Bank chief forced to resign for viewing internet porn sites

A leading Irish banker and director of the Post Office has been forced to resign after admitting accessing internet sites with pornographic links, it emerged yesterday.

Michael Soden, chief executive of the Bank of Ireland (BOI), quit after a regular internal check last week revealed that he had broken the institution's rules on internet use.

It is thought he may have accidentally accessed a porn site while browsing through Las Vegas escort services prior to a visit. Speaking from his home in Dublin, he said he was "heartbroken" over his departure. In a statement, Mr Soden said he was quitting his £1m-a-year post after using websites forbidden under the bank's policy.

The 57-year-old Dubliner explained: "This arises from access by me on my PC to internet sites that contain content that infringed the group's policy on these matters. The content accessed was not illegal, but did contain links to material of an adult nature.

"I now understand and accept that in doing this I breached the policies of the Bank of Ireland. I have made it a central part of my tenure as group chief executive to set the highest standards of integrity and behaviour and to do so in an environment of accountability, transparency and openness."

Mr Soden is married and does not have children. He once said of his wife, Lou: "Communication is the most important thing to have with your partner. She has a full-time job as a nanny. She takes care of me!"

Mr Soden was made chief executive designate of BOI Ireland's second biggest bank in September 2001. During his time at BOI, he led an unsuccessful bid to take over the Abbey National in October 2002.

He joined the Post Office's board just two weeks ago as part of a joint venture between BOI and the Post Office to provide financial services in the postal network.

Laurence Crowley, governor of BOI, said the bank had accepted Mr Soden's resignation with regret. "Mike has made an enormous contribution to the group since he took up the position of group chief executive in March 2002," he said.

"He is leaving us having placed the group in a position of solid strength for future growth. It is the court of directors' intention to immediately put in place arrangements for the appointment of his successor and a further announcement on this is expected to be made next week."

The list of employees to have been sacked for abuses of in-house internet rules includes three Rolls-Royce workers dismissed last month for downloading pornography.

In December last year, BT admitted that it had sacked 200 workers over the previous 18 months for viewing internet porn. Paul Finch, a Palace of Westminster engineer, was forced to resign in March 2003 for downloading internet porn after staff found he had been accessing websites for "swingers".

In March 2001, two British Airways staff were sacked for downloading internet porn, including images of children. It followed a major investigation, which sources said involved more than 100 BA staff.

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