COMMENT

The end is nigh - huzzah! - of the indelicate matter of Craig v Slater in courtroom 14 at the High Court of Auckland.

Their defamation trial looks set to fizzle out on Friday, Monday at latest, forcing Justice Kit Toogood to bend his red gleaming head to the task of finding justice in the swirling mess of a sexless sex scandal.

Craig, the former leader of the Conservative Party, claims Cameron Slater libelled him on his Whale Oil blog. Slater has responded in kind, citing Craig's booklet Dirty Politics.

Advertisement

Much of their argument concerns what can be reasonably said about Craig's relationship with his former press secretary, Rachel MacGregor.

She took a complaint of sexual harassment to the Human Rights Commission. It was settled in mediation.

That, she had good cause to believe, would be that. But the details became public, and versions of it were published, leading to the stoush in courtroom 14, which by the way was intolerably cold on Wednesday.

Justice ought to be seen to be done with sufficient central heating.

MacGregor was called to give evidence against Craig. She did not want to appear. More to the point she demonstrably did not want to be in the same room as Craig.

She positioned herself on Tuesday so that she directed all her answers to the judge; not once did she turn her head in Craig's direction.

It was a determined but relatively straightforward procedure when she was being asked questions by Slater's lawyer, Brian Henry. But it was a rather more difficult operation when Craig stood and began his cross-examination this morning.

They settled into a cold war. When he looked at her, she looked away; when he looked down at his papers, she looked at him. Their eyes met just the once. It was not overly fond.

Advertisement

MacGregor's loathing for Craig could be felt all through the upstairs courtroom. It was like a stiff breeze moving in from the South Pole. It iced over the black-patterned carpet, it sealed the door, perhaps it turned down the central heating.

"Miss MacGregor," he said to her.

"Mr Craig," she answered.

It had come to this, acting out the roles of hostile witness and cool, calm interrogator, after four years of working closely together on the Conservative Party's ultimately doomed attempt to get into Parliament.

He read out a text that he said she had once sent him: "Miss you. Thank you being so wonderful."

She said it was a fake text, that he'd doctored it. Justice Toogood interrupted, and read out other texts that Craig has produced in evidence. One to her parents, another to a friend. Did she accept those texts were real? She accepted they most likely were.

She also disputed a memo. "I'm sorry, Your Honour, but I'm just not comfortable with it," she said.

"Well," said Toogood, "comfortable or not, it's part of the evidence of Mr Craig that he has sent to you, Miss MacGregor, so he's entitled to ask you questions about it."

She was more comfortable claiming that working for Craig was a constant woe. On the campaign trail, she said, she had to sleep on floors at the homes of Craig's friends and supporters, because he refused to pay for a motel.

Once in a child's bed that was too small for her.

Another time on the squabs of a couch: "I had to put my jacket over me for a blanket. I didn't even have a duvet."

All the cold rooms. With luck, courtroom 14 is the final space they ever have to share.