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Little's words 'didn't imply corruption'

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/04/2017 Karen Sweeney
Labour leader Andrew Little © Getty Image Labour leader Andrew Little

Alice in Wonderland was right when she questioned whether words could be made to mean so many different things, Labour leader Andrew Little's lawyer says.

Hoteliers Earl and Lani Hagaman are suing Mr Little for $2.3 million in a defamation trial being heard by a judge and jury in the High Court at Wellington.

The suit stems from comments Mr Little made in a press release and subsequent radio and television statements in April last year about a $100,000 donation made by Mr Hagaman to the National Party a month before his company, Scenic Hotels, was awarded a contract to operate Niue's Matavai luxury resort.

The Hagamans argue Mr Little's comments implied they were involved in corrupt activity, but Mr Little's lawyer John Tizard says that's not the case.

Quoting a conversation between Alice in Wonderland and Humpty Dumpty, Mr Tizard said it was important that words have accepted meanings.

"Alice is right, we can't just choose whatever meaning we want. We couldn't communicate otherwise," he said.

While the Hagamans claim the statements implied corruption and wrongdoing on their part, Mr Tizard says the press release "starts and ends with the government".

He said the Hagamans claimed the implication of corruption was fact.

"I'm suggesting that it doesn't go that far," Mr Tizard said.

"It's not an allegation it was not above board, it is a question whether it was or wasn't above board."

In summing up, Mr Tizard also urged the jury to consider that some of the broadcasts weren't full statements made by Mr Little, instead they were "cut and paste jobs" by the media of longer interviews.

"Mr Little has no control over what they do with his material," he said.

Mr Tizard also questioned Mrs Hagamans claim as a whole, given she is not mentioned in the statements in any way.

He said a person would need to have special knowledge of her involvement in the donation and the contract to connect her with the statements made by Mr Little.

"I suggest it just strains credulity to think that's the case," he said.

Mr Tizard said while Mrs Hagaman, who gave evidence early in the trial was visibly upset about the claimed implications of Mr Little's comments, it didn't take much to see that the trial could be damaging and costly to Mr Little.

In his evidence Mr Little revealed he had to remortgage his home to make a $100,000 settlement offer to the Hagamans.

The trial is continuing.

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