Colin Craig says he thought of Rachel MacGregor as 'like a sister'
Former Conservative leader Colin Craig says he knew his affection for his then press secretary went "too far" but says he thought it was reciprocated.
Craig has begun giving evidence in defence of a defamation proceeding Taxpayers Union founder Jordan Williams has brought to the High Court at Auckland.
He claims Rachel MacGregor, his former press secretary, "withdrew" the sexual harassment claim against him, and says the claim was "unbelievable".
"I considered Rachel to be like a sister to me, although I accept my affection for Rachel went too far and that for a married man our conduct went too far on some occasions," he said.
* Rachel MacGregor's text messages to Colin Craig read to court
* Colin Craig a dodgy liar says former press secretary
* Sexual harassment allegations against Colin Craig detailed for first time
* Colin Craig allegedly told Christine Rankin his secretary was 'mentally ill'
* Colin Craig defamation trial: Messages 'reciprocal', lawyer says
His wife Helen Craig was a "wonderful woman" who had forgiven him, he said.
After MacGregor's shock resignation two days before the 2014 general election he said he didn't hear from her for another four months, until January 2015 when he received a letter from her saying she had laid a sexual harassment complaint against him with the Humans Rights Commission.
"It was a huge shock to me and very upsetting. I knew I had made a mistake in getting as close to Rachel as I had, but I never thought the affection was one way, and the claim of sexual harassment was unbelievable," he said.
MacGregor gave evidence that the harassment claim was later "settled" with the commission, but Craig told the court the claim was "withdrawn" by MacGregor following an agreement between the pair that both of their behaviour was "inappropriate".
They also worked out a settlement over financial disputes they had over MacGregor's pay, Craig told the court.
'IF SOMEONE PUNCHES YOU, YOU PUNCH BACK'
In a short opening address to the jury prior to Craig's evidence, lawyers for Craig questioned Taxpayers Union founder Jordan Williams' motivation in bringing to light sexual harassment allegations levelled at Craig.
Craig will rely on three typical defences including honest opinion, truth, and qualified privilege, to defend the defamation proceedings Williams has taken against him.
Williams has taken a defamation case against Craig over Craig's public claims, in 2015, that Williams was a liar.
Craig held a press conference and delivered 1.6 million leaflets to households across the country in which he alleged that Williams and two others were part of a Dirty Politics-like campaign to oust him as leader.
Craig pointed to allegations Williams took to Conservative board members of Craig's alleged sexual harassment of his then press secretary Rachel MacGregor.
Williams says he was telling the truth about the alleged harassment and has called a long list of witnesses for his case, including MacGregor, MacGregor's advocate Ruth Money, former Conservative board members Christine Rankin and John Stringer, PR professional Carrick Graham, and some of Williams' law colleagues.
He alleges that Craig's claims tarnished his reputation.
With regards to the latter defence, Stephen Mills QC told jurors Craig was simply defending himself when he publicly called Williams a liar.
"If someone punches you, you can punch back, within reason," Mills said.
"He was responding to an attack on his reputation. He was defending himself, replying to it, and that's capable of being a qualified privilege, to protect what Mr Craig did."
Mills highlighted how Williams had not only approached Conservative board members regarding Craig's alleged sexual harassment of MacGregor, but he also forwarded poems Craig sent MacGregor to blog site Whale Oil.
"You might want to reflect on, as the trial goes along, about whose interests were being served when Mr Williams gave that poem to Whale Oil," Mills said.
"This trial is not about Ms MacGregor."
Mills said that after rumours began swirling of Craig's relationship with MacGregor, his reputation was "reasonably shredded".
"He felt that he must be entitled to say something to set the record straight and to try to make sure that what was being said was at least a more balanced story that he was being faced with."
Mills told the court that Craig accepted his comments about Williams could carry the meaning that Williams lacked integrity or was dishonest.
MacGregor gave evidence on Tuesday and Wednesday where she alleged the harassment occurred over a "long period of time" and that when Craig then refused to discuss her pay, she resigned.
Craig told the court that before a poem he wrote MacGregor was leaked to the WhaleOil blog, he began receiving threatening text messages from a source he was never able to identify.
One said, "Creative Colin is now the talk of the town. How long before Winston Peters tables it in Parliament?"
Another threatened to reveal details about the birth mother of one of Craig's adopted children, he said.
He said he began receiving calls from board members and was "ambushed" by members who purported to have documents relating to MacGregor's sexual harassment allegations.
Former Conservative candidate, and Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar, was said to have called him at one point to say he understood the allegations were so serious they could be compared to the crimes of ex-Christian Heritage party head Graham Capill, "but not with kids".
Capill was convicted of multiple sexual offences against girls.
"The biggest thing obviously was someone had taken confidential documents, put them out there, and put a spin on it," Craig said.
"One of the most significant things was that it just blew the whole discussions my lawyers and Rachel's lawyers was having, because (MacGregor's lawyer) was promising us nothing was leaking from Rachel's end, and it clearly had."
Craig said he was stunned by allegations he was presented with by board members, including that he had pushed MacGregor onto a bed and groped her.
They were "far more serious" than what MacGregor had brought to the Human Rights Commission, he said.
"I was stunned to think that these allegations had been made," he said.
"These were far more serious and totally untrue. Because of the confidentiality agreement I had agreed to at the time. I could not answer the board when they put them to me."
He said board members found it "untenable" that he wouldn't respond.
"Clearly to remain silent was to be guilty," he said.
After realising it was Jordan Williams who was contacting board members with the allegations, Craig formed the view that it was a deliberate plot to oust him as leader, he said.
Twice he tried to contact Williams to tell his side of the story and twice he was ignored, Craig told the court.
"After he did not reply, I concluded he had no interest in hearing my side of things," Craig said.
"I could think of no other reason as to why he would pass so much information to Conservative Party board members. It seemed to me at the time he had a strategy to remove me from Conservative Party leadership."