Woman denies attempt to blackmail accountancy firm for €1m to settle action

A woman has denied trying to “blackmail” accountancy firm Grant Thornton into paying her €1 million to resolve actions over an alleged data protection breach.

At the High Court, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan heard that Grant Thornton mistakenly sent data to Gerardine Scanlon in September 2015, including deeds of appointment of receivers on properties of borrowers unconnected to her.

A partner in the firm was appointed receiver over some of Ms Scanlon’s assets in 2013.

After becoming aware of the error, the firm obtained orders against Ms Scanlon preventing her releasing confidential information about thousands of other parties which it sent to her on a computer disc.

The firm brought the action over her alleged refusal to confirm she would return the information, delete or destroy any copies held by her.

That action was resolved in December 2015 when she agreed before the High Court to hand over the information.

On Thursday, Maurice Collins SC for Grant Thornton told Mr Justice Gilligan that Ms Scanlon has not complied with the order and has retained confidential data.

Mr Collins said while a failure to comply with a court order is “very serious”, Grant Thornton does not want to bring a motion seeking to have her attached and possibly committed to prison for being in contempt of court.

The firm was only seeking the return of confidential material, counsel added. Counsel added that it was concerned that information contained on the disk had been given to others.

Counsel said Grant Thornton is facing actions from other parties over the alleged data protection breach. Information contained on “anonymous letters” had been “dropped into person’s letterboxes”, counsel said.

Counsel also said during a meeting with Grant Thornton in January of this year at the Green Isle Hotel Ms Scanlon said she had asked it for €1m to make the cases over the data breach go away.

Counsel said the demand amounted to “a form of extortion against Grant Thornton.”

Representing herself, Ms Scanlan from Bruhenny, Churchtown, Mallow, Co Cork, denies the claims she breached the court’s order or that she has retained any confidential information.

While she accepts meeting representatives of the company in January, on a non-prejudice basis, she said she denies allegations she tried “to blackmail it” and said the claim is an attempt to “smear my name”.

She also said that she did not have the power to drop any case being brought by the Data Protection Commissioner. She said she was the person who informed Grant Thornton of the breach in the first place.

The claims and Ms Scanlon’s denial were made as the High Court considered a number of pre-trial motions.

In its motion Grant Thornton wants Ms Scanlon’s defence and counterclaim to its action against her struck out on grounds including they have no basis in law, are bound to fail, and disclose no cause of action.

Ms Scanlon has opposed that application.

In her motion Ms Scanlon seeks to have other parties including Danske Bank, who appointed the receiver over her assets, The Data Protection Commissioner and the Attorney General joined to the action.

Those parties have opposed being joined to the application.

The hearing resumes next week.

Aodhan O’Faolain, Ireland International News Agency Ltd.