6 Apr 2017

Andrew Little defends efforts to settle defamation case

9:08 am on 6 April 2017

Labour Party leader Andrew Little has told a court of his "frustration" as he attempted to settle a defamation case against him.

Andrew Little

Andrew Little (file photo) gave evidence in the High Court in Wellington yesterday. Photo: RNZ

Mr Little gave evidence in the High Court in Wellington yesterday, defending the suit filed by tourism operators Earl and Lani Hagaman.

The Hagamans said Mr Little defamed them in media statements he made, linking a tourism deal their company was awarded to a $100,000 donation they made to the National Party, in 2014.

Mr Little told the court he accepted the Hagamans were entitled to an apology, and letters were exchanged between his lawyers and the Hagamans about that.

"As I've said, once the Auditor-General did her inquiry, I accepted her conclusion there was no impropriety and I was happy to give them a public apology.

"The frustration was trying to get form of apology that would be acceptable [to the Hagamans]."

Mr Little said he was sorry for any hurt he had caused the Hagamans, and apologised to Lani Hagaman in person in court today.

"I apologise for the words ... causing you hurt and I stand by the efforts I've made to resolve this matter," he said.

The Hagamans' lawyer, Richard Fowler QC, questioned him closely about his claim that the couple appeared not to want to reach a resolution.

Mr Little conceded there had been an offer, but his letter in reply said while he would make an apology he did not agree to pay the costs sought or damages.

He said he thought the proposal from the Hagamans was just an opening gambit and he expected further negotiations, but the amount they claimed kept rising.

"They said $100,000, then $215,000. I thought the legal costs were excessive."

"It included $17,000 to a PR firm, which I understood is not recoverable in court ... and I wouldn't meet that cost."

Mr Fowler also compared the original RNZ story about the Niue resort deal with words in Andrew Little's press release.

Mr Little agreed the original story did not include words his release had, such as "dodgy deals", "murky" or any reference to the government's earlier deals over the Sky City convention centre and a Saudi sheep deal.

Mr Fowler asked Mr Little whether it would not have been wise to check details before ruining someone's reputation, but Mr Little disputed that.

"Given the track record of the government I thought what I was doing was right and proper."

The case is continuing.