1 Jun 2017

Closing addresses in Slater vs Craig trial

5:10 am on 1 June 2017

Colin Craig and Cameron Slater's lawyer spent much of their closing addresses arguing about the nature of the relationship between the former Conservative Party leader and his press secretary.

Colin Craig speaks to reporters outside court after the jury delivered its verdict.

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig. Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan

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 MacGregor. Mr Slater is counter-suing Mr Craig for statements made in a leaflet sent out to 1.6 million households around the country.

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.

He said that was captured in at least three personal letters Mr Craig wrote to Ms MacGregor that have been read in court.

There was also a kiss on the night of the 2011 election at the Conservative Party apartment, attached to the party's headquarters.

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."

Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater Photo: Supplied

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

She resigned shortly before the 2014 election and lodged a sexual harassment complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal that eventually ended in a confidential settlement.

"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.

Rachel MacGregor

Rachel MacGregor Photo: LinkedIn

"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 Henry said Mr Craig then published a vindictive booklet that went to 1.6 million households around the country, costing him over $250,000.

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

Slater 'reckless' in for publishing 'allegations' - 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 thanked him for the letters he sent her.

He said he and Ms MacGregor worked long hours together and formed a close working relationship and a friendship, something he called a workplace romance.

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.

"And the only times ... that I used sexual language or behaved in a sexual manner towards Ms MacGregor was the election night in 2011 and three of the letters."

Mr Craig will continue closing his case tomorrow.

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