Colin Craig defamation trial: Messages 'reciprocal', lawyer says video

Colin Craig and Rachel MacGregor, his former press secretary.
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Colin Craig and Rachel MacGregor, his former press secretary.

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's former press secretary Rachel MacGregor signed emails to him "Love, Rach", told him he was wonderful, offered him back massages and thanked him for "nurturing" her, a court has heard.

MacGregor agreed to give Craig a "back treatment" at an agreed meeting point nicknamed "the castle," and drew love hearts on letters to her boss.

On Thursday afternoon, for the first time since the start of the defamation trial brought by Jordan Williams, the founder of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, against Craig in the High Court at Auckland, lawyers for Craig have shown the jury messages sent from MacGregor to Craig.

NZ Taxpayers Union executive director Jordan Williams has taken former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig to court ...
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

NZ Taxpayers Union executive director Jordan Williams has taken former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig to court over defamation claims.

"I hope there's time for me to loosen up your shoulders tomorrow," MacGregor wrote to Craig in 2011, in one of a long list of emails read to the court.

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In an email in February 2012 in reply to a letter from Craig, MacGregor wrote: "I just wanted to say thank you so so so very much for your letter...some of the words in it are powerful. It means so much that you have taken the time to write it. I'm reading it and re-reading it."

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig is defending a defamation claim against him.
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig is defending a defamation claim against him.

It was also revealed Craig signed off one letter to MacGregor expressing his love for her. "You make my heart melt, love you. Na-night."

In another letter on February 21, 2012, Craig sympathised with a sick MacGregor. "Hi Rach, okay, fragile doesn't sound so good... best just take today slowly."

In reply, she wrote "You are wonderful."

In an email with the subject line: "Yes for today," Craig wrote to MacGregor just in case she was out of cellphone range. "I did send you a text 'yes for today' if the back treatment offer is still open'."

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MacGregor replied: "Oh yes! I'm out of range but will come now, meet you at the castle."

The pair developed a series of secret code words for their interactions, with acronyms like "YAW" standing for "You are wonderful."

Craig's lawyer Stephen Mills told Williams these emails showed the other side to the story of sexual harassment Williams took to Conservative Party leadership - suggesting the relationship was more mutual.

"These are all the other side of the narrative that you got from Ms MacGregor, and that would have been readily accessible."

Williams should have asked MacGregor for an affidavit saying there had been no reciprocal communication from her to Craig, Mills said.

But Williams said while he had not seen the messages from MacGregor to Craig before, he disagreed that it showed Craig's messages were innocent.

"You can manipulate someone using power and have them reciprocate and it still constitutes sexual harassment. There is so much significant material... to suggest or give a reasonable basis for concerns.

"Even if she said no, he was taking advantage of a woman who was Christian who was much, much younger than him when he was in a position of power."

As the day drew to a close, Mills continued to question Williams about why he didn't try harder to get Craig's side of the story.

"Do you think it was fair to Mr Craig to have told just one side of the story?" Mills asked

"In the circumstances I think it was justified," Williams said.

Mills asked Williams about his own romantic relationship with MacGregor, which began in 2015.

Williams said their involvement began long after MacGregor told him about Craig.

MacGregor took a sexual harassment complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal in 2014, after quitting as Craig's press secretary. The details of that settlement are confidential.

The court was on Thursday shown messages from MacGregor's lawyer in that hearing, Chapman Tripp employment lawyer Geoff Bevan, sent to Williams asking him for his assurance of confidentiality.

This was a pledge that Williams later broke by showing Craig's alleged love letters to senior members of the Conservative Party - despite an email MacGregor sent to Williams asking him to get rid of the letters, Mills said.

"I do not want those letters to be used against Colin," she wrote.

Mills said Williams went against MacGregor's direct wishes, and breached MacGregor's confidence.

Williams agreed that he broke her confidence but said it needed to be done as she could not legally do it herself. "I was a whistleblower to someone who was attacking my friend who couldn't stand up for herself."

He suggested Craig had instructed her to pen the email to him asking for the letters to be destroyed.

Earlier on Thursday, Craig's lawyer read more missives in what has become known as "the dossier" sent from Craig to MacGregor, saying Craig would not have sent them unless there was some reciprocation.

"'You are beautiful because your lips are so amazing to kiss, you are beautiful because your skin is so soft' ... it's obvious, isn't it, that this is a reciprocal relationship?" Mills asked.

Williams, the founder of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, has brought a defamation case against Craig over nearly two million brochures Craig is alleged to have distributed to the media and millions of homes in 2015.

Craig also held a press conference to label Williams a liar and claim he was part of a co-ordinated attack to remove him from leadership.

Craig is alleged to have lashed out after Williams contacted members of the Conservative Party to warn them about Craig's "inappropriate actions" towards former party press secretary Rachel MacGregor.

Those are alleged to include steamy text messages, poems, and late-night missives detailing his desire to kiss her and praising her body and clothes.

Craig has consistently denied these claims.

STILL 'TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE'

Williams admitted under cross-examination on Thursday that the messages Craig was sending to MacGregor could, on a second reading, be interpreted as not completely one-sided.

But he stood by his claim that he was "shocked and surprised" by the contents of messages that appeared to show she was being sexually harassed.

"Often in sexual harassment there is two-way communication," he told the court.

Williams said he had seen letters that detailed how Craig wanted to kiss MacGregor and said he had not wondered what she had been writing back.

"I wasn't looking at it through that lens, I was shocked that it existed."

Even if there was another side to the story, Craig's messages were still "totally inappropriate" and upsetting for MacGregor, he said.

Williams said MacGregor had told him that Craig had kissed her and felt that it was wrong, and that in hindsight she should have said no.

Even if Craig's behaviour did not amount to sexual harassment, it was in the least odd, "in the very, very least", he said.

Mills said that did not mean that Craig's behaviour was sexual harassment.

"There is much more to this story than the one you apparently took away. Which is why I'm asking you, when you look at these, don't they suggest to you there must have been some communications of some kind by Ms MacGregor?"

Williams maintained that he was not looking at the letters in as much depth at the time as the court, but that the letters left him feeling unwell.

The jury trial has been set down for five weeks.

 - Stuff

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