16 Nov 2021

Rachel MacGregor awarded $400,000 after being defamed by ex-Conservative Party leader Colin Craig

7:56 pm on 16 November 2021

Rachel MacGregor has been awarded $400,000 in damages, after she was defamed by her former employer, the one-time Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.

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Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The judgment is the latest chapter in a years-long legal saga over the fallout from the 2014 election campaign, when MacGregor suddenly resigned just days before voters went to the polls.

The pair subsequently reached a confidential settlement over a sexual harassment claim and a financial dispute, the details of which ultimately ended up in the public domain.

Judges across multiple court proceedings, involving a number of different parties, have found MacGregor was sexually harassed by Craig while she was working as his press secretary.

The pair ended up in the High Court at Auckland in 2018, after Craig sued MacGregor for defamation and MacGregor counter-sued.

The case revolved around how Craig responded to speculation about the nature of his relationship with MacGregor, as well as comments he made about the settlement.

In her 2019 judgment, Justice Hinton found both parties defamed each other in certain respects - and that MacGregor was sexually harassed by Craig.

Craig ended up appealing that decision to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, but was unsuccessful.

More than three years after the case wound up in court, Justice Hinton has ordered Craig to pay damages.

Justice Hinton said Craig defamed MacGregor on four separate occasions: at two media conferences in 2015, in a letter to Conservative Party members and in a booklet that was sent to 1.6 million households.

In the judgment, Justice Hinton said Craig "deliberately misled the media by presenting factually inaccurate information in a way which impugned Ms MacGregor".

At the first media conference in June 2015, Craig said: "On some occasions our conduct was inappropriate and we have acknowledged that so we
can both move on".

He also said: "I have never sexually harassed anyone and allegations to the contrary are wrong".

Justice Hinton said that "implied Ms MacGregor made false claims of sexual harassment against him and that she was a liar".

She said the way Craig responded to allegations made by others - including Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater - was an aggravating feature of the case.

"By drawing Ms MacGregor further into the controversy and presenting himself as a victim when, although there had been no finding or concession made, it must have been abundantly clear even to him that the reverse applied.

"There can be no doubt Mr Craig did so deliberately."

Craig withdrew his claim for damages on the first day of the court hearing in 2018.

MacGregor's lawyer Hayden Wilson said the judgment was a "very clear vindication of Rachel's rights and of the damage that the defamation has done to her".

Given the length of time the proceedings have taken, Wilson was hopeful this would be the end of the road.

He said the $400,000 sum awarded to his client was significant.

"It is a significant award of damages for a person who never wanted to be in the public eye at all and who was brought in to effectively political theatre and had her reputation dragged through the mud."

Colin Craig says he will take some time to consider the judgment before deciding whether to appeal.