Craig v Slater Day 11 (media roundup)

Photo: Chris McKeen via Stuff

As predicted on Friday, yesterday delivered a plot twist that nobody saw coming.   Colin Craig’s lawyer was the one that phoned Cameron Slater and hinted that she had a client that was also legally involved with Colin Craig.  Could she please see all the evidence Whaleoil held thus far so she could use it for her client.

But she did not disclose her client was Colin Craig.   There is more to this, but this is a post to summarise the media.  

Sam Hurley at the Herald

Blogger Cameron Slater says he is “lost for words at the betrayal of someone I considered a friend”, after he feels a lawyer acting on behalf of Colin Craig was pitted against him, a court has been told.

Craig, the former Conservative Party leader, is suing Slater, the blogger for website Whale Oil Beef Hooked, for defamation at a trial at the High Court in Auckland before Justice Kit Toogood.

In response to the allegations, Craig published a booklet called Dirty Politics which he distributed to more than a million households and held a press conference about Slater.

Slater is counter-suing Craig for what he said in the pamphlet and press conference.

This morning Madeleine Flannagan, a barrister and solicitor at Hibiscus Coast Legal Chambers, said she began acting on behalf of Craig and his wife Helen as the couple sought to adopt a child.

She said she had also known Slater as a friend for about 11 years.

Flannagan, who has been a practising lawyer since January 2012, told the court that between June 24, 2015 and May 5, 2017 she spoke to Slater several times.

“There was talk about a dossier of information,” she told the court. “There was suggestion this dossier contained more info than was available publicly. I needed to know what allegations we were potentially dealing with.”

“I discussed these things with [the Craigs]. The Craigs told me they too were concerned that if more allegations were published, this might negatively affect their [adoption] application.”

After hearing radio news reports regarding the sexual allegations against Craig involving former press secretary Rachel MacGregor, and that Slater had more information to be released, she made contact with the blogger.

“I considered I knew Cameron well enough that I could call him and ask what was coming.”

The Craig’s did not want “further speculation” to affect their children, she said.

“I told Cameron I was asking about [the allegations] for a client, but that the nature of the matter was privileged … the conversation had to remain between us and he assured me it would.

“I wanted to cover the risk that he would tell someone else … I was counting on him to honour that.”

However, Slater claims he believed Flannagan was acting on behalf of a “victim” of Craig’s, and the blogger saw her as a source providing her with further information about the allegations against Craig.

Flannagan said Slater “had to assume that this client of mine was another ‘victim’ of Mr Craig’s”.

On June 25, 2015, Slater phoned Flannagan asking to speak to her client, she replied, “the odds of that were highly unlikely” and told Slater, “the case I’m acting in is quite different”.

Further communications between the pair continued, and on April 27 last year, Slater sent a private Facebook message to the lawyer asking to speak to her about Craig.

However, the following day she replied that she was unable to discuss the matter as it was privileged.

“I had not said anything about a victim,” she said.

Slater claims he had reasonable grounds to believe Flannagan was acting for a victim.

An emotional Flannagan told the court, “my obligation of confidentiality could still not allow me to tell Cameron who my client was”.

When cross-examined by Slater’s lawyer, Brian Henry, Flannagan said it was her idea to call Slater.

Craig endorsed the approach, the family and harassment lawyer said.

“I don’t think Mr Craig knew I had that relationship [with Slater] until I made that phone call.”

Slater was recalled to the witness stand to be questioned over Flannagan’s evidence.

“I’m just lost for words at the betrayal of someone I considered a friend,” the blogger said.

During cross-examination by Craig, who is representing himself, Slater was asked if he felt it was a “credibility contest” between himself and Flannagan.

Slater did not accept Craig’s claim.

He also did not accept Craig’s proposition that Flannagan was in a difficult position due to client confidentiality agreements.

Craig asked, “did you genuinely believe that at the time she was approaching you as a source to provide you information?”

Slater replied, “yes … little did I know that she was reporting back to you”.

When questioned by Justice Toogood if Slater had betrayed Flannagan over the confidentiality of their conversations, the blogger said, “I guess technically I did”.

The trial continues with MacGregor later expected to give evidence.

Stuff’s Harrison Christian

Rachel MacGregor has told a court she was horrified by former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig’s “really bad poetry,” and felt trapped while she was working for him.

