Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Colin Craig defamation trial: everything you need to know so far

The first week of a defamation trial of  Colin Craig has drawn to a close. Photo/Nick Reed.
The first week of a defamation trial of Colin Craig has drawn to a close. Photo/Nick Reed.

The first week of a defamation trial of former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has drawn to a close.

The jury and main players will reconvene on Monday morning, where the first witness to give evidence will be Rachel MacGregor - Craig's former press secretary.

MacGregor resigned suddenly from her role shortly before the 2014 general election and the reasons behind her departure are closely related to the defamation trial.

At the trial this week the jury heard almost two full days of evidence from the man suing Craig - Jordan Williams.

Former Conservative Party chief executive Christine Rankin also made an appearance, giving evidence to support Williams.

Since Wednesday afternoon the jury has been listening to Craig's lawyers cross-examine Williams.

They will hear from about 30 witnesses in total, across about five weeks.


WHAT'S THIS CASE ALL ABOUT?

After MacGregor left her job she turned to her friend Williams, who is the director of the Taxpayers' Union, for support and help.

She alleged Craig had been sexually harassing her and she shared with Williams a series of letters, poems and messages she had received.

Williams said he was "horrified" at MacGregor's claims and disclosed what she had told him to other Conservative Party members.

When Craig found out he publicly claimed Williams was part of a group of "culprits" determined to have him removed as party leader through a "campaign" of "false accusations".

At a press conference and in a pamphlet sent to more than 1.6 million households across the country he said that Williams was a liar and had "spread false accusations".

Williams then filed defamation proceedings in the High Court, saying he did not lie about Craig.

Rachel MacGregor. Photo/Norrie Montgomery.
Rachel MacGregor. Photo/Norrie Montgomery.


WILLIAMS VS CRAIG - WHO'S WHO?

The plaintiff: Jordan Williams, director of the Taxpayer's Union, represented by specialist defamation lawyer Peter McKnight from Wellington.

The respondent: Colin Craig, former Conservative Party leader, represented by Stephen Mills QC

The Judge: Justice Sarah Katz, who was last in the media when she presided over the case of Tania Shailer and David Haerewa, the killers of toddler Moko Rangitoheriri.

The jury: Initially made up of 12, one of the jurors was discharged earlier this week after disclosing that he knew a witness who is set to give evidence.

This trial, scheduled to run for five weeks, is the first civil defamation trial before a jury since 2002.


WILLIAMS VS CRAIG - THE CASE SO FAR:

MONDAY:
The jury is selected and pre-trial matters discussed.

TUESDAY:
The trial opens with Jordan Williams' lawyer explaining the defamation action before he starts to read his evidence. He reveals, for the first time, specific details behind the shock resignation of Craig's press secretary Rachel MacGregor shortly before the 2014 general election. He outlines allegations of sexual harassment by MacGregor, his friend, against Craig and outlines his reason for passing those allegations on to other members of the Conservative Party. Williams also reveals an alleged sex text Craig sent the younger woman.

WEDNESDAY:
The jury hears more from Williams about what he calls "inappropriate behaviour" by Craig towards MacGregor. He reads a number of letters and poems penned by the politician to his then-secretary. Former Conservative Party chief executive Christine Rankin also gives evidence against Craig. She was one of the members Williams approached and told what MacGregor had confided in him about the alleged sexual harassment. Rankin told the court she had heard rumours of an affair or inappropriate relationship long before Williams contacted her and suspected "something" was going on. She had trusted Craig's explanation in the beginning but said she now knew she was wrong to have believed him. Craig's lawyer Stephen Mills QC starts his cross-examination of Williams.

Tea for two: Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and Conservative Party Epsom candidate Christine Rankin on the election campaign trail in 2014. Photograph by Brett Phibbs.
Tea for two: Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and Conservative Party Epsom candidate Christine Rankin on the election campaign trail in 2014. Photograph by Brett Phibbs.

THURSDAY:
Mills continues to cross-examine Williams and more letters from Craig to MacGregor are read in court. Mills also reveals the content of responses sent by MacGregor in a bid to show the correspondence was reciprocal. Williams admitted he had never physically seen the sex text he claimed Craig sent MacGregor, nor was he aware of her responses.

FRIDAY:
Cross examination continued for most of the day, with Mills questioning Williams motives for disclosing the letters and poems. He suggested Williams was driven by a want to have Craig removed as party leader. Williams agreed with that, saying he felt Craig was an inappropriate person to lead a Christian movement based on family values given his inappropriate conduct towards MacGregor. He maintains he was acting in her best interests and had a moral obligation to tell the party what he knew.

- NZ Herald

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