Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Stunned MP weighs legal action

Reporter's employer alleges cover-up after emails shown to have also been released

Peter Dunne is considering legal action after what he called a serious breach of privacy. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Peter Dunne is considering legal action after what he called a serious breach of privacy. Photo / Mark Mitchell

United Future leader Peter Dunne is considering legal action and Fairfax Media is alleging a "cover up" after it emerged yesterday that Mr Dunne's emails with reporter Andrea Vance were sent to an inquiry investigating the disclosure of a sensitive report.

The latest twist in the Henry Inquiry saga follows earlier revelations that Vance's phone records were sent to the inquiry, along with logs of her movements around the parliamentary precinct recorded by a swipecard.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet released all emails relating to the Henry Inquiry late yesterday. One included an attachment containing emails between Vance and Mr Dunne, which was sent to the inquiry by Parliamentary Services on May 21.

About 40 minutes after the message was sent, Parliamentary Service officials tried to recall the email and asked the inquiry to call urgently.

The head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Andrew Kibblewhite said the file was deleted immediately and could not have been opened because the email system was incompatible with that used by DPMC.

The revelation of yet another serious blunder in the inquiry follows the resignation this week of Parliamentary Services head Geoff Thorn. He quit when it emerged that his agency had passed across Miss Vance's phone logs without being asked.

Yesterday, Mr Dunne said he was deeply shocked and considering legal action. He said although he accepted it was inadvertent, "this is a serious breach of privacy nevertheless as no approval had been given or even sought for access to this material."

Fairfax Media executive editor Paul Thompson said it had complained to Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff about "repeated breaches of Andrea Vance's privacy".

"Fairfax has no confidence in the way this matter is being handled and we feel we have to take the matter further. The release of information detailing Andrea's swipe card usage, telephone calls and emails to the Henry Inquiry was highly inappropriate and intrusive. There has also clearly been an attempted cover-up."

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said he learned of the email release yesterday morning and was "deeply disturbed" but noted that Mr Henry's report had said he had been unable to get the emails.

The Henry Inquiry was set up by the Prime Minister in April to find out who had leaked a GCSB report to Miss Vance. Mr Dunne resigned as a minister because he refused to release most of the 86 emails between himself and Ms Vance.

Yesterday's email release also shows:

• Mr Key's own emails and phone records were not requested by the inquiry, although those of four staff in his office were. Records of all 12 other ministers with access to the report were requested.

• Parliamentary Services told the inquiry on May 20 it believed it had the "necessary approvals" to release ministers' emails. However, the next day, Mr Thorn emailed Chief of staff Wayne Eagleson to ask about Mr Dunne's emails, adding "I am happy to provide the information as requested." Mr Eagleson said he told Mr Thorn he was uncomfortable about authorising that because Mr Dunne was not a National Party minister, and Mr Dunne would have to give permission himself.

• The Henry Inquiry had asked for calls made "to and from" the ministers' phones and Miss Vance's but specified "we do not want the call logs for (Vance's phones)" as it was outside conditions of the inquiry.

• A Parliamentary Service senior staff member also forwarded Miss Vance's phone logs to the Inquiry a few hours after its contractor Datacom had done so. It last week blamed the contractor for that "inadvertent" release. The Henry Inquiry team said it had emailed the contractor back to say it had not requested the information and had deleted it.

A Privileges Committee hearing into the handling of the inquiry is due to begin on August 21. Mr Eagleson will appear before that committee and Miss Vance's appearance has also been requested.

Mr Key's office said he has not been requested to appear and had no involvement in the handling of the inquiry after calling it. Mr Dunne said his appearance has been requested, but he would not take part if he believed it was a "witch-hunt".

NZ First leader Winston Peters is on the committee and has made claims about the content of Mr Dunne's emails, although he has not produced the emails themselves.

Eagleson says he authorised email release

The Prime Minister's chief of staff Wayne Eagleson has confirmed that he authorised the release of Peter Dunne's email and cellphone logs to the Henry Inquiry although he did not authorise the release of Mr Dunne's emails themselves and said he had no involvement in the release of Andrea Vance's records.

Mr Dunne has previously raised concerns that his email and cellphone logs were released to the inquiry without his permission. Mr Eagleson confirmed yesterday that it was he who had authorised Parliamentary Service to release Mr Dunne's logs, with those of 11 other ministers.

Mr Dunne would not comment yesterday when asked if he was satisfied Mr Eagleson acted appropriately by authorising the release of those records, but said it explained why the inquiry had access to more information than he had authorised.

Chief of staff Wayne Eagleson said he warned that the communication should not be released.
Chief of staff Wayne Eagleson said he warned that the communication should not be released.

Mr Eagleson was targeted by Opposition MPs last week after Parliamentary Service initially refused to provide information to the inquiry because it said it did not have the authority to do so.

Mr Eagleson yesterday took the rare step of speaking out publicly about his role in the Henry Inquiry to try to reject claims that he had pressured Parliamentary Service into providing information. He said Parliamentary Service's head, Geoff Thorn, had "appropriately" required authorisation before it could release the information.

"I gave Mr Thorn the authorisation on behalf of the Prime Minister for ministers to be covered off. Geoff took that as the appropriate authorisation. The idea that somehow Parliamentary Service were holding on to information and refusing to hand it over is not the case ..."

He rejected having any involvement in the release of Vance's records.

- NZ Herald

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