Bennett accusations and online risks

Serious accusations have been made about Paula Bennett online, and Bennett has responded with a crease-and-desist letter and threats of legal action.

Warnings have also been issued about the risks of sharing and linking too potentially defamatory information.

1 News:  Retired judge warns public after Paula Bennett threatens lawsuit over online post

A retired judge with considerable experience in laws surrounding online issues says those who share posts which break the law could be legally liable themselves.

The comments by retired Judge Dr David Harvey, who is Director of the New Zealand Centre for ICT Law, come after Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett threatened legal action over an online post accusing her, without evidence, of several historical criminal acts.

According to a cease-and-desist letter sent to a North Island man by lawyers acting for Ms Bennett, a post and video were published on June 30 containing “material highly defamatory of the Deputy Prime Minister”.

The post has been widely circulated and the letter states it has already had more than 5400 shares.

Dr Harvey told 1 NEWS that people who hit share on such posts should be aware they could find themselves at the sharp end of a lawsuit.

“They themselves could be deemed to be publishers of the information and be liable for whatever legal wrong they have done,” he said.

“It could be a breach of confidence, it could be intentional infliction of emotional distress … it could be the sharing of information under the Harmful Digital Communications Act or it could be defamatory.”

So there must be no reference to, links to or hints of the actual allegations on this site.

The letter from Ms Bennett’s counsel said “not only do these allegations very seriously defame the Deputy Prime Minister, but she, and we as her lawyers, will regard it as a form of harassment”.

“You should immediately remove this content.”

The lawyers acting for Ms Bennett say that further action could be requested in future in terms of remedial action and also say a restraining order could potentially be requested.

The letter emphasises Ms Bennett’s “categorical rejection” of all claims made in the post.

Apart from the allegations from one person there apparently has been no corroborating evidence published.

If the person has real allegations and has been frustrated for years in getting them addressed then they are in a difficult situation. This may not be a sensible way to try and deal with it.

The person apparently tried to get parties to publicise their allegations during the last election campaign and no one was prepared to go public with them.

From time to time I get emailed stories that make serious allegations and claims, sometimes about MPs and Ministers. With no facts to back them I won’t do anything with them.

A recent email claimed that Princess Diana was still alive and living secretly living somewhere – I didn’t read very far, perhaps she is shacked up with Elvis in a Yeti cave.

I don’t know any details of the allegations against Bennett, I haven’t tried to find out, but some hints have been made on other blogs who have (in my opinion) promoted the story and encouraged some discussion unwisely albeit with some warnings and moderation. They have allowed some Bennett bashing.

I have posted this as a story of interest, but without any evidence in this case most of the interest is in the use of social media to both unfairly attack people and to try to redress perceived wrongs.

The general issues can be discussed, but please don’t post anything that hints at any detail of Bennett accusations. Any comment that could put this site at risk may be deleted.

MacGregor files lawsuit against Craig

It was revealed recently that Colin Craig had filed defamation proceedings against Rachel MacGregor in November last year but hadn’t served her. He said he may or may not proceed with it.

MacGregor said that the media report was the first she knew about it.

Today from NZ Herald:  Rachel MacGregor files lawsuit against Colin Craig

Last week Radio New Zealand reported that Craig was planning to sue MacGregor for defamation if he lost the case against Whale Oil.

But Craig denied that report to the Herald, saying he had “historically” considered suing MacGregor but decided against it.

In response MacGregor said she had been advised that Craig’s “failure” to serve those proceedings on her or her lawyers for several months was a breach of the High Court rules.

Craig confirmed to the Herald that defamation papers had been filed last November, but would not say whether they had been served to MacGregor, whether it was an abuse of process, and whether he planned to withdraw the defamation suit as requested.

The Herald can reveal that MacGregor is counter-suing Craig and filed papers in the High Court at Auckland today.

It is understood those papers have been served on Craig.

“When media alerted me that Mr Craig had sued me I sought legal advice,” she told the Herald tonight.

“That advice was that I needed to file a document by today in order to protect my legal position.

“I will not be commenting further at this stage as the matter is before the court.”

The defamation saga involving MacGregor, Craig, Jordan Williams, Cameron Slater and John Stringer has yet another complication.

 

Statement from Rachel MacGregor

Statement from Rachel MacGregor

I have become aware that Colin Craig filed defamation proceedings against me in November last year.

Despite filing those proceedings nearly seven months ago, Mr Craig has not served papers on either me or my lawyers. I only became aware of the claim after media comments by Mr Craig in the last few days.

My understanding is that the proceedings relate to matters that I consider were resolved in mediation before the Human Rights Commission and in my subsequent case before the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

I have been advised that Mr Craig’s failure to serve those proceedings on me (or my lawyers) for several months is a breach of the High Court rules. It is unclear to me why Mr Craig would want to file proceedings but not give me notice of them.

