5 Oct 2018

Official report into Meka Whaitiri incident released

3:36 pm on 5 October 2018

The redacted final report into Labour MP Meka Whaitiri's alleged bullying finds it "probable" that she grabbed and left bruising on her press secretary.

Labour MP Meka Whaitiri talks to media on her return to Parliament

Labour MP Meka Whaitiri talks to media on her return to Parliament Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Ms Whaitiri was stripped of her ministerial responsibilities after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lost confidence in her over an altercation with her press secretary at an event in Gisborne in late August.

The report into what happened was leaked to media last month and revealed the press secretary was left with bruises on her arm.

The report - which was publicly released today - found it was "more likely than not" that the unnamed employee was left with the bruise after being grabbed by Ms Whaitiri.

The documents confirm reports last week that it was probable that the employee's version of events was more likely than the Minister's, and that Ms Whaitiri raised her voice at the employee outside the Gisborne venue where the event occurred.

Read the redacted report released today here:

For privacy reasons, the redacted report refers to Ms Whaitiri's press secretary as 'Employee A.'

"After giving careful consideration to this matter, it is my view that the explanation provided to me by Employee A is a more probable explanation as to what happened than the explanation provided to me by the Minister," investigation lead David Patten said.

"That is, rather than the encounter between the two of them in the foyer being a face to face encounter as described to me by the Minister, the Minister in fact approached Employee A from slightly behind and grabbed Employee A by the arm."

The report goes on to detail a series of interviews between Mr Patten and Ms Whaitiri, her press secretary, and another employee who is understood to be Leah Haines from the Prime Minister's office, who also attended the hui in Gisborne on 27 August.

Mr Patten found the allegation that Ms Whaitiri had dragged her press secretary from the foyer of the buildings outside to be incorrect, however the pair did go outside and Ms Whaitiri did raise her voice.

"She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside and said she needed to talk to me and when we were outside she raised her voice," the transcript of Mr Patten's original interview with the press secretary reads.

"I wouldn't say yelled but she did raise her voice to me and asked me if I knew what I was doing in my job and did I realise I'd missed a media opportunity and that that was embarrassing to her because it was her electorate and she should have been in that camera shot."

Throughout the report, Ms Whaitiri continually denied ever touching her press secretary, and disputed the allegation she came up behind her unexpectedly.

"Mr Patten, I did not touch Employee A. I didn't yank at Employee A, I didn't pinch at Employee A. I just don't touch staff," she said in an interview.

A heavily-redacted letter from Ms Whaitiri's lawyer to Mr Patten pushing back against the contents of the draft report was also included in today's release.

Read the redacted letter here:

The letter from lawyer Sally McKechnie, a partner at Simpson Grierson, outlined a number of "serious concerns" in relation to the draft version of the report, which was sent to legal counsel for both Ms Whaitiri and her former staff member.

It said the matters raised in the report and the conclusions reached "are not sound or sustainable" including its reliance on the complaint laid by email by a person known to a friend of the employee, rather than the employee herself, which used "very strong language to describe the alleged events" and "includes an explicit threat."

"We are concerned this has not been explored sufficiently in the investigation. It is relevant to both the significance of the allegations and the credibility of Employee A," it reads.

The letter also took issue with Mr Patten's reliance on the photographs of the bruising to reach his conclusions, and that there were no witnesses - saying given the number of people around it would have been noticed if Ms Whaitiri raised her voice.

It also noted Ms Whaitiri's press secretary changes her version of events, from stating she was pulled outside, to that she followed the Minister outside after being grabbed.

In a statement, Ms Whaitiri said she welcomed the public release of the official investigation report and the associated information.

"At all times I have fully cooperated with the investigation.

"As noted I contested some of the allegations.

"However I am disappointed my behaviour led to a complaint. I am committed to my own development, including better managing employment relationships."

She said she had accepted the decision to strip her of her ministerial duties, and intended to work hard to regain the prime minister's confidence.

"I am focusing on working hard for the people of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, as a member of Labour and Māori Caucus and contributing as a Member of Parliament."

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