"I think you should take whatever action you consider appropriate now."
These are the only words to publicly surface from business tycoon Sir Ron Brierley following his arrest 16 months ago for possession of child sex abuse material.
Brierley's words came two weeks after his first court appearance on the charges and were directed at Gregor Fountain, principal at Wellington College, where the corporate raider had gone to high school.
In the years since, Brierley, 83, had poured a small fortune into the school. There was a generous annual donation, the Brierley Theatre, which opened in 1988, and the Brierley Turf on the sports fields, reflecting his great love of cricket.
Documents released through the Official Information Act show Brierley's arrest was followed by the College removing from its accounts an expected $100,000 from Brierley.
The OIA material also revealed the College adopted an "avoidance strategy" to media questions over its links to the famous corporate raider, even though it prepared a statement days after the arrest.
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After decades dominating New Zealand and Australia business, Brierley found his freedom and legacy in jeopardy when arrested at Sydney Kingsford-Smith airport in December 2019.
Brierley was at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport preparing to board a flight to Fiji when Australian Border Force officers arrested him, seizing his laptop and other electronic devices were seized.
Police allege officers found more than 600,000 images, video and text files in those and other devices located at Brierley's multi-million dollar Sydney mansion. He now faces 17 charges of possessing child sex abuse material involving children ranging in age from 2 years through to 15 years. Brierley indicated he will plead not guilty.
The documents released to the Herald through the OIA show Brierley's "take whatever action you consider appropriate now" instruction to Fountain was sent two weeks after his first court appearance.
It also shows that was not all Brierley had to say - but the additional sentences were redacted by Wellington College.
In doing so, the College relied on a section of the Official Information Act allowing information to be withheld if it would "prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial".
Given the withholding grounds, the Herald asked the College if it had provided the email to New South Wales police. In response, Fountain said: "No." Questions as to why it had not have gone unanswered.
In a statement, Fountain said the school "has had a long connection with Sir Ron and, as an old boy, he has been a generous donor to the College".
"We were shocked to learn of his arrest and remain so."
Fountain reiterated the school's position, saying the board had decided after Brierley's arrest to await the conclusion of the prosecution before making a decision about the sponsored buildings.
"While that process has taken longer than the board expected or might have wished, as soon as there is an outcome from the judicial process the issue about the use of his name on a school building will go back to the board for full consideration."
The OIA documents show Brierley's February 2020 email to Fountain was copied to Wellington College Board of Trustees chairman Paul Retimanu inside an hour, asking the board for direction.
"What is he responding to?" asked Retimanu, to which Fountain referenced a recent media report that raised Brierley's links to the College.
Fountain wrote: "I haven't emailed him since January 2019 (although I did send him a Christmas card the day before the story broke in December 2019)." There is no record in the OIA material of Fountain, or the board, responding to Brierley's email.
The OIA documents show Brierley's December 2019 arrest drew an email to the College two day later from top sports lawyer David Howman, chairman of Wellington Cricket, which had also benefited from decades of Brierley's philanthropy.
Howman described Brierley as "a man of considerable position in both of our institutions" and asked whether the College "might keep in close contact to discuss our respective future messaging". He said Wellington Cricket was planning on working with an expert to assist.
Fountain agreed, telling Howman it was already receiving advice "in relation to handling the media and so far she has managed to avoid the need for us to make a statement". He said a draft of a holding statement had been prepared.
The College approached the 2020 school year having developed a stance on Brierley but unsure when - or how - to communicate that.
In late January 2020, Fountain emailed Retimanu and board member Linda Clark - a journalist-turned-lawyer - setting out his intent to verbally brief staff on the College's position and asking whether he should also raise the school's response with senior students and parents.
"As you know, we have made the decision that we won't be taking down any of the Brierley signage or making a decision about the naming of facilities until the court hearing takes place.
"As you can imagine, although the media inquiries have stopped for the time-being, I am being asked about this quite often when I meet Wellington College parents and staff and I suspect that there will be a small group of students deeply interested in this issue too."
The OIA documents show the College then began to develop a communications strategy with the unpaid assistance of a parent with public relations experience which included preparing a statement to be sent to parents.