I strongly believe Mr Craig’s claim against me is an abuse of process.

Over the last year I have been dragged unwillingly into being a witness in two Court proceedings by Mr Craig and others. I have been required to give evidence that was both highly personal and highly distressing.

I would like to get on with my life.

I invite Mr Craig to put an end to this by withdrawing these proceedings.

I intend to make no further comment at this time.

Craig files defamation papers against MacGregor

Good grief!

RNZ:  Colin Craig files papers to sue former press secretary Rachel MacGregor

Colin Craig has filed papers in the High Court in Auckland to sue his former press secretary for defamation.

Mr Craig has confirmed to RNZ the papers have been filed against Rachel MacGregor but said the case would only go ahead if his case against Cameron Slater did not go in his favour.

That case finished last week, with Justice Toogood reserving his decision.

In that case, Mr Craig sued Mr Slater for posts he made on his Whale Oil blog about Mr Craig and his relationship with Ms MacGregor. Mr Slater counter-sued Mr Craig for statements made in a leaflet sent out to 1.6 million households around the country.

Ms MacGregor said she was not aware of the new proceedings until contacted by RNZ.

She said she had not been served with documents, and declined to comment.

Mr Craig said he would not go into details about the case but confirmed it was a defamation proceeding.

As I understand it MacGregor’s evidence in the recent Craig v Slater trial cannot be defamation as it was stated in court. I wasn’t aware MacGregor had said much publicly outside court. My guess is that Human Rights Commission mediation details can’t be used in defamation either.

In the recent case:  Colin Craig threatened to ‘destroy’ Rachel MacGregor, court told

Rachel MacGregor has told a court that Colin Craig threatened her by saying he’d set aside $1 million to “destroy” her.

Craig’s former press secretary claims the threat was made during a Human Rights Commission mediation after she brought a sexual harassment complaint against him.

The sexual harassment complaint had been withdrawn as a result of their settlement agreement, but Henry asked MacGregor whether she had withdrawn the allegations.

“There is no way I have ever withdrawn my allegations,” MacGregor said.

“To this day my allegations stand concrete strong. I withdrew my complaint because I had no longer time or energy to deal with this very weird man. I withdrew the complaint because I couldn’t afford to deal with him any more.”

It looks like Craig is becoming a full time litigant.

New lawsuit one of at least five before the courts

Mr Craig said he has taken what he called a “limited approach” in his defamation cases. So far he has sued Mr Slater and a board member of the Conservative Party, John Stringer.

This is a limited approach?

His case against Ms MacGregor is one of at least five before the courts at present.

Last year the head of the taxpayer’s union, Jordan Williams, sued Colin Craig over comments he made about Mr Williams in a booklet sent to 1.6 million households around New Zealand.

The jury found in Mr Williams’ favour and awarded him $1.27 million in damages – the highest amount ever in a New Zealand defamation case. That was reviewed by the trial judge, Justice Katz, who found it to be excessive. Both parties are appealing.

Mr Craig has also sued John Stringer, a former board member of the Conservative Party. That was settled out of court but Mr Stringer is now bringing another case against Mr Craig.

Mr Craig has also sued Cameron Slater over copyright in the Auckland District Court, after Mr Slater published Mr Craig’s poems on his blog. Mr Craig lost the case. He is also appealing against that decision to the High Court.

Lastly, there is the defamation case against Cameron Slater which concluded last week.

In April Newshub reported a sixth case:  Colin Craig suing again

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig is involved in another defamation case.

This time he’s suing a former employee for $240,000.

His claim alleges a defamatory publication was posted by Jacqueline Stiekema on a Facebook page and that she made other defamatory publications to a third person.

It will be heard in the District Court rather than the High Court, according to a recent decision by High Court Associate Judge Roger Bell.

Truthful comment and genuine opinion is fine but please be careful what you say about Craig here.

Craig v Slater – trial summary

Steve Braunias covered the Colin Craig versus Cameron Slater defamation trial for NZ Herald and summarises in Craig v Slater: The end of the affair – here’s a summary of that.

Craig claimed Slater libelled him on Whaleoil. Slater counter-claimed Craig libelled him in Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas, a piece of fulminating junk mail delivered to 1,623,402 letterboxes. Their judge-alone trial was set down for three weeks. It dragged on for four, fizzling out on Thursday afternoon.

What was all that about? What was the point of the exercise, what was the moral of the story? Can any sense be made of it?

The key questions are what Justice Toogood makes of it. In short, who defamed who (or not), and what value damages can be applied if any.