On Monday, MacGregor – Craig’s former press secretary – gave evidence in the Auckland High Court, where Craig is suing Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater.

Slater’s lawyer Brian Henry cross-examined MacGregor, asking her reaction to a letter Craig wrote to her on Christmas Eve in 2014, which included two love poems.

“I remember feeling really offended, because we agreed that there were going to be boundaries and he had even written them himself, and now he’s writing me really bad poetry,” she said.​

“It was awful actually, especially because he was going really into detail about me physically.”

One of the poems, titled Beautiful, which Craig has admitted was inappropriate, featured lines like, “You are beautiful because your skin is so soft.”

It was part of a bevy of letters and poetry Craig sent MacGregor while he employed her as his press secretary.

MacGregor told the court the letters frustrated her.

“It just disgusted me. He was just so stupid, like what are you doing? It’s just gone from bizarre to ridiculous. I was thinking ‘oh for goodness’ sake this is so awkward’.”

MacGregor described her first impressions of Craig when she came to work for him in 2011.

“Badly dressed. He was a little bit sort of odd; he had his pants sort of pulled up really high and stuff, sort of dorky, but he was just a middle-aged man trying to have a job at politics.

“I set about to try and get him an image that was worthy of being part of public discussion. He needed a completely new wardrobe, he needed a proper haircut.”

However, MacGregor said what developed was an overbearing relationship in which the “whiny” Craig wanted to spend more and more time with her.

He often requested back massages, asked her to work weekends with him and to come into his office after hours for a “debrief”.

She repeatedly asked Craig to write “boundaries” into her contract, and he responded by penning another letter.

“As we all know with Colin Craig he looks to do things in a weird way, you know; out of the ordinary, quirky way. I asked him to put boundaries in my contract, his way of doing it was writing me a letter from him and [his wife] Helen.”

Henry asked MacGregor about an incident on election night 2011, where she and Craig kissed and he touched her breast.

Asked who stopped the incident, MacGregor said: “I did.

“At that point really lost faith in Colin. I thought he was trustworthy, but I lost a lot of trust in him.”

However, she felt she couldn’t quit her job.

“The car that I drove, Colin owned. I had a dog and I needed to keep my rental property; in order to keep my rental property I had to keep a job. I needed to keep my job so that I could keep afloat really.”

She disputed Craig’s evidence about a flight from Napier to Auckland in 2014 in which he claims she propositioned him, saying she wanted to be “more than just his press secretary”.

“It’s just ridiculous. I know it’s very convenient for Mr Craig’s story, but there’s no way I said that or would say that.”

Slater is also counter suing Craig.

Earlier on Monday, Madeleine Flannagan, who was an Auckland lawyer working on an application by Craig and his wife to adopt a child in 2015, gave tearful evidence.

Flannagan had also been friends with Slater for around 11 years.

“There was talk about a dossier of information. There was suggestion this dossier contained more info than was available publicly. I needed to know what allegations we were potentially dealing with,” she said.

“I discussed these things with my clients. The Craigs told me they too were concerned that if more allegations were published, this might negatively affect their application.”

In June 2015, Flannagan phoned Slater asking him what other information he had, saying she could not disclose who her client was and the conversation must remain confidential.

However, Slater inferred from the phone call that Flannagan was a lawyer acting on behalf of a victim of Craig’s, and then used her as the source for allegations he published on Whaleoil that Craig had a “second victim”.

Slater’s lawyer Brian Henry argued Craig was using Flannagan to find out how much information Slater had.

“Do you agree that Mr Craig was using you to try and find out what Mr Slater knew?” he asked.

“Well it was my idea to ring Cameron,” Flannagan said. “I don’t think Mr Craig even knew I had that relationship.”

Subsequently both parties tried to rope her into defamation proceedings.

“My client and now my friend were both asking me for affidavits to use against the other in the same proceeding. Notwithstanding this I knew my obligation of confidence could still not allow me to tell Cameron who my client was,” she said, and broke down crying.

When Slater was recalled to the witness box by Henry, he said he found it difficult to describe his current relationship with Flannagan.

“I’m just lost for words at the betrayal of someone I considered a friend.

“If I knew she was a lawyer for Mr Craig I would have never spoken to her. This entire allegation would never have come out but for the deception placed upon me.”

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.

Radio New Zealand

A lawyer acting for Colin Craig was the source of stories on the Whale Oil blog claiming a second person had accused the former Conservative Party leader of sexual harassment.

