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

Colin Craig defamation trial: The main players and their stories

Jordan Williams, Colin Craig and Rachel Magregor share their insight of the defamation case.
Jordan Williams, Colin Craig and Rachel Magregor share their insight of the defamation case.

To those in the courtroom, the case was known as Williams v Craig.

Taxpayers' Union director Jordan Williams had filed a civil case against former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, alleging he had been defamed.

It was the first civil jury trial in the High Court since 2002 and across more than two weeks a jury of five women and six men heard, allegations and accusations, evidence and explanations.

They heard from almost 30 witnesses. At times, the evidence was dramatic, tearful, salacious and tense.

But what was this trial actually about? The relationship between a politician and his press secretary? Dirty politics?

Or was it, as one witness said, "an angry fight between two people who don't like each other much".

This is what the trial was about, from the perspective of the three main players - Jordan Williams, Colin Craig and his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor.

Each player's version of events is based on what they told the court.

JORDAN WILLIAMS

On September 19, 2014 Rachel MacGregor quit as press secretary for Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.

Her resignation sparked speculation and rumours started to fly about her reasoning. She said nothing except one line to NewstalkZB's Barry Soper that Craig was a manipulative man.

Williams had known MacGregor for a while - they were mates but not exceptionally close at that stage - and he reached out to her that day.

He heard nothing for weeks. Then she responded, she wanted to talk and she needed advice.

Williams was a trained lawyer and she needed someone to help and support her. They met where she was staying in Auckland and she opened up to Williams.

At that meeting MacGregor told Williams she had filed a sexual harassment complaint against Craig with the Human Rights Commission.

"She confided in me that Mr Craig had been sexually harassing her over a very long period of time," Williams told the court on September 6.

MacGregor told him Craig had stopped paying her when she refused to reciprocate his romantic advances.

"She said she did not know what to do. She wanted me to help her, she trusted me," Williams said.

"I felt unwell as she went through the details of Mr Craig's actions. It was very upsetting."

MacGregor also showed Williams letters and poems from her former boss that appeared to be love letters.

Though she disclosed all of this to Williams in confidence, he felt the matter was too serious to keep to himself.

He decided to pass the information to members of the Conservative Party board including chief executive Christine Rankin, chairman Brian Dobbs and Laurence Day.

Williams told them there were letters, "sext messages", and that he felt Craig was "fundamentally flawed" and should not be leading a political party based on Christian family values.

"I was not involved with any coordinated campaign," he said in court. "I relayed what Rachel told me, what I believed to be true at the time."

He said he was driven to out Craig's behaviour simply - and only - because "it was the right thing to do".

"It is completely normal to want to expose hypocrisy."

Williams went further - he leaked one of the poems to blogger Cameron Slater, who published it on Whale Oil.

The board members confronted Craig, and speculation grew over his relationship with MacGregor.

Craig felt like he was under attack and said Williams was "spreading false accusations".

He responded by publishing a booklet titled Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas in which he named Williams as a "schemer" and accused him of being part of a "smear campaign" to have him removed as party leader.

In the booklet Craig listed a number of what he called lies that Williams and others had told about him.

The booklet was sent to more than 1.6 million houses across New Zealand and cost Craig more than $200,000 to produce.

Craig repeated this allegation at a press conference, supported by his wife Helen, and said he would take legal action against Williams.

But Williams got in first, filing a civil case against Craig in the High Court and alleging the politician had defamed him in the booklet and at the press conference.

COLIN CRAIG

It was two days before the 2014 general election when this all started for Colin Craig.

He was in the car with his press secretary Rachel MacGregor heading from the North Shore to central Auckland for early morning radio interviews.

Then, suddenly, she wanted out. She got out of the car, met her boyfriend who was waiting nearby and told Craig she was not going to the interviews.

He said he learned later that day that she had resigned.

The resignation was big news and Craig was inundated with media requests. He had an election to prepare for and this was not what he needed.

Over the next few months he tried to contact MacGregor but got no response.

He said it was like she dropped off the face of the earth.

Then in early 2015 he got an email advising him she had made a sexual harassment complaint against him to the Human Rights Commission, and that she wanted him to pay her outstanding wage invoices.

A couple of months later Craig and MacGregor went to mediation organised by the HRC and resolved their issues.

He paid her $16,000 for her final invoice and she withdrew the sexual harassment complaint.

Both signed a confidentiality agreement which bound them to silence, other to say they had met and resolved their issues.

