Jim Armitage: A safe haven for spooks, and dodgy journalistic dealings

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The Independent Online

Outlook Few silver linings have emerged from the debacle of FTSE 100 mining giant ENRC's short tenure on the London Stock Exchange but I think I might have found one.

The Kazakhstan-based business which joined the London Stock Exchange five years ago is about to make its exit, tail between its legs, after being the subject of a seemingly endless stream of scandals and controversies.

A cloudy episode indeed in the history of British corporate life. But back to that silver lining: ENRC has apparently created a highly lucrative Klondyke for London's publicity-shy corporate investigators. As two such spooky types claimed to me yesterday, there's barely an intelligence bod in town who hasn't been involved with this business somewhere along the line.

So it is that private investigators' confidential dossiers and transcripts, alleged recorded conversations and contentious emails fly around London and far flung eastern capitals like sand in a Kazakh desert storm as the battle between various parties hots up.

Such apparent spookery has resulted in a court case between the company and former director Sir Paul Judge, a Conservative peer and Sheriff of the City of London, no less. ENRC accuses him of leaking confidential information about the company to the media.

He vigorously denied the claim. ENRC then issued a further claim including what it claims to be a transcript of a meeting between Sir Paul and a "journalist". Sir Paul refers in the alleged transcript to whether the purported "journalist" could get a "big story" into the Press. Not just any story, but "a front page of the FT story" about a board meeting that afternoon. Sir Paul's lawyers say he "refutes the … allegations completely".

Legally, I am not permitted to name the "journalist" in question, and he is not responding to queries. But, if it turns out that this transcript is genuine, it seems to me that any reporter prepared to share a recorded transcript of a private conversation with people outside his editorial team sails in tricky moral waters, to say the least.

Sadly, several such journalists do exist, my spook friends tell me. I say "sadly", because employees, directors (and, yes, spooks), tell trusted journalists stuff in confidence all the time. It's always been a key plank of the free Press that people feeling constricted by their organisations should be able to use the media as a last resort to speak out about incompetence or worse. They don't expect to see such briefings used against them by their enemies in court years later.

Anyway, Sir Paul is expected to refute the latest claims in a filing due any day now. A city of spooks, and journalists, awaits.