A redacted version of a report into an allegation of staff bullying against former government minister Meka Whaitiri has finally been released.
The report, by Wellington lawyer David Patten, confirms what was said in a Herald report which said the new staff member was left with bruising after the encounter with Whaitiri at an event attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Gisborne on August 27.
"After giving careful consideration to this matter, it is my view that the explanation provided to me by Employee A is a more probable explanation as to what happened than the explanation provided to me by the Minister. That is, rather than the encounter between the two of them in the foyer being a face to face encounter as described to me by the Minister, the Minister in fact approached Employee A from slightly behind and grabbed Employee A by the arm," Patten said in the report.
Did the Minister drag/pull Employee A from the room?
"After considering this matter and, in particular, having regard to the information provided to me by Employee A, I find that the Minister did not pull and/or drag Employee A from the foyer. She did take Employee A outside the building where the meeting was taking place."
Whaitiri has disputed elements of the report, and among the documents released today is a redacted copy of a letter from her lawyers Simpson Grierson to Patten.
It refers to a "threatening email" sent to the Prime Minister on August 29 at 8.18am, which Simpson Grierson lawyer Sally McKechnie said contained strong language to describe the alleged events.
The email was sent by a person connected to a friend of the staff member involved and made reference to a "number of serious themes ... it then goes on to link the alleged action of the Minister with this background, saying things will not improve if [redacted]."
"The email includes an explicit threat".
"Given the tone and the content of the email, including the blackmail threat; was Employee A embarrassed that the email had been sent? Did that affect what s/he said about the Minister's action?'
The letter goes on to say that the staff member, a press secretary referred to as Employee A, did not initiate the complaint herself, and the there was potentially a political element to the matter given the PM's chief of staff was involved.
McKechnie went on to say the staff member had been in the role only a short time, it was understood she had never worked in that role before and it appeared she was "ill-equipped for the role and was not aware of a number of fundamental aspects of it".
Whaitiri's lawyer was also concerned that the bruise on the staff member was small and had been described as "tiny" by Patten in his interview with Whaitiri.
The bruise was not the shape that would have been expected from a grab that was alleged, the staff member was unsure where it came from because she didn't notice until she was prompted three days later, and the photos of it were not taken in a timely way.
"Given the bruise was not 'discovered' until four days after the alleged events it is possible the bruise could have been as a result of an entirely unrelated manner. There is no contemporaneous evidence ... to indicate the bruise was present on the Monday of the alleged incident and to conclude the bruise was as a result of Ms Whaitiri's actions in those circumstances is not sustainable."
McKechnie said the staff member's version of events appeared to have changed throughout the process but the final report failed to mention or consider those inconsistencies, nor did they appear to have been put to the staffer.
The incident occurred because Whaitiri was unhappy at not having been alerted to a photo opportunity at a media stand-up with Ardern during a lunch break at the function in Gisborne.
Other ministers were standing behind Ardern but Whaitiri wasn't because no one had told her it was happening.
In evidence to the inquiry, the staff member said Whaitiri had blamed her for missing the media stand-up with the Prime Minister.
"It was during ... the break so I'd gone out into the hallway, gone to the bathroom and I'd just gone out into the hallway into the vestibule for a bit of a breather and that's when she came over," the staff member said.
"She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside and said she needed to talk to me and when we were outside she raised her voice.
"I wouldn't say yelled but she did raise her voice to me and asked me if I knew what I was doing in my job and did I realise I'd missed a media opportunity and that that was embarrassing to her because it was her electorate."
The staffer originally told the inquiry that Whaitiri had pinched her arm but changed that to grabbed.
"It was hard and it scared the living daylights out of me," she said.
Ardern sacked Whaitiri on September 20 after seeing the final report, saying she had lost confidence in Whaitiri at this time, but did not rule out a return at some point.
Whaitiri remains the MP for the eastern Māori electorate of Ikaroa-Rawhiti and Labour's Māori MPs maintain support in her as co-leader of the Labour Māori caucus.
Whaitiri was suspended by Ardern as a minister on August 30, while Ministerial Services, the employer of ministerial staff, conducted the inquiry.
In a statement today, Whaitiri reiterated that she had at all times fully co-operated with the investigation.
"I have accepted the Prime Minister's decision and I intend to work hard to regain her confidence.
"As noted I contested some of the allegations. However, I am disappointed my behaviour led to a complaint. I am committed to my own development, including better managing employment relationships.
"I am focusing on working hard for the people of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, as a member of Labour and Māori caucus and contributing as a Member of Parliament."
Whaitiri said she would be making no further comment.