired a private investigator to look into his claims of an alleged conspiracy to damage him and it was not clear if the dossier of documents was provided as a result of that investigation or by other means, counsel added. His side wanted to see that USB stick, he added.

Michael Cush SC, for Mr O’Brien, said his client wants to urgently inspect the Red Flag firm’s computers for their action alleging a “textbook conspiracy” to harm Mr O’Brien’s interests, including the planned IPO of his Digicel company,  by either lawful or unlawful means.

He wanted to establish who commissioned the dossier and who contributed to it.

A report from the Espion IT firm which carried out a forensic examination of the dossier indicated words and phrases contained in a draft speech for Fianna Fail TD Com Keaveney suggested Red Flag Consulting CEO Karl Brophy contributed to that document, counsel said. Mr O’Brien wanted to know who paid Mr Brophy to craft that, counsel said.

Today, having heard from the sides, Mr Justice Colm MacEochaidh ordered forensic imaging or photographing of the identified items take place forthwith and be carried out jointly by firms of the plaintiff and defendant.

He refused the Red Flag side’s application for handover of the USB memory stick to them and directed instead it be given to the plaintiff’s solicitor to hold pending further order. There should be no interference with the stick, he added.

The judge said he did not regard the matter as any more urgent than other cases in the court’s lists and he gave Mr O’Brien’s side a month to file a statement of claim with a defence within two weeks of that. He fixed December 8th for hearing the application for injunctions against Red Flag aimed at permitting Mr O’Brien’s side inspection of the material which will be photographed from their computers.

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In a sworn statement, Mr O'Brien previously told the court he had hired a private investigator to investigate his belief there is a concerted campaign to damage him personally and professionally.

A USB memory stick supplied anonymously to him last Friday contained an "extraordinary" dossier of documents mostly unfavourable to his interests, he said.

He arranged for a forensic investigation of that dossier by Espion. Its report, supplied to him last Monday, indicated Red Flag Consulting Ltd, whose executives include Gavin O'Reilly, former CEO of Independent News & Media and former senior executive with INM, Karl Brophy, are linked to the dossier and alleged conspiracy, he claims.

Mr O'Brien believes a client of Red Flag Consulting is behind the alleged conspiracy and wants to establish the identity of any such client.

He believes the dossier, which contained more than 80 media articles related to him, and other material including a draft speech, for Fianna Fail TD Colm Keaveney, was also designed to be given to people who can avail of parliamentary privilege.

Mr O'Brien is claiming damages for alleged defamation and conspiracy. The material in the dossier, he alleges, is mostly unfavourable to him and clearly defamatory.

The material deals with matters including Mr O'Brien's involvement with the Moriarty Tribunal, his tax status as a resident in Portugal, the recent initial public offering of shares in his Digicel company and other matters.

Mr O'Brien's action is against the Red Flag firm and five persons involved with it. They are Gavin O'Reilly and Karl Brophy; Red Flag chairman, Seamus Conboy; account manager Brid Murphy and account executive Kevin Hiney.

On Tuesday his lawyers obtained an interim High Court order preventing the defendants interfering with or removing computer material and other IT items from its offices. It was also ordered nothing could be reported until the matter came back before the court on Wednesday so as to allow the proceedings be served.

On Wednesday, Mr O'Brien's lawyers said he was no longer seeking a search and seizure order - which the court had refused on Tuesday as "quite draconian" - in circumstances where the defendants were now in court. Michael Cush SC said he would instead be seeking an order for inspection of documents from Red Flag’s computers and wanted the matter dealt with urgently.

The matter was adjourned to today when Mr Justice Colm MacEochaidh continued the orders granted last Tuesday aimed at preserving the materials in the dossier and restraining any interference with them. The orders also restrain destruction or interference with any material which might tend to disclose the identity of any person who might have commissioned the dossier.

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