The editor of a Sunday newspaper read aloud to Helen Clark the opening paragraphs of a news story on then Police Commissioner Peter Doone before it ran the story, Act leader Rodney Hide alleged in Parliament yesterday.
He also claimed the Prime Minister told the editor that if Mr Doone sued the paper over the use of the words, he would "not get a cent" because Cabinet papers she had seen would vindicate the newspaper.
But when the reports were released, they did not contain the words the newspaper said had been used by Mr Doone - "that won't be necessary" - to a constable approaching his partner with a breath-testing device.
The newspaper, the Sunday Star-Times, retracted and apologised and Mr Doone sued, but has since dropped the suit to pursue Helen Clark in the courts.
Helen Clark yesterday suggested that National's "friends" were funding Mr Doone's defamation suit. She questioned whether his lawyer had been drafting National's questions.
Mr Doone's wife, Robyn Doone, last night dismissed the funding claim as "nonsense" and said that she and her husband were funding the case themselves. She said their lawyer, John Upton, QC, was too busy to be drawing up questions.
Helen Clark, in reference to her speaking confidentially to a newspaper about reports that were before the Cabinet, told the House: "It is a matter of judgment for the Prime Minister how I use information from official reports. By definition, I cannot leak."
She was facing her first question time in Parliament since the release by Act and National of briefs of evidence by herself, the paper's editor at the time, Suzanne Chetwin, and reporter Oskar Alley for the aborted defamation suit. Ms Chetwin could not be contacted.
Helen Clark did not directly answer the question about having been read the draft story by the editor. She said no notes from any conversation with the editor had been made available to her.
National leader Don Brash challenged Helen Clark in Parliament to consent to the release of tapes he claimed existed. Helen Clark said she knew of no tapes. She knew of notes made by Alley but knew of no notes from Ms Chetwin.
"It seems to me that the Opposition's role is to help Mr Doone through questions in the House."
The Press newspaper yesterday reported that transcripts of Helen Clark's conversations with the Sunday Star-Times existed.
The Sunday Star-Times ran a story on January 16, 1999, and an editorial the next week stating that Mr Doone had said, "That won't be necessary". The police report actually states he said, "We'll be on our way" "or words to that effect".
Ms Chetwin's evidence said she telephoned the Prime Minister before the first story ran and then after Mr Doone issued a statement saying it was incorrect.
"Miss Clark was very clear during this [second] conversation that the newspaper had not reported any incorrect information. Indeed, she encouraged the newspaper to continue its investigation, as the matter was reaching its critical stages."
Mr Doone reached a settlement with the Government and resigned two days later. Helen Clark has argued she was not confirming the precise words, that she had told the paper that Mr Doone had contested what was said, and that the substance of the story was correct - that Mr Doone's action had inhibited a constable from carrying out his duty.