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Craig to appeal $1.3m defamation verdict

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 30/09/2016 Boris Jancic
Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig © Getty Images Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig

He was accused of sexual harassment, insulted repeatedly and had his poetry read in court. Now a jury has also handed Colin Craig the country's largest ever bill for defamation.

But the former conservative Party leader says he's going to keep fighting.

A jury at the High Court at Auckland on Friday awarded Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams $1.27 million in damages, having found he had been defamed by Mr Craig in a pamphlet and at a press conference in 2015.

Mr Williams' looked almost in tears as the verdict was read. Mr Craig stared on from the public gallery, as he had done for much of the trial.

Immediately after, Mr Craig's lawyer Stephen Mills asked the judge to delay passing down judgement, saying the jury had got the result and the damages wrong.

They've been given two weeks to appeal.

Outside the court, Mr Williams said he never wanted the case to happen, but was pleased with the outcome.

One of his lawyers, Ali Romanos, said it was the highest-ever payout for defamation in New Zealand.

"It's been a gruelling year ... against a very high-profile defendant who took every measure he could, but I think justice was served today," he said.

Mr Craig only told reporters he was "very, very surprised and disappointed".

"This is still something that's in play legally," he said with wife Helen at his side.

Rachel MacGregor was the former press secretary for Colin Craig © Google+/Rachel MacGregor Rachel MacGregor was the former press secretary for Colin Craig

During the trial, Mr Williams said he went to Conservative Party officials in 2015 after Mr Craig's press secretary, Rachel MacGregor - who quit two days before the 2014 election - confided in him about allegedly being sexual harassed by Mr Craig, including touching, comments, and romantic letters and poems.

Mr Craig resigned in June, 2015 and said Mr Williams was part of a plot to oust him as leader, accused him of spreading lies and leaking to bloggers and also threatened to sue Mr Williams - although he never did.

He sent the 12-page pamphlet "Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas" to 1.6 million homes to try to defend his reputation, his lawyers said.

It took the jurors nearly 10 hours of deliberation to reach their verdict in the case, which contained 1000 pages of transcripts.

During the trial, Ms MacGregor told the court she quit after Mr Craig told her he had "slept well the night before because he had imagined he was lying on my legs".

She called him "dodgy" among a string of other insults, saying he harassed her over a long period of time and refused to pay her for months.

Poems and letters allegedly written by Mr Craig to Ms MacGregor were read to the court by Mr Williams, containing lines such as saying she looked "unbelievably good in your new dress" and her lips were "amazing to kiss".

Mr Williams' lawyer Peter McKnight said wealthy businessman Mr Craig had sued a string of people and Mr Williams was just someone who stood up to him.

During his evidence, Mr Craig said his relationship with Ms MacGregor was consensual and she had since changed her story.

The case against Craig: the basics

* Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, resigned two days before the 2014 national election

* Mr Craig stepped down in June, 2015, amid allegations of sexual harassment against MacGregor

* He wrote the pamphlet "Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas" in which he said "schemers", including Tax Payers Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams, had plotted to undermine him - it was sent to 1.6 million homes

* He also said he would sue Williams for $300,000 over some of the allegations

* Williams files a lawsuit, saying the comments and legal threat had harmed his reputation. Craig said he wrote the pamphlet to defend his reputation


* Williams says MacGregor confided in him Craig had sexually harassed her and showed him letters and poems sent to her by Craig

* He said he went to senior party members to warn them and to protect her

* MacGregor said Craig harassed her over a long period and stopped paying her the last few months of work, calling him "dodgy".

* In 2015 she settled a sexual harassment case against him which had a confidentiality order in place

* Craig admitted he breached the agreement 12 times but said he thought MacGregor breached it first

* He said their relationship was consensual - not sexual - and that she quit when he rejected her advances

* Craig said Williams lied to the party by saying he had sexually assaulted MacGregor on election night 2011, arguing it was a consensual kiss


Williams read the court some romantic poems, letters and texts allegedly sent by Craig to MacGregor One said she looked "unbelievably good in your new dress", another her lips were "amazing to kiss". MacGregor told the court he told her he "slept well the night before because he had imagined he was lying on my legs" - which he said was a "sleeping technique" Craig said MacGregor enjoyed his correspondence


* Aside from MacGregor, Williams called senior party officials to talk about Craig

* Party members argued for both sides, some had concerns for years, but disagreed whether there was sexual harassment

* Craig and his wife Helen gave evidence, but he also subpoenaed journalist Nicky Hager


* The jury had to work out whether Mr Williams' reputation had been harmed, whether Mr Craig had told the truth, whether it was his honest opinion or if he was just defending himself in a reasonable way

* The jury of 11 - one was discharged - on Friday found Craig defamed Mr Williams and ordered him to pay $1.27 million - Williams had asked for $1.4m

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