Craig v Slater Day 17 (media roundup)

Photo: Chris McKeen via Stuff

Closing arguments were started yesterday in the Craig v Slater defamation case.  Cam Slater is counter-suing for defamation also.

NZN via NZ City reported

Closing arguments heard in Craig case

A High Court judge will soon retire to untangle fact from fiction in the defamation battle between former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and blogger Cameron Slater.

Justice Kit Toogood may begin considering his judgement in the case as early as Thursday, having heard closing arguments from both parties in Auckland on Wednesday.

Mr Craig is suing Slater for a series of posts on his Whaleoil blog in 2015, saying the blogger “falsely” claimed he sexually harassed his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor.

Slater is counter-suing Mr Craig over a 12-page pamphlet he sent to 1.6 million homes. He says Mr Craig incorrectly claimed in the pamphlet Slater was deliberately publishing false allegations about him.

Representing himself, Mr Craig said during his closing argument on Wednesday 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.

Slater also falsely alleged he sexually harassed at least one other woman and was a sexual deviant, Mr Craig said.

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.

His resignation came after Ms MacGregor had earlier resigned suddenly two days before the 2014 election, having worked closely with Mr Craig from about the time he founded the Conservative Party three years earlier.

However, Slater’s lawyer Brian Henry, in his closing arguments, 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 said when Mr Craig stood down from the Conservative Party and did not give enough details about why he was doing it during a press conference, he himself ignited the media firestorm that would follow.

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.

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.

Harrison Christian at Stuff reported  

Closing submissions heard in Colin Craig defamation trial

‘Sexting’ and back massages were covered off in the latest trial involving Colin Craig as the matter drew to a close on Wednesday.

The former Conservative Party leader and Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater are suing each other for defamation in the High Court at Auckland.

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.

“The plaintiff acknowledged he deleted them, full-stop. And when you’ve got a trial where sext texts are an issue, sent by you, why would you delete them?”

Earlier in the trial, under cross examination by Henry, Craig confirmed texts had been forensically extracted from his tablet by former Christchurch detective Mike Chappell, who was convicted on 10 dishonesty charges in 2002.

After Chappell sent the tablet back to Craig, it was accidentally destroyed, when it fell off his car and got “run over”.

However, on Wednesday, Henry said Craig had claimed during the trial to have subsequently found the phone, and wanted to have texts extracted from it using a different forensics expert.

“We were told [the] phone was damaged, had to be thrown away. Sorry, just not credible.”

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”.

“There is a qualified privilege to hit back when one’s reputation is attacked, rather than remain silent..”

He had never sent sext messages to MacGregor, but their relationship had been close and mutually affectionate, he said.

An incident on election night 2011, where Craig and MacGregor kissed and he touched her breast, had been consensual and they both regretted it, he said.

Contrary to MacGregor’s evidence, Craig said she had sometimes offered to give him back massages, rather than him requesting them.

Craig is expected to finish his closing submission on Thursday.

The judge-alone trial has run for nearly four weeks, but was originally set down for three.

I may have missed it, but I don’t believe Mr Craig directed the Court’s attention to a single bit of evidence that was published by Whaleoil suggesting or labelling Mr Craig  a “sexual deviant”.  I still believe that’s language picked up from court documents or proceedings, which occurred after the period the alleged complaint is meant to cover.

Mr Craig is the one that keeps repeating that phrase in his case.  His motivation is beyond my understanding.

Brian Henry outlined that Mr Craig had sexually harassed Ms MacGregor based on a trail of court appearances from the Human Rights Tribunal, the Human Rights Review Tribunal and the Auckland High Court, although it is generally acknowledged that he himself doesn’t think so.  There were also a number of letters written by Mr Craig to Ms MacGregor which formed part of the evidence trail.

In addition, the other witness to the behaviour, Rachel MacGregor, is adamant that sexual harassment did occur.  She repeatedly told the court that she settled the complaint but the never withdrew her allegations.  She also points to having received a formal apology from Mr Craig and was never required to issue him one.

This case will be the third court appearance where the alleged sexual harassment had to be proven to the satisfaction of the Court.  No doubt, no matter what the verdict, Mr Craig will continue to propose that he has yet to be declared guilty of sexual harassment.

Only the case in the Human Rights Tribunal dealt directly with that issue.  And in Mr Craig’s mind, it was settled, and therefore his guilt or innocence regarding sexual harassment remains untested.

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 [ final part of sentence redacted post-publication while being reviewed ]

[ an additional two paragraphs have been redacted post-publication while being reviewed ]

For Cam Slater to win against Colin Craig, the Court needs to find that Rachel MacGregor was sexually harassed by Colin Craig and that Whaleoil’s belief that another victim existed was based on honest belief created by subterfuge by Mr Colin Craig and his lawyer.  Also, the Court needs to find that the Dirty Politics booklet has no basis in fact.

As for the damages, nobody in their right mind is expecting the court to award the $16m originally asked for.  But Brian Henry has put it to the court that the press conferences and booklet were severely disproportional in response.  This is relevant because Mr Craig claims “self defence” against Whaleoil, in spite of Whaleoil not leading the media in any issue apart from the single day it published the poem.  So if the Court finds that Cam Slater was defamed by Mr Craig, there has to be some degree of proportional disincentive for Mr Craig to do so again.

The court has heard that Mr Craig ‘set aside one million dollars’ to ostensibly deal with Rachel’s sexual harassment complaint using a strategy to undermine her public credibility.  He then spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on making a booklet that was sent to 1.6 million households in the country.  In proportion, the independently recorded blog traffic logs show that the number of people who read the “Two of me” poem on Whaleoil was fewer than 3,000.

Judge Toogood will soon start formulating his judgement.  History shows that we are in for a month or two of waiting until we know the final outcome.

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.   But then, we are also confident that Mr Craig will immediately appeal the decision.

Because there has only been one thing consistent throughout this whole saga:  Mr Craig does not accept he sexually harassed Rachel MacGregor.  And no number of witnesses, documents or court appearances can force him into changing his mind.

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