25 Oct 2018

Judge rules Colin Craig was defamed by Cameron Slater

5:54 pm on 25 October 2018

The former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig was defamed by Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, a High Court judge has ruled.

Colin Craig presents his defamation case against former press secretary Rachel MacGregor in the High Court in Auckland.

A High Court judge has ruled Colin Craig was defamed by Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

But Justice Toogood has also found that Mr Craig was guilty of moderately serious sexual harassment of his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor, on multiple occasions from early 2012 to 2014.

Justice Toogood has just released his 250-page judgment in the defamation case, 18 months after the trial was held.

It was one of a number of legal proceedings launched in relation to the fallout from the 2014 election campaign, and Ms MacGregor's sudden resignation.

Watch Colin Craig's interview with Lisa Owen on Checkpoint here:

Mr Craig sued Mr Slater for posts he made on his Whale Oil blog about Mr Craig and his relationship with Ms MacGregor.

Mr Slater counter-sued Mr Craig for statements he made in a leaflet sent out to 1.6 million households around the country in 2015.

Justice Toogood has found that Mr Slater did defame Mr Craig, by making untrue statements about him.

But not all of Mr Craig's defamation claims were successful.

Justice Toogood dismissed Mr Slater's counter-claim.

Damages weren't awarded, because Justice Toogood said any reputational damage Mr Craig suffered resulted almost entirely from his own actions.

"To the extent, if any, that his reputation suffered further damage because of the two defamatory statements for which I have held the defendants to be liable, I am more than satisfied that the declarations that he was defamed in that way provide adequate vindication.

"I conclude, therefore, that Mr Craig is not entitled to an award of general damages to compensate him further for such damage. Mr Craig's remaining causes of action and his claims for damages in defamation are dismissed," Justice Toogood said.

Mr Craig said he was happy with the result, but he was still considering appealing, partly because damages were not awarded.

"There are some very clear findings that Mr Slater did actually defame me and on some quite serious issues, and it would be usual then to consider some damages, whether particularly high or not, would be awarded."

Mr Craig said he would seek legal advice before deciding whether to go ahead with an appeal.

He was weighing up whether more court action would be worthwhile, given he had won acknowledgement of defamation.

Mr Craig did not incur much in terms of legal costs, because he represented himself.

"As someone wisely said, sometimes it's best to quit while you're ahead, so I need to give it some serious consideration.

"I'm not going to be rushing to it - I've got a few weeks."

Mr Slater's lawyer, Brian Henry, said his client would not be too bothered by today's judgment.

"There was only one key issue in the trial and that is did or didn't Colin sexually harass Rachel MacGregor and the definitive answer is 'yes he did'," Mr Henry said.

Mr Slater had the "vindication" he wanted from the defamation case, Mr Henry said.

"He was the one who broke the story the whole media were chasing, everyone wanted to know why Rachel MacGregor quit and I have no doubt from the judgment that the sexual harassment was a big part of it," he said.

"I don't think Mr Slater is too worried over the booklet and things like that on his reputation - he's a big boy and he understands how the world works.

"But the key for him is to get absolute vindication that the story he broke was true."

Mr Slater would not be considering an appeal, Mr Henry said.

Craig guilty of "moderately serious sexual harassment"

Justice Toogood has found that Mr Craig was guilty of "moderately serious sexual harassment of Ms MacGregor", on multiple occasions from early 2012 to 2014.

Mr Craig did that by "telling her that he remained romantically inclined and sexually attracted to her, and that those expressions of his views were not welcomed by Ms MacGregor at the time they were communicated," Justice Toogood said.

Ms MacGregor chose not to complain about the harassment because of her concern about the effect of a complaint on her employment, he said.

"Mr Craig did not demonstrate, at any point in his evidence in this proceeding, any understanding of the difficulties created for an employee by an employer's expression of intense feelings of emotional engagement and sexual longing," Justice Toogood said.

"He never acknowledged the possibility that Ms MacGregor may have felt she could not protest about, and was obliged to tolerate, sexually charged language and conduct for fear of losing her employment or failing to meet her employer's expectations."

The Rachel MacGregor Trust has welcomed Justice Toogood's finding.

"It puts it beyond any reasonable doubt or argument that Mr Craig indeed sexually harassed Rachel MacGregor during the source of her employment with him," said Trustee Nicola Taylor.

Following her resignation two days before the 2014 election, Ms MacGregor laid a sexual harassment complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

A confidential settlement was reached about that complaint.

Ms MacGregor was subpoenaed to give evidence in the case involving Mr Craig and Mr Slater.

Last month, Mr Craig's defamation case against Ms MacGregor went to trial in the High Court in Auckland.

Justice Hinton has reserved her decision in that proceeding.

Mr Craig's defamation case involving the founder of the Taxpayers' Union, Jordan Williams, has made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

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