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'Mad Butcher' burned over Waiheke exchange

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 3/01/2017

High-profile businesman and charity worker Sir Peter Leitch is under fire for jokingly telling a woman Auckland's Waiheke Island is a "white man's island".

Sir Peter, who is better known as the "Mad Butcher" for the chain of butcher shops he used to own and his support of the Warriors league team, denies he was being racist and says the woman has misinterpreted light-hearted banter.

Lara Wharepapa Bridger, 23, says she was at a vineyard on the island with her mother when they began chatting with the businessman.

He had warned Ms Bridger's group about not drinking and driving and said they couldn't be local, but Ms Bridger said she was born on the island which she said prompted the objectionable comment.

"He said specifically to me, 'this is a white man's island, you need to go. You need to acknowledge that this is a white man's island'," Ms Bridger said in a Facebook video posted on Tuesday, which she has since deleted because people were "going a bit overboard with threats and racist comments".

But Sir Peter said he immediately apologised and the situation was ironic because he was with his Ngapuhi-descended granddaughter.

"She said that she was tangata whenua and could do what she liked, and I responded with a joke about it being a white man's island also," he said in a statement released to media.

"This was not a serious comment and was only ever intended to be light-hearted banter."

That didn't stop people criticising the 72-year-old in more than 200 comments on his own Facebook page. However others have defended him, saying there was no way he is racist.

Former Warrior Monty Betham was one who defended him.

"I've seen/experienced his sensitive side towards Island & Maori culture amongst others in the melting pot of ethnicity involved in rugby league," he posted to Instagram.

Sir Peter had been misinterpreted while trying to be humorous and he was now the victim, Betham said.

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