The judgment could provide a useful legal guide to what is appropriate for a blog to publish when revealing alleged wrong doing of a politician, and also what is an appropriate level of response to a perceived political attack.

The problem they had with each other dated back to 2014, at the last election. Craig’s Conservative Party lost out on getting into Parliament and one of the factors may have been the abrupt and most newsworthy departure of his press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, 48 hours before election day. She later accused Craig of sexual harassment and took his ass to the Human Rights Commission. It was settled in mediation.

There it might have remained, but Slater posted spectacular revelations on his blog which set out to expose Craig as a lunging, panting, poetry-writing sex pest. Craig said: “See you in court!” Slater more or less responded: “Not if I see you first!”

Craig filed for defamation against Slater, and Slater filed for defamation against Craig. The trial combined these counter claims.

Craig defended himself. He learned on the job; he was amateur, and rambling, and now and then was the cause of much vexatiousness to Justice Toogood, but he kept his cool and was methodical, sometimes effective.

Slater was able to sit back in the far corner of the public gallery and chew gum. He was represented by Brian Henry and Charlotte Foster.

(Henry’s) closing addressed the matter of costs; his client, he said, was seeking $450,000, and then there was his own fees, which were $12,000 for every day of the trial.

$450,000 is a lot more realistic than the over $16 million mentioned in opening arguments in the trial.

Craig and Slater were like shadows of their former selves at the trial; 2014, the setting of much of what was said in court, was when both were key players in New Zealand politics, were taken seriously, were in the public eye.

Craig has disappeared since he stepped down as leader.

Slater, too, seems like a blast from the past. His media profile was immense until the wrecking ball of Nicky Hager’s 2014 book Dirty Politics.

The influence of both in politics has diminished significantly since their very public clash.

Which left the sex, or the absence thereof. Henry argued that it was entirely fair and accurate of Slater to write that Craig had sexually harassed MacGregor when she worked for him as press secretary.

Craig argued it was a total slander. It didn’t happen; it couldn’t happen; for it was his duty to tell the court that MacGregor found him sexually attractive, that they had an “emotional affair”, that she came onto him on a flight to Napier … They were chaste, but their sexual longing was epic. It was, Craig stressed, a love story.

“It’s a figment of his imagination,” said Henry.

“Weird,” said MacGregor, over and over, describing Craig when she appeared in court. She was subpoenaed to give evidence against Craig at the trial. She might be described as a hostile witness, which is to say her contempt for Craig was thick, constant, thorough.

Notably more hostile than when she appeared as a witness in Williams v Craig.

Craig told the court that they had different stories: “One of them must be right. They both can’t be true.” And so he set about trying to establish a reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of MacGregor’s story.

The credibility of Craig versus MacGregor is a critical aspect of the case. It is for Justice Toogood to work this out.

…from Madeleine Flannagan, the Orewa lawyer who Craig called to give evidence. She told the court an astonishing story. As Henry later said, in his closing address, “In my 42 years in the law, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Flannagan said she had acted for the Craigs when they were wanting to adopt a child. Their application, she said, faced a potential barrier when Slater made it public that he had information MacGregor wasn’t the only person to fall foul of Craig, that there were “other victims”.

What to do? Flannagan came up with a novel idea: she would phone Slater, who happened to be a friend, and ask him what he had on Craig – without revealing that Craig was her client. Slater took her call to mean that her client was, in fact, another “victim”. He was very, very eager to want to believe that, she said.

Craig had fought to get Flannagan admitted as a witness. It was a victory he must have savoured. Her evidence was designed to make Slater look bad in court. Well, it was a hell of a way to go about it. As Slater subsequently said to Henry on the witness stand, “I’m lost for words, Mr Henry, at the betrayal of someone who I considered a friend.”

Reported during the trial:

Justice Kit Toogood asked Slater: “You say you felt betrayed, but did you not betray her express injunction that this [conversation] cannot go anywhere else?”

“I did dance around on that but I guess technically I did,” Slater said.

This is another key aspect of the trial because it seems to be the potentially Slater’s biggest vulnerability – whether his claims of a ‘second victim’ were true or not, whether based on fact or assumption.

UPDATE: Slater has revealed that he tried to suppress information about Flannagan “to protect a source”:

Flannagan seems to be under the impression that I called her as a witness. I did not. It was Colin Craig. What she does not know is that up until Colin Craig declared her to be his witness I had sought and won suppression orders for her name, her practice and her location. Colin Craig opposed all of those.

I sought to protect a source until a) the judge ordered me to file a confidential memo to him only naming my source and the circumstances of our conversations and b) it was revealed by Colin Craig that she was his lawyer. After that the gloves came off and rightly so too.

Presumably he also preferred that her evidence wasn’t heard in the case.

