Watchorn sentence too harsh

Last updated 05:00 22/08/2014

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Prison has been ruled to be too harsh a sentence for an oil company worker found guilty of accessing his employer's computer for dishonest purposes.

Oil production manager James Watchorn will walk out of prison today, five weeks into the 30-month prison term he was given after being found guilty at a New Plymouth District Court trial.

His appeal against conviction and sentence was heard in the Court of Appeal in Wellington yesterday.

At the end of the hearing Justice Mark O'Regan, who heard the appeal along with Justice Jillian Mallon and Justice Simon France, said the judges were clear the sentence of imprisonment was too high. At most the penalty should have been home detention.

It was not possible to release Watchorn yesterday, but he would be able to go home today after his lawyer, Susan Hughes QC, and Crown lawyer Mathew Downs filed a joint memorandum setting out bail terms.

Hughes said the decision had pleased Watchorn's wife and two daughters, who were in court for the hearing.

The judges otherwise reserved their decision on his conviction and sentence.

Hughes had told the court Watchorn was only charged in relation to a download made on June 7, 2012, but anther download made on July 31, 2012, had also been taken into account.

Watchorn's intent in June, when he was an employee of Tag Oil (NZ), was different to that at the end of July, in his last day at Tag, she said.

Watchorn left Tag to work for direct competitor New Zealand Energy Corp.

Hughes said Watchorn called the June download "back-up". He carried it out the day before heading to Canada for an extended break, and expected to do some work while he was overseas.

He had that data for 82 days and did not show it to any third party, and had never intended to sell it.

The data had been on an open drive, Watchorn downloaded it during office hours and no subterfuge was involved. There seemed to have been no deliberate targeting of specific files.

The July download was in line with Watchorn's previous practice of taking large tranches of information from employers to maintain his reference library, Hughes said. There was no evidence he ever thought he was stealing or doing anything dishonest.

Crown lawyer Downs said uncontested evidence at the trial was that the information was worth millions of dollars.

It was accepted Watchorn had a wide-ranging brief and needed access to some of the data to do his work But there was no evidence at the trial to support the proposition Watchorn needed the data while he was in Canada.

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It was clear from the evidence no one had given him permission to download the entirety of Tag's server, Downs said. Fairfax NZ

- Taranaki Daily News

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