Former Conservative board chair denies Colin Craig harassment allegations
Former Conservative board chair Brian Dobbs is standing by his belief that former leader Colin Craig did not sexually harass his press secretary.
Dobbs has spent the afternoon being cross examined by lawyers for Taxpayers Union founder Jordan Williams, who has taken defamation proceedings against Craig.
On Wednesday morning Dobbs told the High Court at Auckland he believed Craig and his then-press secretary Rachel MacGregor were having a consensual emotional affair.
Having viewed communications between the pair he said there appeared to be an "emotional attachment" between the pair.
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Williams' lawyer Peter McKnight pointed out the age difference between the pair, and the position of Craig was in at the time he wrote MacGregor letters and poems.
But Dobbs said that didn't constitute sexual harassment.
"[The letters between the two] present in different manners but they are saying similar things ... they are expressing endearments about one another," Dobbs told the court.
Cross examination of Dobbs will continue on Thursday.
Earlier, investigative journalist and Dirty Politics author Nicky Hager gave evidence for Craig's defamation defence.
Hager told the court he gave a brief of evidence voluntarily, but soon realised the case was "personal and tawdry" and didn't want to be part of it.
However he was subpoenaed and had no choice to give evidence in court, he said.
Hager gave evidence about the relationship between political blogs and the mainstream news media, and the media's tendency to pick up stories of major political scandals broken by those blogs.
He said Taxpayers Union founder Jordan Williams would "certainly have known" that Craig's poem Two of Us would become a national news story after Williams leaked it to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.
"Mr Williams would certainly have known it would be picked up and publicised in mainstream media."
Hager gave evidence to the influence Whale Oil had, making reference to the blog breaking the story of Auckland mayor Len Brown's affair.
The author's evidence was brief and there was no cross examination of him.
Craig is defending defamation proceedings Jordan Williams launched against him over comments Craig made to media, and in leaflets distributed to 1.6 million houses last year.
Craig accused Williams of being dishonest about claims that Craig allegedly sexually harassed his press secretary Rachel MacGregor.
Craig denies the alleged harassment.
Giving evidence, Craig said Williams had "embellished or lied" and that his relationship with MacGregor was at times "inappropriate" but reciprocal.
Williams gave documentation relating to the alleged sexual harassment to Conservative board members.
"COLIN SHOWED POOR JUDGMENT'
Former Conservative board chair Brian Dobbs this morning told the court that the party's 2014 election result was "undermined" by MacGregor's sudden resignation.
Having viewed MacGregor's own correspondence to Craig, he had formed the view that Craig hadn't sexually harassed her but would "face serious embarrassment" over his actions.
He had observed a closeness between the pair when they stayed at his home, Dobbs said.
MacGregor and Craig had stayed in his family home and he described their bond as a familiarity akin to a "brother and sister".
"Colin and Rachel stayed in our home and that was the first time I was concerned there was an emotional attraction," Dobbs said.
"Not all of our communication was verbal, and it appeared there was a closeness between them. A familiarity.
"I spoke to Colin about it. I suggested that he may like to employ a new press secretary. He said that they were putting boundaries in place."
He told the court that in 2015 he received a call from Williams, who was alleging that Craig had sent "sext" messages to MacGregor, and that Craig had settled the harassment claim with a six figure pay out.
Hundreds of text messages from Craig's phone have been presented to the court and none of them contained a "sext", his lawyers have argued.
Craig also gave evidence that MacGregor withdrew the sexual harassment claim after he settled her final invoices for $16,000.
Dobbs told the court that his response to Williams would be that he wasn't interested in "rumour" and would need proof.
"I wanted to see evidence of these allegations," Dobbs told the court.
"Mr Williams told me he was speaking to me in confidence but the information was sufficiently serious that he wanted Mr Craig removed as leader of the party because of it."
He said MacGregor's resignation had "undermined the party's election result and damaged its reputation and the reputation of the leader, Colin Craig".
He "partially" blamed her for not getting the crucial five per cent the party needed in the 2014 election and believed the party "possibly" would have done better if it weren't for her resignation, he said.
When later presented with a "dossier" of communications between Craig and MacGregor, Dobbs said Williams had no copies of "sext" messages but was told by Williams that "there was evidence that he had sent sexually explicit messages".
Other documents Williams provided him "appeared to support" MacGregor's claims that she'd been harassed, Dobbs said.
However, he was later provided with letters MacGregor had written Craig.
Had Dobbs seen these communications earlier, he would have been more "optimistic" that the fall-out could have been managed.
"If I had seen the reciprocal nature of the relationship, I would have said Colin showed poor judgment and faced serious embarrassment... but I personally would not have thought he sexually harassed Ms MacGregor."
Craig had donated "a number of" millions to the party but Dobbs described Craig as the "spokesperson" and "face of" the party, whose members numbered 10,000.
The party was critical of Craig's interview he had in a sauna with former TV3 presenter David Farrier.
The court heard that former Conservative chief executive Christine Rankin emailed Craig to say the interview was the "most damaging" thing he'd done.
Craig hadn't sought any advice from board members about the interview, during which Williams' lawyers Craig went on to allegedly breach the confidentiality agreement he had in place with MacGregor.
"There was probably better places to have an interview. (I would have said) don't do it. Conduct the interview in a better setting," Dobbs said.