Sometime after that Craig started to hear things. Conservative Party board members were confronting him about allegations he had sexually harassed MacGregor, the media were talking and speculation about the reasons for the resignation were growing by the day.

Craig became aware that Williams had gone to board members and disclosed information about his correspondence and relationship with his press secretary.

A story appeared on a blog featuring a poem he had written to MacGregor. The pressure on him was building.

In a handful of media interviews he attempted to address the issue - a breach of the confidentiality agreement that he later admitted.

But Craig said he genuinely thought MacGregor was behind the leaks, the rumours, the speculation about him.

When he learned that it was in fact her friend Williams, once a solid supporter of the Conservative Party, Craig decided to fight back.

He spoke to his wife and they decided the best thing to do was release a booklet addressing the lies one by one.

That way, they thought, their truth would be out there in full and the media would not be able to pick and choose what was reported or "twist" the story.

Craig read Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics, published in mid-2014. It addressed the emerging practice of people with political agendas leaking information to blogs in a bid to get mainstream media to pick up on stories that otherwise would get overlooked.

The Craigs spent more than $200,000 publishing the book and had it sent out to more than 1.6 million homes across the country.

In the booklet, and at a press conference to launch it, Craig said Williams was part of a group of "culprits" determined to have him removed as party leader through a "campaign" of "false accusations".

During the trial Craig, as he did in the booklet, outlined the "lies" he alleges Williams told about him to Conservative Party members.

He said Williams told them he sexually assaulted MacGregor by kissing her, grabbing her breast and forcing her onto a bed on the night of the 2011 general election; that he sent sexual text messages; and that he forced her into debt by refusing to pay her because she refused to sleep with him.

"Each of these allegations is untrue," Craig said.

Craig said the allegation he sent sex messages to MacGregor, including one where he told her he had slept well because he dreamt of sleeping between her naked legs, was "simply untrue".

"Jordan Williams told a number of influential people [about this text]. I sent no such message, nor did I send any similar messages," he said, submitting hundreds of text message records to the court as proof.

Craig denied that he pressured MacGregor to sleep with him and withheld her pay when she refused him.

"This is untrue. I never put pressure on Rachel to sleep with me. I never withheld pay from her."

He also addressed an "incident" between him and MacGregor on election night in 2011.

The pair were at a post-election party when it is claimed Craig kissed her and touched her inappropriately.

It was described as a "sexual assault" by some in the courtroom.

"An incident did occur where we kissed," Craig said. "It was a big mistake on my part and I deeply regret it. It certainly was not non-consensual," he said, adding that he "absolutely did not" sexually assault MacGregor.

"That was a highly damaging allegation."

Craig then spoke about the "love letters" he sent MacGregor.

He acknowledged that some people would read more into them than was intended but "they are what they are".

"I accept that I sent Rachel affectionate communication, but the allegation against me made it seem like I was bombarding Rachel," he said.

He said he "never" had any sense his communications were not wanted.

"As far as I was aware this was a two-way street," he told the court.

Craig said Williams and others claimed he had paid a "six-figure sum" to MacGregor to "'settle" her claim of sexual harassment.

"I did not pay anything," he said.

Craig said the allegations against him were "extreme" and he felt he had been the target of a smear campaign.

"I began to think about my options. I really wanted to get the truth out and show the allegations were not true and how the attack on me had been orchestrated.

"I did not think that kind of politics should be acceptable in our country.

"I wanted the public to know how unfair the campaign had been and to see if there was any chance of changing the public perception of me.

"My wife and I carefully considered the booklet, its contents and whether it was the right thing do to. Ultimately we thought it was the only way."

RACHEL MACGREGOR

MacGregor was not on trial or involved in any civil action against her former boss. Rather, she was called as a witness for Williams and gave evidence accordingly.

She told the court that being on the stand and having her personal examined by the media and public was her worst nightmare.

She spent two days giving evidence and being cross-examined - it was the first time she had spoken publicly about Craig, her resignation and the aftermath.

MacGregor was hired as Craig's press secretary in 2011 and the pair worked well together.

They became very close. So close, that on the night of the 2011 general election they kissed.

Both agreed it was a stupid mistake and, with Craig's wife, put boundaries in place to ensure their relationship remained professional.

However, MacGregor said Craig continued to push his luck.

He had written her "flowery" notes and cards from early on in her employment and in the beginning she reciprocated.

But after the 2011 incident his attention became "dodgy". There were comments, touches and then more letters.

She wanted to leave but had no other job to go to, and she had built up a bit of credit card debt so she couldn't go without a wage.

