National to give Garrett the cold shoulder

Last updated 19:05 17/09/2010
Greer McDonald

David Garrett, an MP for ACT, fights his way through the media pack leaving Wellington Airport today.

What Rodney Hide knew

Rodney Hide on past regrets

Rodney Hide at Auck Airport

rodney hide press conference
CRAIG SIMCOX/Dominion Post Zoom
Act leader Rodney Hide at a press conference discussing disgraced MP David Garrett.
ACT MP David Garrett
MEMORY LOSS: Mallet can't remember what he knew about MP David Garrett stealing a dead baby's passport.

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Prime Minister John Key has sent a message to disgraced former ACT MP David Garrett that he needs to think "seriously" about his future as an MP.

Key said given the New Zealand public's reaction to Garrett's faked passport scam he should go away for the next two weeks and "think very seriously about his future with the Government"

He said the National party would effectively cold shoulder him by refusing to make a deal with him if he stayed on as an independent.

Mr Key said he was happy with how Rodney Hide had handled the matter. "He has shown very good judgement" and had his full support.

Mr Key said in fairness, Mr Hide had acted on the information he had at the time.

"He was very much prepared to give Mr Garrett a go and in life people get a second chance, but given the information that came to light he wasn't able to continue to support him."

Mr Key said he didn't know about Mr Garrett's previous convictions, and since the ACT MP wasn't a minister, "I don't think I needed to know".

"I've got to say, as I said a couple of days ago, I find it extremely bizarre and odd behaviour."

Mr Key said he wasn't concerned about the stability of the government. After losing Mr Garrett, ACT has four members, still giving the Government 62 votes - a majority of one.

HIDE NOT CLEAR ON DETAILS

Earlier, Act leader Rodney Hide said he wan't sure if disgraced MP David Garrett had told him how he obtained a fake passport in the name of a dead child.

''I actually couldn't remember if he declared it, how he did it to me," Hide said. "I don't know what level of detail I knew.

''I think I remember that he got something off the cemetery. I didn't know the age of the child."

Hide confirmed he informed disgraced MP David Garrett last night that he could no longer support him.

Hide said it was a tough call but it followed him becoming aware of an affidavit used in a 2005 trial in which Garrett was discharged without conviction for passport fraud.

Hide said he had doubts that Garrett told the full truth in that affidavit, given the judge's comment that Garrett had lived an otherwise blameless life. It has since emerged Garrett had an assault conviction at the time of the 2005 trial.

Hide, who had previously supported Garrett over his confession that he stole a dead baby's identity to obtain a passport, said questions about what Garrett told the court meant he could not defend him.

"I couldn't stand up and say this was acceptable behaviour."

» Click here to read Rodney Hide's full statement on David Garrett

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Hide was ''a tough time'' for the ACT party but he would not consider resigning. But he admitted he had showed a lack of judgement.

''Where I lack judgement I believe, I thought it had been discharged without conviction, so he didn't have a conviction. Where I lack judgement was I didn't think through what it means for the family."

He had not informed Prime Minister John Key of Garrett's past. ''I don't think John Key would tell me everything about his MPs."

The three strikes legislation was not undermined. ''I've never heard of anything so stupid. Three strikes stands on its own merits."

He said he was not worried if details of Garrett's conviction were leaked from within the party.

He would talk to Garrett about his future, but he asked if he would prefer if he stepped down as an MP, rather than become an independent, he said: ''That's an obvious implication."

Although he had tried to ring Garrett he had not spoken to him today. ''I came to Wellington specifically to speak to him."

Earlier, Hide confirmed Garrett had not informed him before announcing his resignation.

Hide cut short his holiday and arrived in the country this morning to deal with the Garrett affair.

Garrett said he resigned from ACT "of his own volition" and admits his political career is over.

Garrett has been under fire following revelations he had an assault conviction from Tonga in 2002, and had later been discharged without conviction for stealing a dead baby's identity to obtain a false passport.

He wished he not done such a "stupid and dreadfully hurtful thing" in using a dead baby's identity to obtain a fake passport in 1984.

Garrett left Wellington on a flight to Christchurch this afternoon after being pursued by a media scrum at the airport.

He made no comment except to ask television media not to touch him.

GARRETT EXPRESSES REGRETS

In a statement this afternoon, Garrett said he regretted the hurt caused to the family of the baby whose identity he stole.

"The worst aspect of all of this for me is that those who have seen fit to do so have opened the wounds of the boy's mother and sister all over again. As the person who inflicted those wounds in the first place - however unwittingly - I must take ultimate responsibility for that," he said.

He said he regretted the damage he had done to the ACT party.

"As a result of my own actions, my political career is almost certainly over, but that is not my greatest concern.

"My second major regret is the damage I have caused to the ACT Party, which has a very important role to play in parliament.

"I now want to do the right thing both by the public of New Zealand and the ACT Party. I have been advised that I am entitled to two weeks leave from parliament, and I intend to avail myself of that to consider my future. At this point I simply cannot make a decision on that. "

He said he had previously written letters of apology to the family which he realised were "woefully inadequate."

"When my wrongdoing was revealed, the worst aspect of it all for me was reading the letters written by the mother and sister of the dead boy whose identity I used to obtain the passport I do not think I have ever felt worse. There is certainly no excuse for what I did, and I make none.