‘Whaleoil staff’ have suggested that Slater is unhappy that this evidence was allowed. It will be up to Justice Toogood to decide how much veracity and weight it will be given.

Braunias:

Craig brought 13 separate causes of action against Slater in his defamation claim. He made what seemed to be a pretty good job in arguing that at least a few of Slater’s remarks were a nonsense – the accusation that there were “other victims”, and that Craig paid MacGregor a kind of hush payment of $107,500 to settle her sexual harassment complaint. Neither stacked up.

Equally, though, Henry raised strong arguments that Slater’s opinions ought to be protected by qualified privilege. The nature of Craig’s resignation as Conservative Party leader, for example, was the subject of perfectly legitimate media inquiry, he said; Slater was just one of many media commentators expressing strong opinions about that, so what was the problem?

Henry put it even more long-winded than that. Justice Toogood attempted an edit.

“Is it your point, Mr Henry, really this – once Mr Craig elected to call a press conference, to say, ‘I’m standing down’, that created legitimate media and public interest, and from there on in, any allegation that Mr Slater, or anyone else for that matter, was acting with an improper motive, can’t be sustained?”

“Yes, Your Honour,” said Henry, “that is a very apt summary.”

‘Whaleoil staff’ claims that Slater and Whale Oil only initiated the story and other media took over from there, but as I remember it WO also kept pushing it hard – including the later ‘second person’ claim of sexual harassment.

Such exchanges raised vaguely interesting issues about media practice, and press freedoms. But they were minor kinds of skirmishes. The trial kept coming back to its central theme – whether Craig sexually harassed MacGregor, or whether she returned his feelings.

The only two people who know the truth are Craig and MacGregor, and he has his version and she has hers, but very often it really didn’t look too good for Craig in court. MacGregor’s hatred for him was intense. Her denials of his story were vehement, disgusted, complete.

The judge will need to decide whether those expressed feelings now were true back in 2014 or have escalated since.

Press gallery journalist Barry Soper gave evidence, and talked about the widespread rumour that Craig and MacGregor were having an affair.

Craig: “Did you form any impression?”

Soper: “I thought the relationship was a very familiar one.”

“I did not sexually harass Miss MacGregor,” Craig droned, repeatedly, in his closing address on Thursday. He was stating things for the record but sometimes it felt as though he was talking to himself. “Ours was an affectionate, mutually appreciative relationship … Myself and Miss MacGregor took place in a workplace romance … At the very least, Miss MacGregor had feelings for me.”

He read out her texts and emails that were produced as exhibits. “Hug, hug, hug,” he recited. “Smiley face … Hug, hug.

An unwelcome personal relationship under pressure in a professional environment? Or at least some mutual involvement until it turned sour? Relationships gone bad and then raked over can both amplify and suppress.

The key points as I see it:

  • The nature of the relationship between Craig and MacGregor while MacGregor worked for Craig. I think it was inappropriate in a professional employer/employee situation, but whether it was sexual harassment is under dispute.
  • According to ‘Whaleoil staff’ Slater accepts he got the ‘second person’ claim wrong so how this affects the outcome may depend on whether Flannagan’s evidence is allowed.
  • Whether Slater’s posts at Whale Oil were an appropriate use of a blog/media in the circumstances, or whether they went to far.
  • Whether Craig’s response via press conferences and the pamphlet delivered throughout the country was acceptable in the circumstances, or was excessive.

Justice Toogood needs to work this all out in a legal context.

I won’t make any predictions, I have not heard the evidence and have only seen reports of the trial.

The verdict may favour one or the other of Craig or Slater, in which case both damages and costs may be awarded.

But if defamation is found proven against both of them then I presume the judge will decide on damages for each, and also costs, and they may partially or totally balance out to not much or nothing.

Hopefully the decision will be accepted and that will be the end of this matter, but both Craig and Slater have been involved in drawn out legal actions involving appeals so it may drag interminably on if either of them choose to take the decision to another level.

Craig v Slater – reserved decision

As expected, after closing addresses the judge has reserved his decision in the defamation case between Colin Craig and Cameron Slater. Don’t be surprised if it’s not Spring before a decision comes out.

For Slater:

RNZ: Closing addresses in Slater vs Craig trial

In his closing address in the High Court in Auckland, Mr Slater’s lawyer, Brian Henry, said Mr Craig displayed unacceptable behaviour towards Ms MacGregor.

Mr Henry said Ms MacGregor had been put in a difficult position, giving evidence about very personal matters and being cross-examined by Mr Craig, who he described as her “nemesis”.

“We have a written plan, written in the wee hours of the 18th of September, 2015, that he was going to deliberately destroy her reputation by alleging in a failed attempted blackmail.”

He said Ms MacGregor also made an allegation that Mr Craig stopped paying her in an effort to force her into having sex.

