Full investigation needed into complaints against Deon Swiggs

7:38 pm on 3 October 2019

A former Christchurch mayor says voters have to make a call whether they are comfortable with voting for an embattled councillor.

Deon Swiggs billboard in Christchurch.

Deon Swiggs billboard in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Anan Zaki

Deon Swiggs has been on leave from council duties for a fortnight after allegations of grossly inappropriate social media messages and insisting on hugs instead of handshakes to people as young as 13.

In the preliminary assessment of the code of conduct complaint against Mr Swiggs, the investigator, retired High Court Judge John Matthews concluded that two of the five complaints are material and require full investigation.

Another complaint has been referred to an unnamed agency.

Former mayor Garry Moore said voters have to make an individual decision over the future of Mr Swiggs.

"The voters of Christchurch Central [Ward], will have to make a call individually on whether they feel comfortable with Deon [Swiggs] now. Or whether they [voters] feel that where there is smoke there is fire, but that's up to individual people to judge that for themselves."

Mr Moore also said he was suspicious about the timing of the complaints being leaked to the media close to the election.

"I have to say as an old political hack, when these things come out just before voting time, you'd have to say it's a bit suspicious," he said.

"I remember receiving information on the candidate who was standing against me when I first stood for the mayoralty, and I chose to walk away from that, because that wasn't my role. And that person was subsequently charged and found guilty and sent to prison, but I would refuse to participate in an exercise because to me, politics isn't about playing personal games and scoring against people," Mr Moore said.

Earlier today, the under siege Mr Swiggs hit out at the Christchurch City Council's independent assessment at a media stand up at midday today, saying he was disappointed at the decision from Mr Matthews.

"The decision has been made without fair consideration of all information. In it Mr Matthews states, he has had not contact with me or any other complainants. The decision also refers to information he has received, which has not been passed to my senior legal counsel," Mr Swiggs said.

Mr Swiggs also released messages he exchanged with the complainants.

"These messages were provided to Mr Matthews and are important but we believe were not considered. They provide context to the complaints. Today I am providing screenshots of messages, to provide that context. I am disappointed that I've had to do this but feel I've been left with no choice," he said.

The release of the messages drew sharp criticism by the Canterbury Youth Workers Collective, which has been supporting the young people involved in the code of conduct complaint.

In a statement, its manager Penny Prescott said it "unequivocally" condemned the action.

"The selection of messages that were released are only a portion of what has been raised in the complaint, and it is not merely the individual events and messages that are of concern to the young people, but the overall pattern of behaviour," she said.

"I would like to reiterate that neither the subject nor the timing of this complaint was politically motivated."

In his preliminary assessment report, Mr Matthews said the complainant of the messages spoke of feeling uncomfortable and effects on their mental health.

Mr Swiggs commented on the timing of the leak of the complaints to media.

"I believe the link to the media about these complaints at the same time that voting papers were posted, is not coincidental," he said.

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel would not be drawn to comment on the news that the two of the complaints will be investigated fully.

But questions still remain on whether Ms Dalziel or the council did enough when the complaints were first brought to their attention in May.

Mr Swiggs said his legal counsel Phil Shamy, had advised him to take 48 hours to consider further advice, which may include filing in the High Court for a judicial review of the process.

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