By Barry Soper
Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has taken a hammering over the past week but if he is feeling the heat, he is not letting on - and is even considering a possible comeback.
It has been revealed he was forced to pay his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor $128,750 for emotional harm after repeatedly breaching a confidentiality agreement he had signed after mediation with her in May last year.
The payment is the biggest made by the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which held a top secret session in Wellington last December.
The tribunal's decision, issued in June, was kept under wraps until the defamation case brought by Taxpayer Union founder Jordan Williams was decided, with a payout of almost $1.3 million being ordered against Craig.
He is appealing the latter decision. Once the appeal is out of the way, he says he will consider his future and that could include a political comeback.
"My concern has always been about conservative causes and serving conservative people. That's something that matters to me ... nothing has changed in that respect.
"If I got a chance to serve people, I'd be very happy to do that."
Leighton Baker, acting spokesman for the Conservatives, was last night cold on the idea Craig might get back into politics with the party.
"The Conservative Party aren't offering Colin any positions. He's never made any request to us for a position ... and he does not hold a position with us, so no."
When asked if Craig had damaged the Conservative Party brand, Baker said there was no doubt he had.
"It's a struggle. The focus is on personalities and Colin Craig rather than the policies we stand for. So that's a bit sad," he said.
"Am I feeling positive? I'm not terribly encouraged today to tell you the truth, it's been a rough day. But we're Kiwis, we never say die, we'll hang on for the next breath so we'll keep on going."
The tribunal's decision, made public yesterday, said MacGregor had made a claim believing Craig had broken the terms of a deal reached after she initially complained to the Human Rights Commission that he had sexually harassed her.
The report included insights from Craig and MacGregor - the latter describing feeling "sick" as she watched the first media conference on the matter held by her former boss and the impact the situation had had on her family.
"Having agreed to the settlement, she thought the whole saga was over. Mr Craig's breaches have had a profound effect on her physically, emotionally and financially," the decision said.
"She was at work when Mr Craig held his 22 June 2015 media conference. She had no notice he intended to talk about her and his relationship with her and no indication he would publish personal information about her financial situation.
"As she watched the conference live on the internet, she felt distressed and sick. She described it as her worst nightmare."
MacGregor said her phone began ringing even as the media conference was running live.
Reporters began contacting her via text, telephone and email and at her workplace.
Her employer was upset with the publicity and the effect it would have on their business and her family and friends were also affected.
The report said: "Her elderly father has been deeply saddened by these events and Ms MacGregor feels as if she has brought shame on herself and her family.
"Her deepest shame is that she has been identified as 'that woman' and will be for many years to come."
Craig yesterday defended his breach of the confidentiality agreement, saying he had no choice because of public attacks on him.
Craig said the legal issues surrounding the defamation appeal will be considered before next year's election and a comeback is possible.
Sounding chipper, he said if he can work with the party he founded, but spectacularly fell out with, he would be very happy to.
"My wife and I poured years of savings and time and energy into it and our love for the party and love for the members and supporters hasn't changed."
- Additional reporting: Gia Garrick and Moana Tapaleao