“Put simply, Sir, for her, this is a total disaster. She settled it – confidential – gone. And if it had stayed that way, she would have her life and the plaintiff [Mr Craig] would actually have his life.”

But information was leaked and Mr Slater wrote about their relationship, he said.

Mr Henry said Mr Slater was defending the defamation case based on defences of truth, honest opinion and qualified privilege as a journalist writing about a matter in the public interest.

He said the story was then picked up by mainstream media and Mr Craig chose to hold news conferences, and to then stand down from the Conservative Party with little explanation.

“The evidence is clear, [Mr Slater’s] publications have not caused the damage. It was the plaintiff’s [Mr Craig’s] conduct, his expressly exciting the media by a grand press conference to announce his standing down from the leadership which had the consequences of being able to avoid a [Conservative Party] board meeting where his behaviour with his press secretary was the sole topic on the agenda.”

He said that led to media investigating and publishing information from sources suggesting Mr Craig had acted inappropriately.

Mr Slater had originally sought $16 million in damages but that has now been scaled down to $450,000 plus legal costs.

That’s a major scaling down, but now much more realistic, should Slater succeed.

For Craig:

Mr Craig, who is defending himself, told the court that the case revolved around the true nature of his relationship with Ms MacGregor, the responsibilities of a blogger and the ability of a public figure to, as he put it, “hit back” with a booklet.

“On the evidence, Mr Slater and the Whale Oil blog were reckless in publishing the serious allegations. They often were publishing allegations based on mere rumour or an inference that Mr Slater had himself drawn. They did not take appropriate, or even basic steps to check the veracity of the allegations, such as seeking any comment from myself or Ms MacGregor.”

Mr Craig said Ms MacGregor might now regret their relationship but he said that didn’t amount to sexual harassment.

“While I may have acted inappropriately at times – which is absolutely conceded – or as Ms MacGregor put it, ‘being dodgy’, that does not amount to sexual harassment.

Continued in Judge reserves decision in Craig vs Slater trial

Mr Craig finished closing his case today, in which he alleges Mr Slater was part of a conspiracy to remove him as leader.

One of the defences Mr Slater has claimed is qualified privilege as a journalist.

Mr Craig said privilege was to facilitate public discussion.

Justice Toogood said Mr Slater had nothing to gain by Mr Craig standing down, and asked if Mr Slater’s motivation in writing the posts had any relevance to the case.

Concluded:

A High Court judge has reserved his decision in the defamation case between the former leader of the Conservative Party and the blogger Cameron Slater.

Justice Toogood said it would take him some time to deliver his judgement.

It could be a long wait, especially for Slater and Whale Oil.

Talking of Whale Oil, they have continued to comment on the case despite saying they had been advised not to. ‘Whaleoil Staff’ in  Craig v Slater Day 17 (media roundup) acknowledges possibly Slater’s biggest vulnerability, the alleged ‘second victim’:

As for the “second victim”, I would like to write about this in more detail at some stage. But as we have discovered from media reports, Mr Craig instructed a lawyer to phone Cameron Slater and ask for all the evidence Whaleoil held on the Craig/MacGregor story for a client she was working with that “had Colin Craig as a factor”.

On that basis, Cam Slater had an honest belief that another victim had sought legal help against Mr Craig.  In spite of subsequent calls to Cam Slater from that lawyer, some of which were reported back her client – Mr Craig – Auckland lawyer Madeleine Flannagan never revealed to Cam she was working for Mr Craig.

Mr Craig knew Cam had the wrong end of the stick just a few days later, and years before appearing in Court.  A situation he kept to himself during the discovery process and most of the trial when he dramatically introduced one of Cameron Slater’s own witnesses as a lawyer working for him.  That may seem like awesome strategy and cool made-for-TV court drama, but both Madeleine Flannagan and Colin Craig are expected to face consequences for deliberately subverting proper process to gain advantage over a legal adversary.

Whaleoil feels confident that the case will be decided in its favour, especially since the ‘second victim’ issue became what we view as a Fraud on the Court.

An acknowledgement that incorrectly alleging a second victim was a potential problem for Slater’s defence but a probably slanted view that makes making excuse and claims that that evidence shouldn’t have been considered.

There are various possibilities with the outcome due to there being claims of defamation and counter claims. They include:

  • Finding in favour of Slater
  • Finding in favour of Craig
  • Finding that Slater and Craig defamed each other
  • Finding no defamation

Damages and costs could be substantial against one of them, or they could work both ways and partially or totally cancel each other out, or they could be minimal or zero.

All this legal stuff must be hard for Craig, financially and mentally, but to an extent it is just another step on a very long drawn out campaign to try to redeem himself. That is a very difficult task. And despite his supposed wealth it will be proving very costly even before damages and costs awards come into play.

