Oil worker fined $70k for taking files

NIKO KLOETEN
Last updated 09:59 10/06/2014

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An oil worker has been ordered to pay more more than $70,000 for taking hundreds of thousands of sensitive files from his former employer.

Canadian James Watchorn, a former production manager for Tag Oil, copied and took with him large amounts of data, much of it confidential and commercially sensitive, before he left the company in July 2012, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) said in a decision released today

The ERA was told that if the data had been printed out and stacked up, it would be the height of 40 Auckland Sky Towers.

Watchorn was found guilty earlier this year in the New Plymouth District Court on three charges relating to the data theft.

Tag Oil took a separate case against Watchorn to the ERA, which has ordered him to pay $65,567 in special damages to the company.

He was also ordered to pay four penalties of $3000 each, half of which was to be paid to the company and half to the Crown.

However, in a separate ruling Tag Oil was ordered to pay Watchorn costs of $6500 after it withdrew its earlier claim seeking damages of $2.5 million.

After leaving Tag Oil Watchorn went to work for a direct competitor, New Zealand Energy Corp (NZEC), the ERA decision said.

Tag Oil chief operating officer Andrew Cadenhead told the ERA of the "fiercely competitive" nature of the oil and gas business, and said the geophysical information contained in the data taken by Watchorn would be of "incalculable value" to a company like NZEC.

However, he acknowledged that there had so far been no evidence of damage from Watchorn taking the files.

Watchorn admitted downloaded a large amount of Tag Oil data to his personal hard drive on June 7, 2012, the day before he had flown to Canada for a family holiday.

He said he had downloaded it in case he needed to access it for work purposes while on leave.

Watchorn denied breaching the confidentiality provisions of his employment agreement and said he did not divulge the information he took from Tag Oil to anyone.

He also denied breaching the termination provision that required him to return all property to his employer, saying he didn't know the files he worked on during his employment were the company's property.

ERA member Trish MacKinnon wasn't convinced by this claim, or that Watchorn had just been using the information for "templates".

"Approximately 350,000 documents were captured in the dump of which, by Mr Watchorn's own estimate only 1000 would have been templates," MacKinnon said.

"Even if he genuinely believed he had an entitlement to templates, that left 349,000 documents to which he had no entitlement."

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However, she ruled there was no evidence Watchorn had disclosed any of the information he took from Tag Oil.

- Stuff

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