Caterer in email row hits back at her online critics

By Alanah Eriksen, Alanah May Eriksen

Under-fire caterer Margaret McHugh has lashed out at her critics after her abusive emails were sent around the world.

On Monday the owner of Sandringham's Gourmet Food Store told Ray White accounts and event manager Hayley Johnstone: "You were probably bottle-fed till late teens" and "I expect you still believe in Santa Claus" in an exchange that started out with a query over strawberries.

Within hours inboxes worldwide were inundated with copies of the email, internet blog sites received thousands of comments and radio commentators joined in on the act.

Ms McHugh said yesterday that as a busy caterer she made no apology for "what some obviously sensitive individuals have clearly mistakenly taken as rude or disparaging comments".

The former Queenstown Lakes District deputy mayor said that as someone with a longstanding reputation as a "straight and honest shooter", she preferred to deal directly with customers but was often difficult to contact, which was why she had provided an email address.

However, she goes on to say: "The long hours I work often mean I don't have the time like some to sit on my computer all day playing email ping pong and therefore I am forced to respond to queries outside what others would consider normal work hours.

"Notwithstanding this, I accept I can sometimes be intolerant of those that seem to have some difficulty using their own initiative to understand quotations even though the information is clearly spelt out for them."

Ms McHugh said she suggested Ms Johnstone source strawberries for herself and she appeared to have taken offence.

"What has amazed me is that Miss Johnstone then chose to publish my comments to all and sundry via email using her firm's email address and under their banner and all during office hours. This then provoked a volley of email responses, many in support of me but also many containing very disparaging and clearly defamatory remarks."

She said her website had received 20,000 hits in the past 48 hours, "which just goes to show any publicity is good publicity".

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