It will be an anxious time for Slater and Whale Oil, There may not be much reputation riding on it, but financially it could result in a legal windfall, or it could break the blog. They are continually having to raise funds just to keep Whale Oil going so it will be difficult for them if they have to pay any damages or costs, or even if they are not awarded damages or costs.

The rest of us will go on to other things in the meantime, until the decision eventually pops up.

 

Craig v Slater – closing submissions

Cameron Slater’s lawyer gave his closing submission today in his defamation trial against Colin Craig, and Craig started his (he will complete it tomorrow).

Stuff: Closing submissions heard in Colin Craig defamation trial

In his closing submission on Wednesday afternoon, Slater’s lawyer Brian Henry again questioned the credibility of evidence presented by Craig.

Screenshots purporting to be taken from an old phone of Craig’s mostly showed texts MacGregor sent, but many of Craig’s texts were missing, Henry said.

Henry said Craig had tried to discredit his former press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, after she alleged he sexually harassed her.

He reminded the court Craig had written to his lawyer in June 2015 saying that “he was going to deliberately destroy [MacGregor’s] reputation by alleging a failed attempt at blackmail”.

“She’s not dealing with a plaintiff who to her, has turned out to be a very nice person.”

In Craig’s closing submission…

…he again denied sexually harassing MacGregor, and said allegations posted on Whaleoil were false and part of a campaign to oust him as Conservative Party leader.

Contrary to Slater’s articles, Craig did not have a “second victim,” was not a “sexual deviant” and hadn’t paid MacGregor “a large sum of hush money, being six figures”, he said.

He also denied sending MacGregor letters begging for an affair or putting financial pressure on her to sleep with him.

“These publications are highly defamatory. They all to a greater or lesser extent would lower how a normal person in society would see me,” Craig said.

Slater was counter suing Craig for defamation following comments made in a booklet Craig distributed to more than a million New Zealand households.

But Craig said the booklet was published “in response to the sustained attack”.

1 News: Closing arguments heard in Colin Craig v Cameron Slater defamation case

Representing himself, Mr Craig said during his closing argument today that the heart of the trial rested on who Justice Toogood believed was telling the truth.

He said Slater in 2015 recklessly published a series of demonstrably false allegations, including that Mr Craig sexually harassed Ms MacGregor, put pressure on her financially to sleep with him and paid her a large, six-figure sum of hush money.

He said these allegations contributed to the “media firestorm” that engulfed him after he stood down as leader of the Conservative Party in 2015 and ruined any chance he had of reviving his political career.

However, Slater’s lawyer Brian Henry…

…said it was Mr Craig’s own actions that were responsible for the damage to his reputation, not Slater’s blogs.

He said Mr Craig had not only behaved “inappropriately” with Ms MacGregor, but then lied about it and attempted to cover it up.

He also said Whaleoil was just a small publication compared to New Zealand’s mainstream media outlets and that Slater had simply republished many of the allegations made by these larger outlets.

But despite a lot of criticism of the mainstream media Slater had in the past used it to promote his stories. He now complains a lot about the media ignoring him.

Despite this, Mr Craig had chosen to sue the smaller and less-resourced Slater rather than the outlets that drove most of the media publicity, Mr Henry said.

The judge will have to decide who drove what, and perhaps work out who was the least bad.

Justice Kit Toogood may begin considering his judgment in the case as early as tomorrow, having heard closing arguments from both parties in Auckland today.

Stuff said Craig will finish his closing submission tomorrow.

It will probably take a few weeks at least for the judgment.

Taxpayers’ Union denies white feathers

Jordan Williams has emphatically denied the Taxpayers’ Union having anything to do with emailing white feathers or sticking them on councillors doors.

It’s not the sort of story someone is likely to dream up, so there’s some explaining to be done – in the first instance by The Spinoff who made the claim on a story.

The Spinoff has been threatened with defamation action.

Taxpayers’ Union: SPINOFF ARTICLE ON “WHITE FEATHERS” TOTALLY WRONG

The Taxpayers’ Union, its founders Jordan Williams and David Farrar, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, and its spokesperson Jo Holmes, totally reject the allegation made on the Spinoff website today that they have sent ‘white feathers’ (either physically or electronically) to Auckland Councillors or have acted in any unethical way in relation to the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance “Ratepayer Protection Pledge” signed by approximately a dozen Auckland Councillors, prior to last year’s elections.

The Spinoff’s publisher and the article’s author have been sent a letter putting them on notice of the defamatory allegation, and unless an apology and full retraction is received prior to 5pm today, advice in relation to filing defamation proceedings will be sought.

Fair enough asking for a retraction and apology, but that’s very heavy handed.

