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

Colin Craig defamation case: Rachel MacGregor grilled over resignation

Rachel MacGregor arrives at the Auckland High Court yesterday to testify in the Jordan Williams defamation case. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Rachel MacGregor arrives at the Auckland High Court yesterday to testify in the Jordan Williams defamation case. Photo / Brett Phibbs

• Rachel MacGregor reveals how her frustration over an alleged pay dispute with Colin Craig led to her resignation
• Former press secretary claims her boss was 'mean' and made her sleep on a couch during a business trip
• MacGregor says she discussed Craig's 'odd' behaviour with her then-boyfriend
• Court hears messages written by MacGregor to her boss, including: 'You make my heart melt, love ya, night night'
• MacGregor says defamation trial and spotlight on her involvement has 'ruined' her life

Colin Craig's former press secretary Rachel MacGregor says in the months leading up to her resignation her opinion of her boss had deteriorated "drastically", to the point she "could not stand the sight of him".

MacGregor has continued to give evidence this afternoon at the former Conservative Party leader's High Court defamation trial.

Yesterday MacGregor revealed in court - speaking publicly for the first time - the background to her shock resignation days before the 2014 general election.

She also revealed details in court about the allegations she made that he had sexually harassed her for a "long" period during her employment.

Today's proceedings started at 2.15pm, meaning a shorter day in court.

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This afternoon, Craig's lawyer Stephen Mills QC questioned MacGregor on her alleged pay dispute with her former boss and the timing of her resignation.

MacGregor told the court she had asked Craig to review and increase her pay in the lead up to the election, given she was working longer hours and undertaking more challenging tasks.

She said he initially agreed to raise her hourly rate during the election period but never formalised the arrangement.

MacGregor said she asked repeatedly but Craig "refused" to discuss it.

The day she resigned she says she brought it up again and said Craig responded with "it's not a matter that needs to be discussed before the election".

Minutes later MacGregor, who claims Craig had also been sexually harassing her, resigned.

Colin Craig is all smiles arriving at the Auckland High Court for his defamation trial yesterday. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Colin Craig is all smiles arriving at the Auckland High Court for his defamation trial yesterday. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The pair were on their way to a pre-election radio interview when the argument and resignation happened.

"He clearly wasn't going to decide before the election so why was I working for him if he wasn't going to pay me?" she told the court.

"He'd made the horrendous remark which I had told him not to, and told him not to two days earlier, he was just digging at me. It was the last straw for me, I was like 'right, you've pushed me too far now ... treated me too badly for too long."

The remark Craig allegedly made was a response to MacGregor asking how he had slept the night before.

She said that he told her he'd slept well because he had dreamt that he was sleeping on her legs. She alleges he'd made a similar "unwelcome remark" two days earlier and she had pulled him up on it, saying it was inappropriate and asking what his wife would think if she heard him.

MacGregor told the court she was "vulnerable" and not willing to "let him away with it" any longer.

Mills asked MacGregor if she thought it appropriate to be bringing up pay two days before a general election that her employer was deeply involved in and trying to concentrate all his energy on.

MacGregor agreed the timing was not brilliant, but she felt she had to bring it up.

"I gave him a lot of warning and he had a lot of chance to be reasonable," MacGregor said about the pay situation.

MacGregor says Craig reluctant to spend money

MacGregor also told the court that her employment conditions were "sub par" and Craig did not care for or look after his staff.

She described him as "mean" and reluctant to spend money on his staff.

MacGregor explained that often when she travelled with Craig for work he would insist they stayed at his friends' homes.

On one occasion he had a room with a double bed but says there was nowhere for her to sleep.

She says she ended up sleeping on couch cushions on the floor that were too short for her, and only a jacket as bedding as there were no blankets provided.

Mills also challenged MacGregor on a card she had written to Craig outlining his positive attributes and how much she enjoyed working for him.

He suggested the card was not reflective of someone who thought her boss was "mean".

"My opinion of him changed drastically over time and really culminated to the point where I couldn't stand the sight of him," she responded.

"But at the beginning [of her employment] I had great respect for him. He has a great way with words, he's very intelligent, he had been very thoughtful. But, it seemed I'd only gotten to know one side of him."

Mills this afternoon revealed that Craig was going to deny making comments to MacGregor about sleeping on her legs.

He also said Craig would tell a very different story about the pay dispute, including that the morning MacGregor resigned he had already agreed to discuss her pay "at the end of the day".

"You are putting a lot of spin on a lot of this stuff," Mills said to MacGregor.

Craig is expected to start giving evidence before the end of the week.

MacGregor claims Colin Craig refused to discuss her pay dispute with her. Photo / Michael Craig
MacGregor claims Colin Craig refused to discuss her pay dispute with her. Photo / Michael Craig

'I wasn't singing him a lullaby or anything'

MacGregor also said that while working for Craig she started a relationship and her then-boyfriend "noticed things were odd" between her and her boss.

