Colin Craig allegedly told Christine Rankin his secretary was 'mentally ill'
Former Conservative Party chief executive Christine Rankin asked Colin Craig if he was having an affair with his press secretary but Craig told her his staffer was "mentally ill," a court has heard.
Craig allegedly admitted kissing his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor, but thought of her as a sister, the court heard.
Rankin is giving evidence against Craig in defamation proceedings Taxpayers Union founder Jordan Williams is taking against Craig.
Craig alleged Williams had lied when he said Craig sexually harassed his press secretary Rachel MacGregor.
When Rankin took the witness stand on Wednesday she told the High Court at Auckland: "I had been hearing a lot of rumours about Colin and Rachel's relationship for a long period of time, including in the period before the general election."
"He swore to me that there was nothing going on. These rumours and allegations had nothing do with Jordan (Williams).
"I used to think that (Craig) was really decent and very moral, he has a very convincing way with words."
His reply to her about questions over the alleged affair was: "Oh Christine, how could you think that? I would never do such a thing", Rankin said.
After some time, she again approached him about an alleged affair, which Rankin believed might be an "emotional affair".
"I did not believe at this point the stories of sexual harassment as Colin had talked at some length to me about Rachel having mental illness," Rankin told the court.
Craig allegedly told her he and his wife had "managed very carefully" MacGregor's so-called mental illness.
However he allegedly admitted the pair had kissed, around the 2011 general election, and agreed he had sent MacGregor cards and poems.
"He said she was a very willing participant and that she could not blame that on (him). That it was consensual," Rankin said.
"I remember saying, 'You didn't? You're stuffed'."
Craig allegedly went on to say that he thought of MacGregor as like a sister, and that she had misinterpreted his letters.
Rankin said Craig told her MacGregor had made an "indecent proposition" before the 2014 election.
"He said he had chosen his wife and was proud of that and was sure that was why (MacGregor) had left.
"(Craig's wife) Helen knew everything but understood, and supported him."
RANKIN SUSPECTED AFFAIR
During cross examination, Rankin said aside from "swirling rumours" about Craig and MacGregor's relationship, she had suspected they were having an affair because of their "peculiar" behaviour.
"On my part I knew that something was very wrong. It's the kind of behaviour people display all the time when people are having an affair, and they think no-one knows," Rankin said.
That included the pair erecting curtains in their offices, frequently closing their office doors and Rankin having to knock and ask to be allowed in, she said.
They would disappear for long periods of time and become un-contactable, Rankin said.
"The atmosphere - you could almost touch it," she said. "It was very embarrassing."
She approached Craig with her concerns but was told MacGregor had a "severe mental illness".
"(Craig said) that it had to be managed very carefully - what happened if she blew up before the election?"
It wasn't until Williams disclosed to her that he had seen texts and letters from Craig to MacGregor that she began to believe it, Rankin said.
The court heard that Rankin texted Williams after his revelation of the sexual harassment allegations.
"I'm horrified," Rankin texted Williams, following his claims.
"I was devastated by what had happened," Rankin told the court.
"I was 100 per cent behind Colin but I now see that I was wrong to be. I gave up a business to work full time for Colin because I believed New Zealand politics needed a person and a political party with integrity."
She supported Williams' exposure of Craig's alleged sexual harassment of MacGregor, but agreed at the time that when Williams spoke to her, he wished to do so anonymously.
She understood, she said,
"Colin would go after (Williams) with everything he had," Rankin said.
"Jordan stood up to Colin. I believe he did so for Rachel. I think he felt, 'hell, I've done some good things for that rat'".
More letters allegedly written by Craig to his former press secretary were earlier read in court.
Day two of the defamation proceedings that Taxpayers Union founder Jordan Williams has launched against Craig began at the High Court at Auckland on Wednesday.
Williams is giving evidence to a jury, which includes reading aloud excerpts of letters, allegedly from Craig, that MacGregor is said to have copied and handed to Williams.
After reading out a poem Craig allegedly wrote MacGregor, entitled Two of me, Williams read out letters in which Craig had signed off with, "Love, C".
"You are wonderful because you make me smile, you are wonderful because you know how to laugh," Craig is alleged to have written.