Mr Craig is suing Cameron Slater for posts he made on his Whale Oil blog about Mr Craig and his relationship with his press secretary, Rachel McGregor. Mr Slater is counter-suing Mr Craig for statements made in a leaflet sent out to 1.6 million households around the country.

Madeleine Flannagan told the High Court in Auckland she made it clear to Mr Slater that she was not representing a second woman claiming to have been sexually harassed by Mr Craig.

Mr Slater has written stories claiming there was a second complainant, and has confirmed that a conversation with Ms Flannagan was the basis for those stories.

Ms Flannagan told the court today she called Mr Slater, asking for a copy of a sexual harassment complaint against Mr Craig, and that Mr Slater became fixated and asked her a number of questions about her client.

She said she made it clear she was not representing a second woman, but could not say who her client was.

Ms Flannagan has now told the court her client was actually Mr Craig.

Steve Braunias at the Herald

It was written in capital letters 2m tall on the eggshell-blue walls of courtroom 14 at the High Court of Auckland on Monday. It was everywhere you looked. It was spread along the smooth length of the press bench. It was outside the window, fluttering like the autumn leaves on Parliament Street. It was in the eyes of Justice Kit Toogood. It burned in his eyes like jets of flame. It read: WTF.

The long version read: WTF just happened? Even in a trial as strange and unlikely as the Colin Craig vs Cameron Slater defamation trial, which has dragged its sorry carcass around courtroom 14 this past fortnight, the events on Monday morning were dumbfounding. They were novel. They were crazy AF.

The name Madeleine Flanagan occupied much legal argument on Friday. Craig wanted to call her as his witness; Brian Henry, Slater’s lawyer, opposed it. Justice Toogood heard the arguments and ruled in Craig’s favour. And so it was that she took the stand on Monday, and told a tale that may just be examined and dissected in law schools for many years to come.

She told the court that she was engaged in 2014 as the family lawyer for Craig and his wife Helen. They were looking to adopt a child. Things became complicated when Craig’s former press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, accused him of sexual harassment. Worse, rumours started surfacing that Slater had possession of a dossier which contained even more damaging information about Craig.

And this is where it gets curious, most strange, etc.

She told her clients that she just happened to be a friend of Slater. Good old Cam! Known him forever. Eleven years, to be precise.

As she blithely said to the court: “I considered I knew Cameron well enough to call him.”

She phoned, and asked for the contents of the dossier on behalf of a client. And this is where it gets . . . more curious. “He assumed my client was another victim of sexual harassment. I tried to dissuade him from that idea. I had to pitch my words quite carefully.”

The words she pitched collapsed like a tent in a gale. Slater, she said, told her that he had “reasonable grounds” to believe she was, in fact, acting for “another victim”.

Flanagan described how her call had quickly led to an ethical minefield. The last thing she intended was to deceive a friend. She said, “I felt quite torn.” She began to weep. The registrar fetched a box of tissues. She pulled herself together, repeated that at no point did she tell Slater that she was acting for “another victim”, and then she said: “I was telling Cameron the truth.” Was that a laugh in the public gallery?

But a serious point was being raised: the possibility that Slater’s published references to Craig’s “other victims” stemmed from this crazy misunderstanding. In other words, that his accusation was garbage. That there wasn’t anything in it. That he had gone off half-cocked.

Slater was called back to the stand to discuss Flanagan’s evidence. Craig, in cross-examination, was patient and effective, but not as brilliant as Justice Toogood, who kept Slater on the stand for an hour. It was a dazzling display of a first-rate legal mind.

The trial continued rather self-consciously after Flanagan’s bizarre revelations. Rachel MacGregor appeared on the stand to begin her evidence, and was asked to please be seated. But there was no seat. The court had reasonable grounds to assume it had disappeared.

“I can stand,” she said.

“No, no,” said the registrar, and sprang to his feet, in search of a chair.

“It’s important that you be comfortable,” said Toogood.

The dignity of the court had to be maintained. Normal service absolutely had to be resumed.

And suddenly the Herald can’t write enough about it.  Sam Hurley again:

Colin Craig’s former press secretary Rachel MacGregor says despite the politician’s “dodgy poems”, shoulder massages and “sleep trick” she felt she was forced to stay in the job.

