Secret files thief ordered to pay

Last updated 05:00 11/06/2014

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A oil industry production manager has been ordered to pay more than $70,000 to Tag Oil after downloading hundreds of thousands of highly sensitive "secret recipe" computer files before leaving to join a competitor.

Canadian James Watchorn, 42, who formerly worked for Tag Oil (NZ) Ltd in New Plymouth, copied and took with him large amounts of exploration data - much of it confidential and commercially sensitive - before he left the company in July 2012, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) said.

An earlier claim by Tag Oil for $2.5 million was withdrawn.

The ERA decision released yesterday follows Watchorn's trial in the New Plymouth District Court earlier this year.

Following the criminal trial Watchorn, 42, was found guilty of three charges of stealing Tag's computer files on June 7, 2012.

Judge Allan Roberts decided that Watchorn deliberately downloaded the geoscience material.

The sentencing for the theft charges has twice been postponed. A new date is yet to be determined.

In the ERA decision, the authority was told that if the data downloaded by Watchorn had been printed out and stacked up, it would be the height of 40 Auckland Sky Towers.

The ERA has ordered Watchorn 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.

Costs were reserved.

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

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 Drew 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 he 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.

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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."

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

- Taranaki Daily News

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