In the lead-up to the 2014 general election MacGregor approached her boss for a pay increase.

She would be doing longer hours and more work as election day neared and she wanted to be remunerated accordingly.

Craig jotted a note to her saying yes, however, they never agreed on a specific amount or period it would apply to.

"Mr Craig repeatedly refused to discuss the matter further so that it could be finalised and settled.

"I was therefore in a situation where Mr Craig was unwilling to settle on what the higher rate for the election period would be and precisely when this higher rate would apply from.

"Because I was unable to invoice Mr Craig and was therefore getting into deeper and deeper financial difficulty."

MacGregor said the pay issue was compounded by her belief that she was being sexually harassed by her boss.

"As the election campaign went on I became increasingly anxious that he would not pay me. I had also begun to consider filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission over Mr Craig's sexual harassment of me.

"This sexual harassment had occurred over a long period of time."

MacGregor had told her then-boyfriend about the alleged harassment and he encouraged her to make a complaint. However, she was reluctant to do so while she was still working for Craig and waiting for payment.

She finally made the move on the day she resigned.

MacGregor and Craig were in his car travelling from the North Shore to central Auckland so the politician could participate in media interviews.

"We initially engaged in small talk and I asked Mr Craig how he had slept the night before.

"Mr Craig said something to the effect of that he had slept well the night before because he had imagined he was lying on my legs.

"I felt angry when he said this. It made me feel uncomfortable and upset," she said in court.

"It was not the first time he had told me about dreaming or imagining himself asleep on my legs and I had told him only two days earlier to stop saying this to me as it made me feel very uncomfortable."

She then told him she wanted to discuss her pay but he said "now is not the time".

"I feared that if the election result was not as good for Mr Craig as he had hoped, he may have used this to try and argue that he should pay me less.

"We argued some more and in the end I said to him that if he was not willing to discuss my pay I was leaving. What I meant was I was prepared to resign.

"Mr Craig would not even begin to discuss my pay and so I told him I was leaving. I got out of the car. I did not accompany Mr Craig to his radio interview. I immediately got into my boyfriend's car and I told my boyfriend that I had resigned."

Later that day MacGregor filed the HRC complaint and on May 4, 2015 the pair attended mediation.

The resolved the matters - he paid her final invoice and she withdrew the complaint in return.

They signed a confidentiality agreement but Craig breached that 12 times.

"When I signed the mutual resolution I understood that under the settlement neither Mr Craig nor I could talk to any journalists or any other person about the issues discussed at the mediation, other than to say that we had met and resolved the differences between us," she explained.

"I was comfortable with signing these confidentiality agreements because I understood how much media interest there would be in my dispute with Mr Craig and I did not want to be the subject of media scrutiny or speculation. I was embarrassed to be in this position and I did not want people talking about me."

MacGregor said the first time he breached the order was during an interview in a sauna with a TV3 reporter.

"I was immediately worried about the effect Mr Craig's description of the circumstances surrounding my resignation would have on my reputation. What he said was completely untrue."

A few weeks after she resigned MacGregor turned to her friend - Jordan Williams.

She wanted advice and support and said she never asked him to or wanted him to pass on what she told him.

When they met she showed Williams the letters and poems Craig sent her but did not give him copies, nor did she give permission for him to make copies.

"I wanted advice on whether I should go to the board of the Conservative Party to seek help in getting the money Mr Craig owed me," she said.

Some time later she started a romantic relationship with Williams and he allowed her to keep the Craig letters in the safe in his office to prevent them getting into the wrong hands.

"After the mediation, I began to get suspicious that Jordan may have taken copies of some of the correspondence I had left in the safe in his office," MacGregor told the jury.

"I sent Jordan an email asking him to return any copies of letters from Mr Craig. I asked him not to make any copies and I told him I did not want the letters used against Mr Craig."

When she found out Williams had shared the letters with other Conservative Party members - he says in a bid to warn them about Craig's alleged behaviour ahead of the election - she felt "very upset".

"When I found out what he had done I was scared about what would happen next, and I felt very anxious and very betrayed. After speaking to Jordan though ... I could understand that he was trying to do what he believed was right.

"I did not confide in Jordan as part of any conspiracy to hurt Mr Craig or cause him public
embarrassment. I did not confide in Jordan with the expectation that he would betray my trust. I confided in Jordan because I knew he was a lawyer and someone who understood politics. I thought he would understand my situation and be able to provide good advice to me."

In court MacGregor was asked by Williams' lawyer 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," she 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."

- NZ Herald

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