Tag files not handed on, court told Forensic expert says no transfer

02:19, Mar 28 2014
tdn court stand
New Plymouth District Court

No evidence existed that computer files belonging to Tag Oil had been handed on to competitors, a court heard yesterday.

James Winston Watchorn, 42, a former production manager for Tag Oil (NZ) Ltd, denies three counts of dishonestly accessing the exploration and production company's computer on June 7, 2012. No evidence was found of a third party transfer of the information during forensic examination of thousands of files Watchorn downloaded from Tag's server before leaving to work for its competitor, New Zealand Energy Corporation in 2012.

In the New Plymouth District Court yesterday, defence lawyer Susan Hughes QC put it to the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Byron Reid, that there was "no evidence at all" that her client had handed on the Tag files to a third party.

Mr Reid replied that Watchorn had not been charged with passing on trade secrets but was charged with illegally taking most of his former employer's server files.

During an interview with police, Watchorn agreed he downloaded Tag files on June 7 before visiting Canada from June 8 to July 13, 2012.

Watchorn denied taking the hard drive with him but in giving evidence the defence's forensic expert, Brent Whale, said he found the hard drive was used when Watchorn was in Canada.


Watchorn's passport photo and resume were accessed.

Watchorn told Mr Reid that while in Canada he met head office bosses of NZ Energy Corporation when plans for the future were discussed.

He said it was a big disappointment for him and Tag when Tag failed to get the Origin acquisition. As a result the successful purchaser, NZ Energy Corporation, was holding "a significant chunk of land".

Watchorn said his salary at NZ Energy Corporation was no different from Tag's but NZ Energy Corporation was offering a big increase in the auction stock options, potentially worth more than $500,000, to him.

For the defence, Ms Hughes called Mr Whale, the director of Computer Solutions and a certified forensic examiner.

Mr Whale said his analysis of the cloned June 7 files were that they were consistent with a drag and drop operation into two folders. "I have no doubt they were copied in bulk, grabbed in a bulk download rather than individually selected."

He found no evidence they were transferred to a third party.

The bulk transfer of thousands of files from several previous employers was something Watchorn had done several times.

The organisation of the files, in the creation of folders and bulk transfers, was "sloppy".

Many of the Tag subfolders had been deleted or moved, Mr Whale said. In cross-examination from Crown solicitor Cherie Clarke, Mr Whale agreed Watchorn targeted the Tag Geoscience folder during the download and that a lot of the subfolders were subsequently deleted and others moved.

Some Tag files were modified and on July 11 a file was accessed.

Judge Allan Roberts asked for both parties to file submissions on April 4. The judge said he intended to reserve his decision.

Taranaki Daily News