Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Colin Craig trial: Jordan Williams breaks down in tears as mother takes stand

Rachel MacGregor (left) confided in Jordan Williams about alleged inappropriate behaviour towards her by Colin Craig (right). Photo / File
Rachel MacGregor (left) confided in Jordan Williams about alleged inappropriate behaviour towards her by Colin Craig (right). Photo / File

Jordan Williams broke down in tears this afternoon as his mother took the stand in the defamation trial against former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.

The trial, now in its second week, resumed in the High Court at Auckland today.

This morning, the court heard how Conservative Party board members were told Craig allegedly sent a message containing the phrase "magic hands down your panties" to his former press secretary.

The jury, before Justice Sarah Katz, is tasked with deciding if Craig defamed Taxpayer's Union chief executive Williams at a press conference and in a pamphlet he produced and distributed to homes in 2015.

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Ex-Conservative leader Colin Craig on trial for defamation

Williams is a friend of Craig's former press secretary Rachel MacGregor. She confided in him about Craig's alleged inappropriate behaviour towards her.

After viewing some letters, Williams believed he had a "moral" duty to warn other members of the Conservative Party about Craig's actions. He met several members soon after and disclosed what he knew.

When Craig found out, he held a press conference at which he inferred Williams lied, and that he would be taking legal action against them for defamation.

At the same time, Craig released a leaflet titled Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas, in which he named Williams and the other "culprits" spreading "false allegations" about him and taking part in a plot to damage his political career.

Williams strongly denied any wrongdoing and has launched his own civil action against Craig.

Last week, the jury was read letters and text messages sent to MacGregor by Craig, and was told how he allegedly tried to kiss her.

This afternoon, Williams broke down in tears as his mother, Megan, took the stand.

He left the court at one point as his mother spoke of his upbringing.

She appeared nervous and her voice cracked as she told the jury of the "nightmare" and fallout of Craig's pamphlet.

"Jordan had always been a political animal and everybody blames me for that because he was reared in a council chambers, because I was a councillor for the Hawke's Bay District Council and Hastings District Council."

She felt "absolutely sick and devastated" when she read Craig's brochure about her son.

"I had thought Colin Craig was a really nice person and couldn't understand why he would do this."

She raised him on her own in Hawke's Bay and worked hard to provide his education at state-integrated Lindisfarne College and to pay for university study overseas.

"It was all those years of Jordan working so hard and me working so hard, I could see it all going down the gurgler and it makes me so upset.

"It has really affected me. I wake up in the morning feeling sick because I spent the last 30 years of my life making sure my son has had the best opportunities and now someone, in one fell swoop, has taken that all away."

Colin Craig holds the booklet in which he allegedly defamed Tax Payers Union executive director Jordan Williams. Photo/Dean Purcell NZ Herald
Colin Craig holds the booklet in which he allegedly defamed Tax Payers Union executive director Jordan Williams. Photo/Dean Purcell NZ Herald

She said her son was respectful and had seen the way she struggled as a "woman in a man's world" in her own political career.

He wanted to help MacGregor for this reason, she said.

"I wish someone had stood up for me 30 years ago they way he stood up for Rachel."

She said she understood Craig was going to rely on statements about her son published in investigative journalist Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics.

Hager published "stolen information" from her son's private emails and took the communications out of context, she said.

"It's the most unethical thing you can do," she said.

Craig's pamphlet was retaliation to her son telling people about MacGregor's claims, she said.

"All Jordan did was tell another person that Mr Craig was behaving in an unacceptable manner."

Under cross-examination, she said she was unaware he had also told a number of other people.

She also said that Hager's book had not harmed her son's reputation because the claims were false, but agreed he had not taken any legal action relating to those claims.

Jordan Williams.
Jordan Williams.

'Williams always respectful to me'

Nicola Pender, principal at Wellington law firm Franks & Ogilvie, also took the stand.

She spoke of Williams' prowess as a young lawyer at the firm, where he started as a 24-year-old.

Pender was immediately concerned when she read Craig's pamphlet about Williams.

"Jordan is used to attracting criticism due to the political nature of his work, however this is different."