So it’s up to The Spinoff to substantiate or retract.

UPDATE:

UPDATE 2:

The Spinoff has added at the top of their story:

NB: An earlier version of this story attributed the distribution of white feathers to The Taxpayers’ Union, a charge the organisation has since vigourously denied. The Spinoff has since been told that the feathers were in fact distributed anonymously, and accepts that The Taxpayers’ Union had no role in the distribution of the feathers. The story has now been updated to reflect this. The Spinoff apologises to the Taxpayers’ Union, Jordan Williams, David Farrar and Jo Holmes for the error.

And they have updated their story:

First, how nasty can council politics get? Right now, it’s this nasty: councillors who didn’t vote for public consultation on the rates rises have been sent a white feather – as a mark of their “cowardice”.

The Spinoff understands white feathers were anonymously emailed to nine councillors in the form of a certificate, though at least two are said to have received a real feather at their homes.

The strategy comes straight from the playbook of the Tea Party in the US: they don’t bother much with left-leaning politicians, except to abuse them, but prefer to target the centre-right. And it’s predominantly centre-right aligned councillors who are alleged to have received these feathers.

There must be some reason why Simon Wilson at The Spinoff linked the Taxpayers’ Union to the feathers, either in error or he was incorrectly informed. I think an explanation is in order here.

Craig versus MacGregor resuming today

Colin Craig will resume his cross-examination of Rachel MacGregor today. It is unusual for someone accused of sexual harassment to be able to personally question the alleged victim.

Pete Belt at Whale Oil said yesterday:

I’m told it is to give Ms MacGreggor a day off to regain some energy and fortitude. Yesterday was not one of the easiest days of her life. Keep in mind she was there against her will in the first place 😦 I’m told she got testy with the judge towards the end of the day as she felt she wasn’t getting much help from the court. Sadly, the prosecution (Mr Craig) gets to ask just about anything and for as long as he wants.

But Belt has previously said that Craig has been given strict instructions about how he can question MacGregor by the judge.

Craig will have had time to review how things have gone and decide how to proceed from here, hopefully with good legal advice. He is up against a very experienced lawyer, as Peterwn at Whale Oil explains:

You can take it that Brian Henry is a master at his trade. He would have a fair knowledge of the personalities and other attributes of the various judges he appears before. Brian is not going to make an issue of something if there is no immediate need and in particular is not going to point out weaknesses in the other side’s case or evidence. He will gain much by merely listening. The fun starts when he makes his closing submission no doubt to a packed court. He will then point out what is hearsay, identify and disputed facts for the judge to consider and argue which he considers correct, pull apart the other side’s claims and substantiate his client’s claims by applying the facts as needed and dealing with relevant points of law. He will aim to make things easy for the judge when he writes up his decision. That is why he is on the case – no client could do this as effectively as he would do it.

If Craig sums up his own case with the same level of expertise he has conducted himself through this whole issue then it looks like a major mismatch, but it will all come down to what Justice Toogood gets out of the evidence and the credibility of witnesses.

It’s difficult to gauge how a case like this is going based on media reports, which tend to cherry pick bits of general interest or what’s good for headlines rather than legal arguments that can often be tedious.

One part of the trial I would have been interested in was a reported one hour questioning of Cameron Slater by Justice Toogood, but that got just a short paragraph in media coverage.

Something that may not be relevant to the defamation but I think would be of interest that I haven’t seen anything about is the timeline of Jordan Williams’ relationship with MacGregor, and what influence he had on what transpired. This is from the judgment on Williams v Craig:

[8] On 19 November 2014, two months after her resignation, Ms MacGregor told Mr Williams, an acquaintance of hers, that Mr Craig had sexually harassed her. She showed Mr Williams the letters and cards that Mr Craig had sent to her. Mr Williams assured Ms MacGregor and her lawyer that he would keep this information as confidential as if he were her lawyer.

 

 

MacGregor versus Craig

Yesterday Colin Craig cross examined Rachel MacGregor in the Craig v Slater defamation trial. She was very different to when she gave evidence in Williams v Craig, in this case making a range of serious accusations against Craig.

What has changed? Time. Craig questioning MacGregor rather than via a lawyer. Fed up with being dragged through court again?

The reactions of MacGregor in court yesterday makes me wonder what has sparked what appears to be an all out attack on Craig.

MacGregor was called to give evidence by Slater’s legal team, not by Craig. And Craig chose to defend himself, this may be backfiring badly.

RNZ: Former staffer says Craig tried to pressure her into sex

Ms MacGregor told the court the former head of the Conservative Party did not pay for the work she invoiced for.

Instead he paid her advances because they could not agree on her hourly rate.