The former TVNZ journalist turned PR advisor gave evidence at the High Court in Auckland today during the ongoing defamation case between the former Conservative Party leader and blogger Cameron Slater.

Craig is suing Slater, the blogger for website Whale Oil Beef Hooked, for defamation regarding sexual allegations involving MacGregor at a trial at the High Court in Auckland before Justice Kit Toogood.

In response to the allegations, Craig published a booklet called Dirty Politics which he distributed to more than a million households and held a press conference about Slater.

Slater is counter-suing Craig for what he said in the pamphlet and press conference.

When MacGregor was first approached to be Craig’s press secretary she said she found the politician to be a badly dressed “jovial chap”.

“He had his pants pulled up high, he was sort of dorky. He was a middle-aged man trying to have a go at politics,” she told the court.

Initially hired in a part-time role she quickly became a full-time staffer as she attempted to provide Craig with an “image that was worthy of public discussion”.

She said during her time at TVNZ she had put up with “inappropriate males”, but that Craig’s mention that the cut of her top was too low, followed by a letter, made her feel uneasy.

She said she outlaid her concerns and the pair talked of setting professional boundaries.

“As we know with Colin Craig he likes to do things in a weird way, a kind of quirky way.”

She thought the pair had a “good working relationship” after the boundaries were established, before Craig “had gone and broken them”.

Slater’s lawyer, Brian Henry, questioned MacGregor about a Christmas letter Craig wrote to her in 2014. The letter also included two love poems.

“Then came the dodgy poems, and I thought ‘oh for goodness sake, here we go again’.”

She told the court she was curious to see what Craig had written but “was really offended” by the “really bad poems”.

“It was awful actually, especially because he was going into detail about me physically, it was really disgusting.”

Just days before her resignation, while on a flight from Napier to Auckland on September 14, 2014, Craig claims MacGregor said: “You know me better than anyone, Colin … I want to be more than just your press secretary”.

“I absolutely guarantee you that I never propositioned Mr Craig for me to be anything more than his press secretary … it is very convenient for Mr Craig’s story,” MacGregor said.

She also talked of Craig’s “sleep trick” and shoulder massages for his “horrendous pain”.

“[The sleep trick], he reckons it was him imagining himself lying on my legs,” she said. ”

[And] he would ask me to rub his shoulders – to help him perform in his interviews … apparently. I don’t actually know if that was the case.

“Now that I look back at it I wonder if he just wanted me to rub his shoulders?”

She said the massages made her “uncomfortable” and she made an appointment for Craig to see a male massage therapist. However, after visiting the therapist once Craig refused to return.

Henry asked MacGregor about an incident on election night in 2011, when Craig kissed MacGregor and touched her breast.

MacGregor said she stopped the incident and “lost faith” in Craig.

“I thought that he was trustworthy, but I lost a lot of trust in him,” MacGregor said.

“I still wanted to keep my job, the car that I [drove], Colin owned … I had to keep my job to stay afloat really.”

MacGregor resigned on September 18, 2014, just two days before the general election.

The trial continues tomorrow, with Craig given the opportunity to cross-examine MacGregor.

Colin Craig’s relationship with the press

Henry brought MacGregor’s attention to a posed Fairfax Media photo of Craig lying in a some long, thick grass during his campaign.

“Oh dear,” she muttered, later outlining some of the issues she had during Craig’s interactions with the New Zealand media.

She said she tried several times to stop Craig from posing in the grass, but he insisted it was fine.

“You can lead a horse to water but you certainly can’t make it drink,” she joked.

She then spoke of an interview with TV3 journalist Brook Sabin, which followed Craig and MacGregor touring a shopping complex with members of the press.

After Sabin asked to interview Craig on camera, MacGregor said she needed to prepare Craig and went to the car for some make-up.

“When I came back he was already in front of the camera … Brook was having some fun just asking him all sorts of ridiculous questions. By the time I got there it was too late.”

She said Craig was discussing “a bunch of conspiracy theories”, including chemtrails and questioning if man had landed on the moon.

Craig didn’t see it as a problem until he watched it on the six o’clock news, she said.

She said Craig was not to engage with journalists without her being by his side to prevent him being caught off guard.

“He had the ability to make a normal media interview a disaster,” she later said.

Photo Nick Reed / NZ Herald

[MODerators note – commenters should not use WTF or similar phrases.  It will risk your commenting access]

 


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