A Christchurch businessman has been awarded $350,000 in damages following allegations made by Winston Peters and a gang-linked debt collector which were then broadcast on TV show Campbell Live.
Owner of Claims Resolution Services (CRS), Bryan Staples, was yesterday awarded $350,000 in damages after suing Richard Freeman - who ran a debt-collecting business named Ironclad Securities with a senior Head Hunters gang member.
Staples had been a prominent insurance claims advocate following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes who promoted his company, which employed about two dozen staff, with a "no-win, no-fee" guarantee.
The ruling in the High Court yesterday by Justice Jan‑Marie Doogue found Staples had been defamed by Freeman in comments originally published on his company Ironclad's Facebook page in 2014.
In the Facebook posts, Freeman alleged Staples and his company of being "professional conmen" who are "corrupt" and rip off their clients.
Justice Doogue also found then NZ First leader Winston Peters had defamed Staples in a speech he made in Parliament in 2014 repeating the same allegations.
However, Peters could not be sued for defamation because his comments were protected by parliamentary privilege.
The defamation case Staples brought against Mediaworks TV for broadcasting Peters' Parliamentary speech on Campbell Live is yet to be heard.
The dispute between Staples and Freeman originated when CRS refused to pay $170,000 in outstanding fees for quantity surveying work completed by builder Malcolm Gibson.
The court was told CRS had wrongly believed Gibson was "highly qualified" for the work he had been employed to do. When CRS found out this wasn't true, they requested Gibson employ a suitably qualified quantity surveyor to sign off the work he had done.
Gibson refused this and consequently CRS refused to pay the $170,000 owed to Gibson because it had "no commercial value".
Gibson's response on March 7, 2014, was to sell the $170,000 debt to Ironclad Securities for $1.
Senior Head Hunters gang member Lyndon Richardson co-owned Ironclad Securities with Freeman.
The court heard that: "On the morning of 11 March 2014 two intimidating men arrived at Mr Staples' home to serve him with 'debt acquisition documents'. They required him to pay the $170,000 within seven days and said they would kill him if he did not comply."
When these alleged threats were not met with payment the defamatory comments mentioning Staples by name appeared on Ironclad's facebook page in early April 2014
One post on Ironclad's facebook page on April 8 says: "We have uncovered over $300,000 of debt so far where these Conmen have ripped innocent people off!!"
Staples later obtained a restraining order against Freeman.
In July 2014, Winston Peters made a speech in Parliament repeating similar allegations of fraud against Staples after being provided with documents from Freeman.
In her ruling, Justice Doogue said: "Mr Freeman knowingly and cynically encouraged Mr Peters to make defamatory allegations in Parliament because parliamentary privilege would leave Mr Staples with no recourse against Mr Peters."
A large section of Peters' speech was then broadcast on two occasions on MediaWorks TV show Campbell Live.
Justice Doogue said of the publicised allegations that: "Mr Staples is robust. Nonetheless, he has evidently suffered substantial emotional harm, hurt and distress alongside the damage to his previously positive reputation. This is the loss Mr Freeman must compensate him for."
Justice Douge found Freeman was financially motivated to defame Staples with Facebook posts that were an extortion attempt, Freeman sent offensive emails and made threats, and "cynically flouted" the terms of a court interim injunction republishing the District Court documents to Peters.
Freeman was ordered to to pay Staples $350,000 in damages, interest from the date of Justice Doogue's judgment yesterday, and costs of $20,000.