"It got more and more odd ... we discussed what to do about it," she said.

The couple then researched and learned she could go to the Human Rights Commission if she felt she had been sexually harassed.

"We tried to figure out what to do in the situation ... I was reluctant to do anything until I was paid," she told the court.

She recalled speaking to her boyfriend on the phone one night after, she claims, Craig had fallen asleep on her lap while at her flat.

MacGregor said she felt "very, very uncomfortable" about it.

She told the court that her boyfriend told her "oh, for goodness sake, you've got to do something about this man".

Mills suggested that at the time Craig fell asleep on MacGregor she was singing to him.

She refuted that saying there was no way she would have done that.

"I wasn't singing him a lullaby or anything," she said.

MacGregor said she also attempted to stop him sending her "flirty" messages.

"I tried to get him back on track rather than letting him go off down romantic-ish lines."

Mills had MacGregor read a message she sent Craig in the early stages of her employment.

"You make my heart melt, love ya, night night," MacGregor wrote to him.

"I don't actually see that as romantic. We were very very close friends, don't get me wrong," she said.

However, she never intended the messages to be taken as anything more than friendly and denied vehemently that she "ever" had romantic feelings for the man.

Mills went on to read a number of MacGregor's text messages to Craig out in court - but most of the former politician's text messages were missing from the chain of correspondence.

"I never had any romantic feelings towards Mr Craig ... if you would like to see my romantic messages with my boyfriend, they are quite different," she said.

"You've conveniently picked out the very, very worst ones ... You're conveniently only telling half the story ... you're trying to give all this one way communication."

Mills asked MacGregor if she would be surprised if Craig deducted a "romantic element" from her messages.

She said no, that while they were close workmates and she thought a lot of Craig as a friend and employer, there was no reason for him to think she had any deeper feelings for him.

'He had a habit of coming across as a real dork'

'I pushed back in my gentle way'

MacGregor accused Mills of "trying to paint a picture that isn't reality" about the nature of her relationship with Craig.

She also revealed that towards the end of her employment she tried to avoid spending time with Craig.

He was asking more and more of her, she said, usually to stay late and do "menial" tasks.

MacGregor told the court she felt his requests were "demeaning" and she began to feel that he did not want her there to work, he wanted her there for company.

She conceded that in the beginning she was not confident enough to refuse his requests, but as time went on she found him "disgusting" and it became easier to say no.

"I pushed back in my gentle way ... [then] I became more and more confident to refuse," she said.

MacGregor told the court Craig was a "challenge" to work with at times.

"He had a habit of coming across as a real dork," she said.

"It made my job really exciting - what is this dude going to say next? It gives you a bit of an adrenalin rush, it's great experience for a young PR (public relations) professional, because you've got this rogue to manage."

She said Craig generally had no idea how the media worked so her role was crucial to his political campaign. But, her boss was hard work, she recalled.

"He'd come in and I'd have to say 'wash your hair'. He'd come to work with disgusting hair and expect to go on TV with it. What sort of impression do you think that's going to give?"

MacGregor today said she felt she was on "trial by proxy". Photo / Brett Phibbs
MacGregor today said she felt she was on "trial by proxy". Photo / Brett Phibbs

'Hello - here I am'

MacGregor was then questioned by lawyer Peter McKnight, acting for Jordan Williams who has brought the defamation case against Craig.

He asked her how she felt about her personal life being scrutinised during the trial.

"I didn't want to be part of it, I just wanted to stay right out of it but hello - here I am," MacGregor said.

She felt she was on "trial by proxy" and being used by Williams and Craig.

"They brought me into it this, their defamation thing, two men angry about something ... this is so heavily weighted against me."

McKnight asked Craig if she had been sexually harassed and treated badly by Craig.

"Absolutely. It really has ruined my life ... I am overweight ... this has impacted on my family, my friends, my health," she said.

"I can't wait for this to be over. I wish these dudes would stop suing each other so this could be over for me."

Taxpayers' Union director Jordan Williams brought the defamation case against Colin Craig. Photo / via Facebook
Taxpayers' Union director Jordan Williams brought the defamation case against Colin Craig. Photo / via Facebook

The defamation case

Craig is on trial for allegedly defaming Taxpayers' Union director Jordan Williams, a friend of MacGregor's to whom she turned after her high-profile shock resignation shortly before the 2014 general election.

Williams said he was "horrified" at MacGregor's claims Craig had sexually harassed her, and after seeing letters and poems the politician sent her, revealed all 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 it was stated 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.

MacGregor is giving evidence in support of Williams' allegation.

- NZ Herald

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