Manager in oil-data case awaits fate

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 05/04/2014

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A Taranaki judge has reserved his decision in the case involving the alleged theft of potentially multi-million dollar information on oil and gas discoveries within the region.

The Crown case is that the "secret recipes" contained in highly confidential computer files owned by Tag Oil (NZ) Ltd were stolen by James Winston Watchorn, 42.

Watchorn was a former production manager for Tag before joining the company's direct competitor, New Zealand Energy Corp.

Watchorn denies three counts of dishonestly accessing the exploration and production company's computer on June 7, 2012.

By August the same year he was working for NZEC.

Yesterday in the New Plymouth District Court, Judge Allan Roberts heard submissions from Crown solicitor Cherie Clarke and defence counsel Susan Hughes QC.

Watchorn illegally and without claim of right downloaded thousands of potentially valuable files on to his hard drive before leaving to join NZEC, Clarke said.

In doing so, Watchorn deliberately targeted and downloaded seismic and other geotechnical information which revealed the highly successful "secret recipes" used by Tag to find oil and gas in Taranaki, Clarke said.

By using the methods, Tag achieved 20 strikes from 20 wells, a success unheard of in the oil exploration industry.

The information explaining how they achieved this was very valuable and sought after by competitors, in particular NZEC.

Watchorn had lied during interviews with the detective heading the case, Clarke said.

The hard drive containing the sensitive information was found attached to his computer at his new job.

However, the Crown accepted there was no evidence to show Watchorn had shared the information with his new employer.

Hughes countered that her client had open access to the files on Tag's server, as did others.

It was accepted practice to take information related to his job on to the next and he was in the habit of downloading previous employers' computer files, she said.

"He simply took it for further reference purposes."

Watchorn had not lied to the detective, rather the two were talking at cross purposes about different dates when Watchorn accepted he had downloaded files, Hughes said.

The whole situation could have been easily resolved if the company had spoken to him rather than taking action, she said.

The same lawyers who told the chief executive not to talk to Watchorn had advised Tag to sue Watchorn for $2.5m, she said.

The police inquiry found that on no occasion did he give any information he took from Tag Oil to a third party.

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The trial was not about suspicion, supposition and innuendo, it was about evidence, she said.

But there was no information before the court that Watchorn's activities were dishonest.

His employment contract focused on disclosure and there had been none.

However, Hughes said her client was in error when he said he did not take his hard drive to Canada on the day after the download.

Watchorn was entitled to the benefit of the doubt, Hughes said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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