He also gave her an $18,000 loan that included interest at 29 percent. Mr Craig began charging her interest once she left her job.

Ms MacGregor told the court Mr Craig was trying to put her under financial pressure so she would sleep with him.

She said it was also convenient he had deleted text messages that would disgust the court and the New Zealand public if they were revealed.

Stuff: MacGregor accuses Craig of doctoring texts

On Wednesday when Craig, who is representing himself, cross examined his former press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, she refused to accept the authenticity of text exchanges shown in the screenshots.

“Just to be clear I don’t accept any of these text messages,” MacGregor said.

“Why’s that, Ms MacGregor?” Justice Toogood asked.

MacGregor said she doubted Craig had been able to take screenshots from his old Nokia cellphone.

“I do [doubt it] because he has doctored so many of these text messages,” she said to Justice Toogood.

The screenshots were selective in that they mostly showed texts MacGregor sent, but many of Craig’s texts were missing, the court had earlier heard.

“Also I believe that you got these text messages from a convicted criminal with dishonesty charges,” she said.

“Unless you can get something from a reliable source – not someone who’s been in jail – then I’m not prepared to give evidence off documents like this.”

MacGregor was referring to former Christchurch detective Mike Chappell, who was convicted on 10 dishonesty charges in 2002, and who Craig employed to recover texts forensically.

The text evidence did look shaky.

In court on Wednesday, when Craig persisted by trying to confirm whether she had sent a text offering to “loosen up his shoulders,” MacGregor rose to her feet and asked Justice Toogood: “Why are you accepting this, considering it’s come from a criminal?”

“Mr Craig is entitled to put it to you because his evidence is that these are legitimate text exchanges between you,” Justice Toogood said.

“I’m just wanting you to understand that this is your opportunity to influence the findings of fact that I might make. This is your only opportunity to do that.”

“I don’t understand how this is an opportunity for me,” said MacGregor, who was under subpoena to give evidence.

She began to cry, and said to Craig: “You put me under huge pressure during this time. I can’t believe I’m being made to stand in front of the man that did this to me.”

MacGregor has been forced into this situation, but she certainly came out firing against Craig yesterday.

NZ Herald: Colin Craig v Cameron Slater – The end is nigh

Their defamation trial looks set to fizzle out on Friday, Monday at latest, forcing Justice Kit Toogood to bend his red gleaming head to the task of finding justice in the swirling mess of a sexless sex scandal.

Craig, the former leader of the Conservative Party, claims Cameron Slater libelled him on his Whale Oil blog. Slater has responded in kind, citing Craig’s booklet Dirty Politics.

Much of their argument concerns what can be reasonably said about Craig’s relationship with his former press secretary, Rachel MacGregor.

MacGregor was called to give evidence against Craig. She did not want to appear. More to the point she demonstrably did not want to be in the same room as Craig.

MacGregor’s loathing for Craig could be felt all through the upstairs courtroom. It was like a stiff breeze moving in from the South Pole. It iced over the black-patterned carpet, it sealed the door, perhaps it turned down the central heating.

He read out a text that he said she had once sent him: “Miss you. Thank you being so wonderful.”

She said it was a fake text, that he’d doctored it. Justice Toogood interrupted, and read out other texts that Craig has produced in evidence. One to her parents, another to a friend. Did she accept those texts were real? She accepted they most likely were.

She also disputed a memo. “I’m sorry, Your Honour, but I’m just not comfortable with it,” she said.

“Well,” said Toogood, “comfortable or not, it’s part of the evidence of Mr Craig that he has sent to you, Miss MacGregor, so he’s entitled to ask you questions about it.”

While MacGregor has been forced by subpoena to appear as a witness it seems like she may have been schooled up for this appearance.

The case also adjourned early on Tuesday. This seems odd after the judge complained last week about how the case was dragging out.

According to ‘Whaleoil Staff’ today will be a day off, no reason given, and the case will resume with Craig’s cross examination of MacGregor on Friday.

Whale Oil was down in the dumps after Monday in court, thought it was the “best day in court ever!” on Tuesday and described yesterday as “a red letter day in court”.

Since things have been going better for Team Slater Whale Oil posts have been appearing in the evening and then more or less repeated the following morning.

Only getting snippets via media and Whale oil it is hard to know how the trial is going for both sides, apart from highlighting some shoddy stuff from both.

I have seen quite a bit to dislike about both Craig and Slater. I’m really not sure what to make of MacGregor this time in court. I’m sure she’s been poorly treated by Craig, and relationship breakdowns (professional or personal) can result in acrimony and sometimes payback. I’m not in a position to judge what exactly is going on in this case between MacGregor and Craig, except that it looks ugly.

I expect the judge will reserve his decision and then take some time to go over everything before giving his judgment.