"You are wonderful because you ask questions, you are wonderful because you go with me whether early or late, you are wonderful because you sing."
In another letter marked "private and highly confidential" Craig is alleged to have talked about MacGregor's beauty, saying "please skip this section if inappropriate".
"Your eyes are so lovely. You look unbelievably good in your new dress. Your lips are so amazing to kiss. Your skin is soft. You have a perfect... (lol okay I deleted a couple of lines and stopped this section)," the letter allegedly said.
Other letters contained angry comments Craig is alleged to have made following a relationship break-up MacGregor had.
Craig was said to have written that he was surprised that her father didn't support her more in that break-up, and spoke of his own allegiances to his sisters and daughters.
"I had until recently been very careful to express no comments about your relationship with A ... this in fact is harder than you might have thought.
"Right now I am very tempted to let the typewriter keyboard rip. I won't because I have a very high level of self restraint, but it is so tempting," the letter is alleged to have said.
He then allegedly spoke of buying her a "beautiful and significant present".
"Like jewellery for example," one letter allegedly said.
"I had a couple of really good ideas, however I decided not to at the moment as I'm aware of the recent conversation we had."
Two receipts for jewellery purchases worth more than $500 were presented to the court.
Another letter allegedly references a fight the pair had, with Craig said to have written that MacGregor had told him he didn't have integrity, and wrote he was concerned that she was "not judging things well".
Williams has taken a defamation claim against Craig, whom he says wrongfully accused of him of being a liar when Craig held a press conference and delivered nearly two million leaflets to households across New Zealand, claiming he was the subject of a smear campaign.
He accused Williams and two others of being part of a concerted campaign to oust him as leader, which Williams refutes.
He has produced details of communication he had with MacGregor, copies of letters and texts MacGregor allegedly provided to Williams, and is relying on MacGregor's testimony later this week, to prove he was not fabricating details of the alleged sexual harassment.
MacGregor took a sexual harassment complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal in 2014, after abruptly quitting as Craig's press secretary.
The details of that settlement are confidential.
Giving evidence on Wednesday, Williams criticised Craig's defence team's initial argument that Williams had no reputation to damage.
Williams told the court that in initial formal pleadings made to the court, Craig's team had linked Williams to the Dirty Politics scandal, alleging he had taken part in an alleged smear campaign against the former head of the Serious Fraud Office.
Williams said the allegation was baseless and said he was "absolutely petrified" that the claim would be leaked to media.
He "couldn't think of a more serious allegation to make" because of his background in law which made him an "officer of the court".
"Mr Craig and his legal team have been reckless in their willingness to make (those) allegations against me," he said.
He claimed it amounted to bullying in an effort to withdraw the defamation claim.
The pleading was later withdrawn.
Jordan Williams claims Colin Craig defamed him when Craig held a press conference and issued nearly two million brochures to claim Williams was part of a coordinated attack to remove him from leadership.
Craig has consistently denied sexual harassment claims levelled at him, and said Williams had lied when he informed Conservative board members of alleged improprieties in his dealings with his press secretary.
Williams said Craig's claims had damaged his reputation.
THE KEY PLAYERS
Jordan Williams: The former lawyer and Taxpayers Union founder said he was a staunch Craig and Conservative Party supporter, until he befriended Rachel MacGregor. Following her resignation as Craig's press secretary, she is said to have confided in Williams because of his law experience.
Colin Craig: The former Conservative Party leader stepped down from the party he bankrolled in 2015. The party later broke down following the high profile resignations of his entire board. The Conservative Party championed family values.
Christine Rankin: The politician and former Conservative Party board member will give evidence on Wednesday against Craig, and is expected to detail Williams approaching her with MacGregor's claims.
Rachel MacGregor: Craig's former press secretary will give evidence before the end of the week. MacGregor is also a former television journalist. She has never spoken publicly about the sexual harassment claim she took to the Human Rights Commission.
Others: Williams is also expected to call former Conservative Party chairman John Stringer, public relations experts Carrick Graham and Matthew Hooton, investigative journalist Nicky Hager and lobbyist Garth McVicar.