National MP Sam Uffindell reinstated to caucus on the back of secret King's Counsel report

7:58 pm on 19 September 2022
Sam Uffindell

National MP Sam Uffindell has been reinstated to caucus after a report didn't substantiate allegations of bullying outside of his time at King's College. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Power Play - Voters are being asked to take a leap of faith with the return of MP Sam Uffindell to the National Party fold.

He is back in the caucus after a report from Maria Dew KC, but her report and its terms of reference remain secret.

Uffindell was suspended in early August over an alleged incident at Otago University nearly 20 years ago, where he was accused by his former flatmate of acting in a threatening and abusive way towards her, forcing her to flee the house - an account backed by her father.

While the MP admitted to being a bully while at boarding school, he flatly denied the allegations from his time at university.

The report's findings have not been made public, but rather leader Christopher Luxon has released selected parts; one, he said, was Uffindell "did not engage" in the behaviour he was accused of. The broad conclusion was the "thorough" investigation "did not substantiate any allegations of bullying outside of Sam's time at King's College".

The first is a definitive finding given it is a disputed event, two decades ago and effectively the flatmate's word against his. Fourteen people were interviewed and it appears another flatmate, present at the time, was the account that tipped the balance towards Uffindell.

Luxon opened his comments with an acknowledgement of anyone "impacted or hurt by Sam's behaviour", but in the spirit of "forgiveness and second chances", the MP for Tauranga would be reinstated.

There was clearly an attempt to avoid outright criticism of the complainant, but the upshot is National is not accepting her version of events - backed by the Dew report.

Speaking alongside Luxon and new party president Sylvia Wood, Uffindell said there was a "genuine breakdown in flat relationships" and "things were said that I now realise my flatmate overheard", for which he apologised and expressed regret. However, he stuck to his guns - denying it went further than that. When pressed about what he had said, he demurred, falling back on the line he did not want to discuss any details.

Wood said there were "differing accounts" of what occurred, but added it was "clear the complainant's experience in a deteriorating flat relationship caused her harm". She welcomed the opportunity the report gave National "to now move forward".

Luxon has accepted Uffindell's assurances he is a changed man, that he deeply regrets his bullying behaviour and the harm it caused. His case was helped greatly by the fact no other people came forward with fresh claims, and the Dew report was focused on the incident in the student flat.

Unless there is further comment from the original complainant, this will draw a line under the controversy for National. However, it has not been without damage.

While Luxon acted quickly and called in a top lawyer, the timing of today's media conference on the eve of a massive news event and the fact no part of the report will be released, deserve scrutiny. In the end, the public will have to take National at its word - after numerous messy scandals involving its MPs and candidates behaving badly.

National's most senior leadership was drawn into the controversy and it cast a shadow over the first weeks of Sylvia Wood's presidency, reviving concerns about National's candidate selection, its culture, and its tolerance of bullying and entitled behaviour.

Uffindell attracted accusations of hypocrisy after taking a strong line on law and order, talking about "a growing culture of lawlessness, lack of accountability, a sense of impunity" during his maiden speech.

There has not been time over the past six weeks to reflect on that stance, he told reporters, having been busy looking after himself and his family, assisting Maria Dew and constituency work.

"But that is something I will consider further", he said.

This is all about second chances, it is now up to Sam Uffindell to prove he deserves one.

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