My good tea buddy Steve Braunias wraps up Craig v. Slater

Steve Braunias has really out done himself, in a two page spread no less.

On Colin Craig:

Colin Craig has always had the look of a hermit about him – gaunt, unworldly. You can imagine the former leader of the Conservative Party on some wild shore, deafened by the hiss and crash of the surf, collecting driftwood washed up by a storm. His pants are held up by a length of twine. He is barefoot. He looks out to sea; he has visions, he is in receipt of a message from God. He heads back to his dark and quiet cave. The whites of his eyes shine like torches. He plots his next move.

On me:

Cameron Slater is more your creature from the black lagoon. He moves slowly and heavily, and has a sombre presence. As publisher, editor, and antic spirit of his politics blog Whaleoil, he plots the downfall of his enemies. He rings a bell, and his followers emerge from their own shallow puddles of murk. They talk in low whispers. They don’t want anyone listening in. They’re very concerned that someone might be listening in. The truth is that no one is listening in. It’s just a blog.

On the legal process:

And so to 2017, and an upstairs courtroom. 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. Both were admitted to the bar in February – Henry in 1975, Foster this year. Henry, in closing, plainly wanted to look his best as he stood before Justice Toogood and sought to serenade him with the power and fluency of his summary; he gave his shoes the brightest polish of the entire trial. They glowed like ebony. But a good shine costeth money. It doth not come cheap. His 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. God almighty!

Yes the costs are enormous…but when you have a litigant who won’t let go you are faced with no other option other than to defend yourself. But even if you win, essentially you lose. Brian tells me he never cleaned his shoes once during the trial.

On the core allegations that Craig sexually harrassed Rachel MacGregor:

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.

[…]

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 trouble was when he set about trying to establish that during his cross-examination of MacGregor. He didn’t have a lawyer acting for him, a buffer; this was Craig, the very person who MacGregor accused of a heinous campaign of sexual harassment, face to face, in person, in the flesh.

Craig remained calm. MacGregor did not. It was fairly horrible to watch and Justice Toogood ordered a day off for MacGregor to recover. That was last Thursday. She returned to finish giving evidence on Friday. And yet there she was again on Monday morning, sitting outside the court, by herself, no sign of a support person unlike the previous week; when court began, her presence was explained when Craig, incredibly, attempted to recall MacGregor to the witness stand. Justice Toogood heard him out, which is to say he heard him out for about, oh, say 90 seconds, before snapping at him that the request was denied. He asked Foster to go outside and tell MacGregor she was excused from any further obligation to the trial. It’s within the realms of possibility to imagine this was a very sweet moment.

That moment in court was one of the more disgusting displays of behaviour shown by Mr Craig towards Rachel MacGregor. He was actually savouring being able to recall her.

As a coward, I never made eye contact with MacGregor. She texted me during the trial to express her profound unhappiness with my style of reporting. Fair call. Slater, too, was put out now and then with my reports, and kept in regular touch with emails that were typically subject-lined: “Your column is wrong in many ways.” But he was really quite good-humoured about it, and shouted me a cup of tea and an Afghan biscuit one morning at QC’s, the High Court café. Perhaps his generosity extended to his lawyers, who after all were forced to make ends meet on a pitiful $12,000 per diem.

Yes, Braunias was a coward…he also forgot his wallet…or pretended to…so I bought him his cup of tea.

On Madeleine Flannagan:

The other journalists covering the trial received their own ticking off, 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.” Judas of Orewa! But what about her tender and exquisite feelings? She wept in court, telling her sorry tale; and she later reprimanded the other journalists for failing to publish her evidence that Craig had authorised her peculiar decision to phone Slater. I felt put out she hadn’t called me to complain. I could have done with a laugh.

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.

On some of the arguments:

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,” he interrupted on Wednesday, “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.”

On closing arguments:

Craig, in his closing address, moaned on and on about Slater’s high-spirited campaign on Whaleoil to force him out of politics. Justice Toogood leapt in, and said, “Does it matter that Mr Slater has a personal view about that? He wears his heart on his sleeve; it’s crazy to expect him to be balanced. He was simply engendering public debate … What’s wrong with that? This is important, Mr Craig. It seems to me to be something you have to confront.”

Which he failed to do.

On Colin Craig’s contention that he thought that a few text messages were “romantic”:

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.

She was repulsed by his advances, she said. Gossip at the time was otherwise. Press gallery journalist Barry Soper gave evidence, and talked about the widespread rumour that Craig and MacGregor were having an affair.

Craig: “What was your impression?”

Soper: “I didn’t form one.”

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.”

On supporters in the public gallery:

On the last morning of the trial, before court opened, Craig sat alone in QC’s with two pots of tea and worked on his closing address. Slater, his wife, and his father sat at a nearby table with Henry and Foster, laughing and chatting.

The registrar, David Slight, unlocked courtroom 14. Craig took his seat next to his McKenzie friend, Tom Cleary. No doubt some McKenzie friends are more loquacious than others but I never saw Cleary so much as move his lips.

A tall, elderly gentleman appeared in the public gallery. He had long hair which almost looked to be blonde, not white with age. It was Craig’s father. He didn’t go over and talk to his son.

Craig’s wife Helen had said in her statement of evidence in court, “It is, and continues to be, a wonderful marriage.” She didn’t return to the courtroom after she appeared as a witness.

The final minutes of the trial dragged towards the finish line. “Affectionate,” droned Craig. “Close.” MacGregor had left the building. It wasn’t 2014 anymore, with its high passions; it was a Thursday in the autumn of 2017, with wetas crawling around. No family, no friends other than a mute McKenzie. It was just Craig, seeing it out by himself, seeing it through, raking over the cold, dry ashes of something he thought of as “a workplace romance”, mooning over old letters (“Hug, hug, hug … Smiley face”), alone.

I felt sorry for Tom Cleary. Now he has been labelled as one of Colin’s friends…albeit a McKenzie friend.

Not a bad effort from my good tea buddy Steve Braunias.

 

-NZ Herald


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.

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