The statement was in line with that eventually released to media and mirrored in Fountain's response to Herald questions - that the allegations against Brierley were concerning, that his philanthropy covered a range of organisations and that the College had benefited from his generosity, along with that from others. It said no decision would be made on facilities carrying Brierley's name until the court process had finished.
The PR advisor recommended Fountain send the statement in his weekly newsletter to parents, after briefing staff and providing them guidance on how to respond to questions from students.
The advice prompted Clark to ask: "Did we decide to be proactive about this? If so, I think that's the wrong call. The Board was, as I understand it, not in favour of being proactive."
The OIA material shows the newsletter to parents carried the statement although it was not released beyond the school community.
The prospect of making the College's position more widely available was discussed again ahead of Brierley's first court appearance on February 10 2020.
Fountain told Retimanu the advice was that doing so "will help us manage the story for us", although he was aware there were "strong views on the board that we should say nothing at this stage".
The statement was not released and when media interest after the court appearance focused on the College facilities carrying Brierley's name, Fountain was advised not to respond even though a failure to comment was likely to be reported in a subsequent media article. He was told "I think that, at this point, it is worth it".
He was told the media interest could reflect "the ripple effect of chatter going on in the school community", including social media commentary among students, and to "see how it is playing out over the weekend".
The email chain included one from Clark, who told Fountain and Retimanu: "I note that when he appeared in court earlier this week it was only on a very small number of charges - far smaller than we could have expected if the media reports about what was found on his devices were true.
"This has a long way to run and we do need to take extreme care not to pre-judge the outcome."
Over the weekend, Fountain, Retimanu and the PR expert corresponded about attempts by one media outlet to get comment from the school, with multiple calls placed to the principal and board chairman but not answered.
Retimanu advised evaluating the College's approach again the next Monday - ""we do this in our time not (the journalist's)".
The PR parent also advised waiting to see what was published. "We have actually kicked this story to touch from last year so are definitely managing it in our own timeframes. We managed to shut them down in late January as well.
"I think we have got to the end of the road on the avoidance strategy. I would recommend the agreed statement (or an alternative statement the Board is comfortable with) and no engagement on specific questions."
The College principal and board chairman continued to receive media calls over the weekend before releasing the statement the following week.
Feedback to the College after Brierley's arrest show discomfort in the school community with the approach, although there was also a supportive letter endorsing the College's decision to wait on the outcome of the court case.
One letter raising concerns said "it currently looks as if the school is standing by someone accused of possessing hundreds of thousands of images exploiting children. I'm sure the board can see that this does nothing for the school's reputation".
Another said: "The nature of the charges and the fact Sir Ron Brierley was arrested at the airport allegedly in possession of a laptop containing child abuse images and videos must call into question the College's continued use of his name on one of its most prominent buildings, its website, and in its general day-to-day activities.
"It may be that the Board could suspend the use of Sir Ron Brierley name's until the resolution of his court proceedings, at which time a final decision could be made about the best way forward."
The OIA documents show the board removed from its accounts a donation from Brierley that was expected to be paid in March 2020.
The Herald asked the College for the date on which it decided to remove the anticipated donation from its accounts. It did not respond to the question, although said the last donation it had received from its benefactor was in March 2019.
Board of Trustee accounts show the donation still figured in its accounts in November 2019. Minutes of its February 2020 board meeting show the donation was no longer relied on at that point.
The board's finance report for that month said: "The challenges to achieve our 2020 budget include making up for the $100K Brierley donation."
A year later, the finance report for February 21 showed that had been achieved with draft results showing "a profit of between $800K and $900K". "This is despite not receiving the $100K Brierley donation."
In an email to the Herald, Fountain rejected a question over an "avoidance strategy", saying: "There was no avoidance of the issue."
He said there was a "pragmatic approach to events" with Brierley arrested after the school year had ended and the board's first opportunity to discuss the issue was in late January 2020. He said he updated staff at a regular meeting "and later, when approached by the media, the Board issued its statement".
Fountain did not respond to a further question about the email to Retimanu, Fountain and Clark saying the College had "got to the end of the road on the avoidance strategy".