Former Conservative Party chief Christine Rankin has told a court she confronted Colin Craig repeatedly about rumours of an inappropriate relationship with his press secretary, well before her resignation and later revelations that love letters, poems and a sex text existed.
Giving evidence at day three of Craig's defamation trial today, Rankin revealed she had concerns about her party leader having an affair with Rachel MacGregor after a number of rumours started to circulate.
"It certainly looked as though something very unusual was going on ... I was never allowed in that office without knocking ... curtains went up ... the atmosphere, you could almost touch it, it was very embarrassing," Rankin told the jury.
"There were many, many, many things ... I knew from the way he was skirting the questions that I was asking that he was not telling me the real story ... I know the way he answers questions when he wants to avoid things, and that's what he was doing."
Rankin is giving evidence in support of Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams, who launched civil proceedings after Craig allegedly defamed him last year at a press conference and again in a leaflet sent to more than 1.6 million households.
Craig claimed Williams and others were liars and had spread false accusations about him including that he had sexually harassed MacGregor following her shock resignation before the 2014 general election.
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In his evidence this week, Williams has revealed what he says were the contents of letters, cards and text messages sent by Craig to MacGregor which he says prove he is telling the truth.
Williams says when he was first told of and shown the material by MacGregor, he approached several Conservative Party members in a bid to "warn" them about Craig's actions which he felt jeopardised their reputations.
Rankin was one of the people in whom Williams confided.
He asked her not to take the matter further but she said she had no choice.
Rumours had been "swirling" about Craig for a long time before Williams approached her with actual "evidence", Rankin told the court.
It was "the icing on the cake".
"This is very serious for a political party like ours. I could not leave it alone. I had to put it to Colin and hear what he had to say," she said.
"In my heart I knew that there was something very wrong."
Rankin confronted Craig again and he admitted sending MacGregor "flowery" letters and poems, she said.
"I remember saying 'you didn't? You're stuffed," Rankin said.
"He went on to tell me there had been inappropriate behaviour but it was not sexual harassment."
Craig told her that on the night of the 2011 election he and MacGregor had "kissed".
"He said she was a very willing participant and could not blame that on him, that it was
consensual. Colin said they were very close and that he loved her like she was a sister ... he mentioned again Rachel's mental state and that she had misinterpreted what he had written.
"Colin added that Rachel had made an 'indecent proposal' to him just before she resigned. He said he had chosen his wife and he was proud of that, but he was sure that was why Rachel had resigned."
The contents of what he said was a handwritten note, spanning more than seven pages and including two poems, was read in court by Williams yesterday.
One poem read listed what Craig liked physically about MacGregor. Another letter was read that was said to be signed off "Love you Rach oooox".
Williams wrapped up his evidence after a day-and-a-half, saying Craig alleged he shopped around and spread allegations about the then-party leader "in an attempt to destroy him".
He denied that vehemently and reiterated that he only acted out of concern for MacGregor and the reputation of other Conservative Party members connected to Craig.
"I saw the debilitating effect this was having on [Rachel]," he said.
"I took steps. I was concerned with what I believed to be [Craig's] mistruths."
This afternoon, Craig's lawyers started what will likely be a lengthy cross examination of Williams.
The trial before Justice Sarah Katz and a jury continues.
MacGregor and Craig are among almost 30 witnesses expected to give evidence during the trial, set down for five weeks.
Craig allegedly sent two poems to his former press secretary Rachael MacGregor, which were read in court today.
TWO OF ME
There is only one of me, it's true
But I wish that was not the case because I wish I could have you
If instead of me I was two
That would be one for all the others and one of me for you
WAWAB - extract
You are wonderful because you make me smile
You are wonderful because you think like me
You are wonderful because you don't think like me
You are wonderful because you know how to care
Please know that you are wonderful
Beautiful (Please skip this section if inappropriate)
Your eyes are lovely
You look unbelievable in your new dress
Your lips are so amazing to kiss
Your skin is so soft
You have the most perfect ...
(LOL ... ok I deleted a couple of lines and stopped this section).
Please know that you are beautiful.
- Part of a poem allegedly written by Colin Craig, sent to his press secretary