Judge fears Glenn fallout

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 01/07/2013

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Anti-violence advocates fear an abuse allegation against philanthropist Sir Owen Glenn has derailed work done by the White Ribbon campaign and the Glenn Inquiry.

The millionaire businessman's inquiry into domestic violence and child abuse faces further pressure after revelations he was accused of physically abusing a young woman in Hawaii in 2002.

Court documents seen by Fairfax Media show Sir Owen offered a plea of no contest when the case came before the Hawaiian courts in 2003.

That plea means the charge was not contested or admitted. It was dismissed in 2004 when the probationary period ended.

Sir Owen has said there was no truth to the allegation.

He had applied to become an ambassador for White Ribbon, a campaign to stop violence against women, but now committee chairman Peter Boshier is concerned the organisation has been damaged. "We're in a position where there's undoubted damage to us and I'm unhappy about it."

Judge Boshier said he expected absolute honesty and transparency from anyone applying to become an ambassador. Sir Owen had to sign a statement that "nothing in my past or current personal life would damage the credibility of the campaign".

The White Ribbon committee would discuss Sir Owen's future with the organisation in the next few days, the judge said.

"Personally, I'm uncomfortable that the message of family violence that is so important has now been deflected by this issue."

He said there was a very thorough checking process for all ambassador nominations, but a police check would not have picked up these allegations.

Yesterday's revelation comes after 10 staff and advisers walked away from the inquiry in recent months and after concerns about the confidentiality of information being passed on.

Sir Owen has defended his decision not to tell either White Ribbon or inquiry members about the allegations, saying he had no history of violence toward women.

Glenn Inquiry chairman Bill Wilson said he was told about the claims on Saturday morning after Fairfax Media contacted a person working with the inquiry. A board meeting would be held in the next 10 days to discuss the future of the inquiry.

Mr Wilson said based on the information Sir Owen had given him, he was satisfied there was no substance to the allegations.

"It's perfectly understandable that White Ribbon is concerned about possible damage, but it's for them to assess whether this publicity will adversely affect their campaign."

Mr Wilson was not concerned about the allegations and did not know of any board members who were. "I quite understand why he completed the declaration forms in the way that he did. This is a great example though of hindsight being a wonderful thing."

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It is understood the inquiry panel was strongly considering spending nearly $1 million on a public relations exercise, timed to promote the inquiry in the lead-up to next election.

The PR exercise would have been based more on exposure for Sir Owen's campaign and less about results, because data from the inquiry would not have been collected and analysed at that point. It would have included a massive publicity push into as many New Zealand homes as possible with details about Sir Owen being behind the project, sources told The Dominion Post.

Mr Wilson said any information about an expensive PR exercise was "plainly wrong". "All work of the inquiry could benefit from PR advice but any suggestions that sort of money is being spent is simply not correct."

Sir Owen set up his inquiry last year, saying he would spend $8m on producing a blueprint to solve the issues of domestic violence and child abuse.

Women's Refuge chief executive Heather Henare and Kim Workman, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, are independent reviewers for the Glenn Inquiry.

Ms Henare said she would continue to work with the inquiry regardless of the allegations against Sir Owen. "The work continues and we will be reporting back in several weeks."

Prime Minister John Key said he only learnt of the allegations yesterday and had no reason to doubt Sir Owen's denial of them. "I take an extremely dim view of anybody [who] would strike a woman - that is totally unacceptable - but he's arguing he didn't do that."

- The Dominion Post

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