"I wish to reiterate my profound regret for the distress and hurt my thoughtless actions inflicted on two women, one of whom is elderly, " he added. " I am simply unable to imagine how it must have felt at the time they first learned of what I had done, and I am equally unable to imagine what they must feel now."

He said he could not discuss allegations that he had failed to tell the court about a previous conviction. " Issues have arisen regarding the affidavit I swore in that case which means I am unable to discuss that aspect of the case."

Garrett said he had received legal advice to say nothing. But he felt he owed the public "a fuller explanation" of his actions.

"From the time references began to be made by journalists to "other charges" I was aware that the media may have obtained details of my discharge without conviction in 2005 for an offence committed in 1984. However as a trained lawyer, I was acutely aware that there was a suppression order in place regarding that case.

"While others have seen fit to act as if that suppression order does not exist, as a member of the bar I could not act in the same way. I obtained preliminary legal advice from a QC on what I could and could not say. I was advised that the question was very complex, and while I could speak in parliament under the absolute privilege afforded MPs, to say anything outside the House risked breaching the suppression order."

DISGRACED MP

Garrett lied to police – and then kept his assault conviction secret from the judge who let him off a charge of stealing a dead baby's identity.

Despite new details emerging yesterday about the identity fraud and Garrett's failure to disclose his criminal record, his supporters continued to back him.

Party president Michael Crozier said he could not see any reason why Garrett should not carry on as an ACT MP.

"It's not a good look at all," Crozier said. "But you can't in the same breath call it serious. It's unpleasant, but on a scale compared with murder or rape or something, it's in a different ballpark."

But Garrett's position looked increasingly untenable yesterday as Prime Minister John Key cut his minor party ally adrift, labelling the MP's actions bizarre.

At his own request, Garrett had his name suppression lifted yesterday over the fraud case.

In June 2005, he admitted to Judge Keith de Ridder in North Shore District Court that in 1984 he had stolen the identity of a dead two-year-old boy.

He had gone to a cemetery to find the boy's name on a headstone and provided a false address of 22 Wildberry St, Christchurch.

Approached by police in 2005 about the fraud, Garrett initially denied it, then admitted it.

He told police he obtained the passport with "delusions of grandeur" and had read The Day of the Jackal, in which the central character obtained a false passport in the same way.

He asked the court for name suppression because he said he would suffer far more than professional and personal embarrassment as a result of a conviction.

At sentencing, Judge de Ridder described Garrett's actions as "a foolish prank".

Garrett had been "a roughneck" at the time but he was "obviously a million miles from that position now" and a conviction would be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence.

"You have otherwise led a blameless life," Judge de Ridder said.

On Monday, Garrett admitted he had been convicted of assault in 2002 over an altercation in Tonga. He said he was appealing against the conviction, which had been founded on "perjured evidence".

It is understood that the 2005 court was not told of Garrett's 2002 conviction. It is also understood that the lawyers involved in the case did not know about it either.

TVNZ reported last night that it had seen a document in which Mr Garrett told the court he had committed no offences since becoming a lawyer in 1992.

"The worst I could be accused of is incurring some parking and speeding fines," Garrett was reported as saying.

The document was not among those released by the courts yesterday and Garrett refused to comment. A spokeswoman said he could not remember the document and it was a long time ago.

Hide and Garrett are expected to speak to the media this afternoon.

Crozier said he was happy for Garrett to stay as law and order spokesman and stand again at the next election. Garrett is due to fly to Europe and the Middle East on a taxpayer-funded jaunt later this month.

MP WORE FAKE GLASSES AND DYED HIS HAIR FOR PASSPORT PHOTO

In 1984, a 26-year-old Garrett donned fake glasses and dyed his hair for a photograph to support a false passport application. He had prepared meticulously, locating the headstone of a baby boy about his own age, who died in 1962.

Garrett attached the photograph to a passport application in which he listed a false address and a made-up person vouching for his identity. He attached a birth certificate which he had also obtained dishonestly.

The crime went undiscovered until 21 years later, when the Internal Affairs Department started reviewing old passport files in the wake of a scandal involving agents from Israel's spying service Mossad illegally obtaining a New Zealand passport.

When police caught up with him, Garrett initially denied the crime. But at a second interview he admitted what he had done, explaining that he suffered from "delusions of grandeur".

He talked about modelling the crime on the novel The Day of The Jackal and said he thought it was "a bit of a lark".

He was charged with forging a document but was later discharged without conviction and given permanent name suppression.

Garrett, who as ACT's law and order spokesman opposed suppression, told the court a conviction would be "out of proportion to the gravity" of the offence and the impact would be severe.

He told the court he could lose his practising certificate as a lawyer and at 47 was too old to retrain. He had suffered for 20 years from an anxiety condition controlled by anti-depressants and was not as psychologically robust as he would like to be.

He passed the crime off as a "youthful and foolish mistake", but letters to the court from family of the dead baby spoke of their anguish at the crime. "The deeply cruel, shameful and malicious manner in acquiring such details is akin to literally stealing from the grave and has caused great stress for the family," a letter from one relative stated.

The case had subjected the mother to "further traumatic and painful suffering in the memory of her beloved infant".

- JOHN HARTEVELT, IAN STEWARD, DAVID GADD and TONY WALL, with NZPA

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