Colin Craig has been ordered to preserve two cellphones which contain evidence John Stringer believes are material to his more than $1 million defamation case against the former Conservative Party leader.

The ex-party board member is suing Craig, his wife Helen, party members Angela Storr and Kevin Stitt and former candidate Steve Taylor over events in the political party during 2015.

The case is due to go to trial in the High Court at Auckland next August.

Today, Justice Matthew Palmer made several evidential pre-trial orders, including for Craig to produce and preserve all remaining parts of two cellphones and the two corresponding forensic extraction reports.

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Stringer argues Craig has used material on the cellphones as evidence in his other court proceedings and had them forensically examined.

There are texts on the phones, Stringer said, which were selectively missing or not discovered in other proceedings and an independent company should now examine the phones.

Craig said there is no dispute correspondence, including texts and letters between him and his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor, will be relevant to the case.

Parts of one of the cellphones are in his possession and he has taken reasonable steps to preserve them, Craig said. He also has the independent experts extract the messaging records.

Ex-Conservative Party board member John Stringer is suing five people for defamation. Photo / Doug Sherring
Ex-Conservative Party board member John Stringer is suing five people for defamation. Photo / Doug Sherring

Just two days before New Zealand voted in the 2014 general election MacGregor resigned.

Afterwards, she and Craig settled a confidential sexual harassment claim with the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

But in June 2015 Stringer began publicly alleging Craig had sexually harassed his press secretary.

Last month, Justice Kit Toogood ruled Craig did sexually harass MacGregor, while also ruling blogger Cameron Slater had defamed the politician.

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In response to Stringer's allegations, Craig and his wife held a press conference in July 2015 announcing they were suing him.

They also launched a booklet called Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas which was distributed to 1.6 million Kiwi households.

In September 2015, Craig filed a defamation proceeding against Stringer in the High Court at Christchurch but it was initially settled out of court in early 2017.

But the judgment was recalled in December 2017 and in August this year Associate Judge
Osborne ordered the proceeding be heard concurrently next year with Stringer's claims.

A judge has ruled Colin Craig did sexually harass his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A judge has ruled Colin Craig did sexually harass his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Stringer alleges he was defamed by the Craigs in the booklet, at the press conference and by Craig in ancillary media and subsequent blogs and emails.

He also claims he was defamed by Storr and Stitt's statements, and by Taylor as an anonymous "moderator" of, and contributor to, the booklet.

Just over $1m in general and aggravated damages are sought by Stringer from the Craigs, along with a further $200,000 in general damages from Craig.

He seeks a further $35,000 in damages from Storr, $25,000 from Stitt, and $400,000 in general damages and $287,761 in aggravated damages from Taylor.

In general, those being sued by Stringer offer defences that their statements were the subject of qualified privilege, were true or not materially different from the truth and were an expression of their honest opinion.

Justice Palmer also ruled on Stringer's application for further legal questions to be answered by Helen Craig, Storr and Stitt.

"I decline some of these as irrelevant or because the defendants have already answered them sufficiently," Justice Palmer said in his judgement. "But Mrs Craig and Mrs Storr do need to answer interrogatories concerning their knowledge of Mr Craig's relationship with Ms MacGregor.

"That is because they are defending themselves on the basis the allegedly defamatory statements, that Mr Stringer's statements about the relationship were false, were their honest opinion."

Colin Craig distributed his booklet to 1.6 million New Zealand households. Photo / Michael Craig
Colin Craig distributed his booklet to 1.6 million New Zealand households. Photo / Michael Craig

Stringer's application to strike-out Helen Craig's, Storr's and Stitt's statements of defence, and Storr's and Stitt's applications to strike-out the claims against them, were declined by Justice Palmer.

An application to strike out Taylor's statement of defence by Stringer was also declined.

"By a fine margin, I also decline to strike out Mr Stringer's claim against Mr Taylor. Mr Stringer's purpose in pressuring Mr Taylor consistently centred on vindicating his reputation and so is not, quite, a collateral purpose. A line call should be decided in favour of preserving freedom of access to the courts," Justice Palmer said.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will hear arguments over a court's ruling that $1.27m in compensation for New Zealand Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams after being defamed by Craig was "excessive or wrong".

Craig and MacGregor also sued each other for defamation this year.

But Craig withdrew his claim for damages against MacGregor on day one of the trial after he became aware she could not pay him if he won the case.

Justice Anne Hinton has reserved her decision on their case.