11 Aug 2020

Woodhouse's isolation homeless mystery man claim debunked

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 11 August 2020

Checkpoint can reveal a homeless person did in fact stay in managed isolation at Auckland's Crowne Plaza hotel, but he had every right to be there.

National MP Michael Woodhouse - who was health spokesperson at the time - claimed in June that a homeless man had breached security to sneak into the hotel and stay for free. 

Woodhouse claimed the man had not returned from overseas, but documents obtained by Checkpoint largely debunk the claim Woodhouse made on Newshub's AM Show on 18 June. 

After a thorough investigation, the All of Government Response Group found an unnamed man had actually returned to Auckland on a flight from Melbourne and accessed the hotel legitimately.

Despite a lack of any evidence of such a security breach, National leader Judith Collins continues to back Woodhouse.

He claimed a homeless man joined the queue at a secure Covid-19 managed isolation facility, entered undetected and enjoyed two weeks of meals, luxury accommodation and baths on the taxpayer. In Parliament, Woodhouse demanded that the claims be investigated. 

Documents released under the Official Information Act show the allegation triggered a thorough, taxpayer-funded internal review of all 1706 people who had stayed at Auckland's Crowne Plaza up until 22 June.

The review turned up just one person of interest: an individual with no fixed abode who was previously known to hotel staff because he frequented the Crowne Plaza.

"He would often come into the hotel to exchange coins for money or to use the bathroom facilities," the hotel said in a statement.

Inquiries confirmed however that the man entered New Zealand from overseas, arriving on a flight from Melbourne on the date specified when he checked in.

Police at the Grand Mecure Hotel in Wellington, which is being used as a managed isolation facility.

Police at a managed isolation facility. (file photo) Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The other 1705 people who had stayed at the Crowne Plaza were also verified as legitimate overseas arrivals.

Other documents reveal overseas arrivals at the Crowne Plaza were only allowed off the bus and into the hotel when directed by staff.

The process at the hotel means no one could walk in off the street and check into the hotel without being identified and arrivals are ushered off arriving buses either individually or in small groups.

Tight procedures at the hotel have been backed up by guests who shared their testimonies with Checkpoint.

Woodhouse, Collins remain unwavering

Despite the evidence against his claim, Woodhouse has been resolute in sticking to it 

"The absence of any evidence that it did occur is not evidence that it didn't," he told Checkpoint on 24 June.

Michael Woodhouse

 National's health spokesman Michael Woodhouse. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

"In any event, if they have gone to such lengths to verify the story, they certainly acknowledge by those actions that it could have happened. I have a very reliable source who has told me what they believe to be correct and I have communicated that. I stand by the comments that I have made."

Woodhouse was not so keen to talk today however, with numerous calls and messages going unanswered.

Collins backed her MP when approached outside Auckland Airport on Tuesday morning.

"He's told me some time ago that he had the assurance of a senior medical practitioner. I've taken his word," she said.

Collins was dismissive when asked about the findings of officials looking into the allegation.

"Just because the authorities can't find anything, I wouldn't worry about that."

National Party leader Judith Collins announcing the party's law and order policy on Tuesday 11 August.

 National leader Judith Collins. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

She again repeated her support for Woodhouse when challenged about it on Checkpoint on Tuesday evening.

"He's been very clear to me that he has not misled me. Michael Woodhouse has been very plain to me that the information he had was from the senior medical practitioner." 

She said she did not believe it was the same person who leaked details of Covid-19 patients to Woodhouse.  

"I have been very specific," in asking for clarity, she said.

"I did not ask him for a source… It is very important that when people provide information to the opposition genuinely and correctly, that we are not going to go around outing them for it.  

"I'm not going to doubt the words of my colleague." 

Cost of investigation still not public

Checkpoint has asked for the financial cost of investigating Woodhouse's claims, but is yet to hear back. However, the documents released to Checkpoint showed the probe included poring over hours of CCTV footage from the Crowne Plaza.

Officials also sought and were granted access to CCTV footage from the neighbouring Huawei building on Auckland's Albert Street.

None of the footage showed an individual sneaking into the hotel.

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The minister in charge of isolation facilities, Megan Woods, says she is confident the facilities are secure enough they would prevent a situation like Michael Woodhouse suggested.  Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The minister in charge of isolation facilities, Megan Woods, said it was time for Woodhouse to retract his claim.

"We very quickly, as soon as the allegation was made, moved to investigate it, because the allegation was a serious one. It was that the security of one of our managed isolation facilities could be breached, in a way that Mr Woodhouse is suggesting.

"We've spent many staff hours reviewing records of people, CCTV footage, making sure we didn't have those gaps in our security. I'm confident we do not."