The Dirty Politics book was an example of "silly" comments and a "learning experience".

The book implicated Williams in attacks against some New Zealand political players, and published emails in which he made disparaging remarks about women.

"Most people do daft things in their 20s but few of us have had quite the public profile of Jordan so our [mistakes] haven't been played out quite so publicly.

"I have always found him very open and respectful to me as a woman senior to him."

His reputation was "critical" to his career, and she said Craig had damaged that.

Williams had built strong contacts in the business and political worlds, she said.

"It was critical that such doors continue to remain open so that he can do his job effectively."

Under cross-examination, Pender was shown a blog post Williams had written about women in the Labour Party.

She did not agree the post was "misogynistic" but said she had never heard or seen Williams act or talk in the same manner around her.

Trial has 'affected Williams' confidence'

Earlier today, victim advocate Ruth Money, formerly of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, took the witness stand.

She is acting as a support person for MacGregor and also vouched for Williams' integrity.

She said she had seen the impact of Craig's comments about Williams. The press conference and pamphlet has "severely affected his confidence".

She met Williams through her victim advocacy work which relied on the pro bono advice provided by the law firm he formerly worked for, Franks & Ogilvie.

He was a "fun, out there funky guy" from 2012 when she met him, and since the Craig ordeal was more "subdued" and less confident.

"Jordan is as honest as the day is long," she said.

He had a good reputation that was very important to his career, she said.

Money was not concerned that Williams made public MacGregor's concerns despite her asking him not to.

He was "passionate" and honest and it was understandable he would want to expose potentially inappropriate behaviour by someone "campaigning on family values".

She did not think that doing so was disempowering to MacGregor.

Williams' sister speaks

Williams' older sister, Catherine Murray, also took the stand. Murray is an HR consultant and employment relations advocate.

"When I first heard that Mr Craig was suing my little brother I was like, 'Oh my gosh who is this big mean guy with lots of money suing him?'."

A lot of her friends and colleagues all over New Zealand had received a copy of the pamphlet, she said.

The stress of the situation has taken a toll on her brother and had "put his life on hold" as he fought the legal action. She believed the stress had contributed to a relationship breakdown.

Having people question his character was damaging for his reputation and therefore career, she said.

"Reputation is really important, he needs it for his job.

"I believe he felt what Mr Craig [did] was not okay and he took some actions to right it.

"Mr Craig said that [Jordan] lied and I don't think that he did lie."

Her brother stood up for something he thought was wrong, she said.

'Magic hands' text claims emerge

Today, the first witness to be called was former Conservative Party interim chairman, John Stringer.

Stringer told the jury how he was told by Williams that Craig allegedly sent a message containing the phrase "magic hands down your panties".

He was also told about a "dossier" of allegedly "sexually explicit texts", he said.

The information disclosed to him by Williams, teamed with media coverage around MacGregor's resignation two days before the 2014 general election, led to action by the party board, he said.

Stringer said Craig, when confronted, dispelled rumours about inappropriate behaviour with MacGregor.

Craig told board members that MacGregor was "obsessed" with him.

He also told them that her older brother, David MacGregor, a friend of Stringer's, had confronted him about an alleged incident.

"I don't recall the specifics but I do remember there being conflicted stories about what happened at the apartment above the Conservative Party office."

There was talk of "Mr Craig throwing Rachel down on the bed" and "dishevelled sheets".

He said Craig told the board the rumours were false and MacGregor's resignation "was just a matter of employment issues and pay rates".

"Mr Craig also said that any allegations of moral impunity were 'scurrilous' and 'false'."

The Conservative Party put a "chaperone system" in place to dispel rumours about an inappropriate relationship between Craig and MacGregor.

Stringer quoted a Biblical reference to explain the board wanted to avoid "even the appearance of evil".

Speculation in the media and in the party about Craig and MacGregor's professional relationship appearing "domestic" was a large concern, he said.

"The media were openly speculating on things that we were already uncomfortable with.

"We put in place a chaperoning system between Ms MacGregor and Mr Craig, that's how concerned we were about whatever their relationship was."

The trial continues tomorrow, with MacGregor expected to take the stand.

- NZ Herald

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