Judith Collins talked of being "let down" after being cleared of allegations that she was involved in a smear campaign against Adam Feeley, the former chief executive of the Serious Fraud Office. That she has some reason to feel this way is evident from the report of Justice Lester Chisholm. In effect, the former Justice Minister fell victim to the attempt of a blogger to make himself out to be a major player on the political scene. Yet her resignation from Cabinet also owed a lot to her own failure to appreciate the dangers inherent in Cameron Slater's penchant for big-noting.
The alleged smoking gun that led to Ms Collins' departure was an email from the Whale Oil blogger in 2011 that said she was "gunning" for the head of the SFO during its investigation of Mark Hotchin and Hanover Finance. At face value, notes Justice Chisholm, that supported the proposition that she undermined or attempted to undermine Mr Feeley. The only problem was that all the other evidence presented to the inquiry confirmed she did no such thing. She had relatively minor reservations about his media profile and an ill-advised celebratory drink with Bridgecorp champagne, but with an election looming was most intent on playing down criticism of him.
There were, in fact, two groups working against Mr Feeley. The first appears to have been current or former staff members of the SFO disgruntled over restructuring undertaken by him. A leaked email prompted disclosure of the champagne story in the Herald. Justice Chisholm notes that while the Herald report and a reporter's subsequent dealings with Slater meant this paper was "party" to the controversy, the Herald was not "in any true sense involved in efforts to undermine Mr Feeley". But the story was opportunistically seized upon by the Whale Oil blogger.
Justice Chisholm is, rightly, scathing about Slater, who formed the second group in concert with Hong Kong-based Cathy Odgers and lobbyist Carrick Graham. The latter had engaged the two bloggers in an attempt to orchestrate and undermine media coverage around Mr Hotchin's role at Hanover. Justice Chisholm says that when Mr Slater commits to advocacy on a particular topic, he pursues the matter "with single-minded vigour coupled with a relatively closed mind. He is also prone to exaggeration".
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Ms Collins told the inquiry that Slater had made up the idea that she was "gunning" for Mr Feeley and another that she was "disgusted by his indifference" over criticism of the champagne celebration. The wonder is that she did not appreciate that any comment to him could be contorted. Also, she appears to have done nothing at the time to point out the wrongheadedness and wretched nature of his campaign.
Justice Chisholm found, however, that there was no evidence she provided information about Mr Feeley to Slater to which he was not entitled. There must be a caveat here because he did not have access to all her records. But this finding is welcome. Law enforcers would be in an invidious position if they believed details from briefings to ministers could be passed on to the like of bloggers.
All in all, Justice Chisholm's report represents a warning to politicians. Ms Collins maintains she had no interest in wanting Mr Feeley gone. Yet even though, according to Justice Chisholm, she was a "very senior and experienced minister" who would have been well aware of the dangers of making statements to Slater about Mr Feeley's position, she was happy to talk to him at a time when she considered it inappropriate to make any comment to the mainstream media.
She had no awareness of the perils of dealing with a blogger happy to attribute invented statements to her. Her lack of judgment speaks volumes.