Hotelier Lani Hagaman has rejected a suggestion that coverage of Andrew Little's comments about Scenic Hotel and a donation to the National Party would have quickly died away, saying social media and Google meant such things never disappeared.

Lani and Earl Hagaman are suing Labour leader Andrew Little for defamation regarding comments he made about a $100,000 donation from Earl Hagaman to the National Party in 2014 and a hotel management contract Scenic Hotels secured in Niue about a month later.

In cross-examination by Little's lawyer, John Tizard, Lani Hagaman said she had persisted with legal action against Little because of the ongoing damage of his comments, which she said made it appear the Hagamans were linked to corruption.

She denied the comments would have moved out of the news cycle if the Hagamans had not acted.


"News is news now. There is no such thing as fish-and-chip paper. Nowadays it stays on Google forever."

She said it had prompted "nasty" feedback to Scenic Hotels' Facebook page and other social media, which they could not remove, and was also prominent in Google searches of the Hagamans' names.

She said they had sought to have the matter cleared up at the time but Little had not agreed to the public apology and costs order they requested in May.

By the time Little apologised last month "the damage was done".

"When it came to Mr Little's latest apology, there were 17 media reports, as opposed to 90 which slurred our name and connected us to corruption."

She said Little was in a position of power and privilege. "He's leader of the Opposition. You don't get much more powerful unless you're the Prime Minister."

Hagaman said she had not taken legal action against any media outlets for reporting Little's comments because "the media had nothing to report and weren't going to call us shady or corrupt if they didn't have someone saying it. And Andrew Little led the charge well and truly."

Tizard also put it to Hagaman that Little had been targeting the Government and Foreign Minister Murray McCully rather than the Hagamans and that he had a duty to try to hold the Government to account.

Hagaman said the couple and Scenic Hotel should not have been dragged into the public arena as part of that.

"He was using us as a political football. If he was trying to reach the Government, why were we in the middle of it? He's entitled to call for any inquiry but get your facts right and don't slur us in the media."

She said Little should have spoken to her before he made his public comments. "I would have happily talked to him."

Tizard also asked Hagaman about her own criticism of Little in a press statement.

"I do not believe I was attacking him. I was setting out that nobody should be attacked and denigrated because they believe in democracy. If you want to vote for Tom, Dick or Harry and you want to give them money, you should be able to do that. You should not be put in the media and accused of corruption because you've done it."

Hagaman was also asked about her previous claims that her husband had donated to several parties in the past, including Act, Labour, NZ First and National.

She said the Labour donations dated back to the 1980s and early 1990s when Sir Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble were in Labour because Earl Hagaman was a fan of Rogernomics.

Since then he had supported Act and National.

She said he had approved of some things former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark did and disapproved of others.

The NZ First donation was at a fundraising function in Christchurch about 15 years ago and she could not recall the amount.

"Winston Peters was there, he was telling everybody what his thoughts were. Earl quite likes some of his policies and Earl is not stuck to one particular party."

Hagaman also said Earl Hagaman was on Scenic Hotel's board of directors but she did the day-to-day business and it was she rather than her husband who had negotiated the final wording of the Scenic Hotels contracts, including Niue.

Earl Hagaman, with his wife, Lani, are suing Labour leader Andrew Little for defamation. Photo/File
Earl Hagaman, with his wife, Lani, are suing Labour leader Andrew Little for defamation. Photo/File

The company's managing director, Brendan Taylor, had been given authority to manage the tender process and contract negotiations. Although the board was updated, it would not have been given the same level of attention as arrangements to buy or build a hotel because it was a management contract.

"Anybody who knows Scenic and knowd me knows that Scenic is my baby. It's always been my baby. Therefore, Earl is very comfortable for me to decide if things work or don't work and I work very closely with Brendan to make those decisions."

She said there would have been an update on Niue at the same board meeting at which Earl Hagaman had reminded her to organise the donation to National, but the two were not discussed at the same time or linked.

Hagaman recalled her husband had made a casual reminder to her to organise the donation during a general conversation that day, possibly the lunch break.

The trial is ongoing at the High Court in Wellington.