Labour leader Andrew Little says he is pleased no damages were awarded after a jury was unable to decide whether he had defamed hotelier Earl Hagaman.

Little claimed a partial victory after a jury in the High Court at Wellington yesterday found he had not defamed Lani Hagaman in the court case in which the Hagamans were suing for a maximum of $2.3 million.

But the jury was unable to agree on whether four of the six instances claimed as defamatory by her husband, Earl Hagaman, were defamatory. In the one instance the jury decided was defamatory of Earl Hagaman, it was unable to agree whether Little could apply his defence of "qualified privilege" so could not enter a decision.

There is the possibility of a retrial and Justice Karen Clark has set it down for further discussion with the lawyers. Little said it was also possible further litigation would follow but he would worry about that if it happened.


"What happens now is entirely in the hands of the [Hagamans] ... I worry about what I need to worry about. I worry about what I can control."

He said he had learned about his own capacity to handle stress. "It's always stressful when you're up for a court hearing that could lead to a judgment of $2.3m against you. The thing about litigation is there is huge uncertainty. Uncertainty carries its own stresses."

He said if a high damages order had come through he would have struggled to pay it but was determined to pay it out of his own pocket.

"Had that award been made, then yep, I would have had to work very hard to get that. But I have to confess I was somewhat confident that such an award would not be made ... I would probably have been busking at the bottom of Lambton Quay by now."

Afterward, Lani Hagaman said she believed the trial had restored her husband, Earl's reputation, despite the hung jury.

Lani Hagaman is happy to clear her husband's name as Andrew Little is found to have defamed Earl Hagaman at least once

She claimed a small victory in the jury finding Little's comments in at least one of the instances had been defamatory, even though they were not able to enter a decision on it because they could not agree on Little's qualified privilege.

"We came here today with the full intention of restoring Earl's good reputation, our family name and Scenic Hotel Group's good standing in the hospitality and tourism sector. We have achieved that."

Lani Hagaman said it was possible the jury had found it difficult to deal with the technicalities of the law of defamation.

Little said he stood by his apology to the Hagamans for the hurt he had caused. "I understand there are always risks in my job and that people will feel caught up in a way they don't like. I'm not so schmuckish that I'm not prepared to acknowledge sometimes people do get hurt by the things I've said, even though I don't think they are defamatory."