The Irish Times

O’ Brienactio­n:

- MARY CAROLAN

Every PR firm will wonder if they are committing a “conspiracy”, says High Court judge.

Businessma­n Denis O’Brien’s case against Dublin-based Red Flag Consulting “will have every public relations firm in the city wondering if they are committing the tort of conspiracy”, a High Court judge has remarked.

Mr Justice Colm MacEochaid­h made the comment before reserving judgment on Mr O’Brien’s applicatio­n for orders compelling Red Flag to name the client who commission­ed a dossier of material about him.

Mr O’Brien alleges the dossier is evidence of a campaign to damage him. The judge hopes to rule by the end of the law term on December 21st.

Mr O’Brien claims Red Flag and its unknown client are involved in the alleged campaign, and he wants the client’s identity now so as to sue that client, along with Red Flag, for damages for alleged conspiracy and defamation

Among Mr O’Brien’s concerns is whether the dossier, particular­ly material in it about the abandoned IPO of Digicel earlier this year, was sent to hedge funds, Michael Cush SC, for Mr O’Brien, said.

Benign hedge fund

It was clearly relevant whether the client is a “benign hedge fund” or a rival of Mr O’Brien’s, counsel said. The issue was not whether the dossier was published to millions, but “who it was sent to”.

Mr O’Brien rejected Red Flag’s claims of a “lack of candour” related to how he learned of its involvemen­t in the dossier, counsel added.

Opposing the applicatio­n, Michael Collins SC for Red Flag argued it has a duty of confidenti­ality to the client and there is no legal basis for the order, which was a “fishing exercise” involving a “procedural morass”.

There was no “clear and unambiguou­s” evidence of the alleged hostile campaign against Mr O’Brien, he said.

Mr O’Brien was previously refused orders to seize computers and devices from Red Flag’s offices. Instead, he received freezing orders preserving material on the devices and further orders permitting

‘‘ No ‘clear and unambiguou­s’ evidence of the alleged hostile campaign

imaging of the material. He had deferred another applicatio­n for orders to inspect the imaged documents.

Exceptiona­l order

Mr O’Brien now wanted this “exceptiona­l” order, which Mr Collins said would cause “irreparabl­e harm” to Red Flag’s consulting and communicat­ions business already damaged by the proceeding­s.

Many of the firm’s clients were concerned that their data held by Red Flag had been forensical­ly imaged, counsel added.

Ireland could be seen as a jurisdicti­on where public relations firms may potentiall­y be compelled to disclose their clients identities, Mr Collins said.

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