Colin Craig ordered to pay $400,000 to press secretary he harassed

Alison Mau

One-time politician Colin Craig has been ordered to pay $400,000 to his former press secretary for claiming he did not sexually harass her in the lead-up to the 2014 general election.

Craig, who led the Conservative Party until he resigned in 2015, lost a High Court case against Rachel MacGregor​ in 2019, in which both sued each other for defamation.

Craig appealed the decision twice, claiming he could not have defamed MacGregor because he did not sexually harass her. He was turned down by both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, both of which agreed with the High Court decision.

The High Court found Craig had sexually harassed MacGregor by sending her “highly inappropriate” letters with “clear sexual content”. The letters, along with comments and texts, had been unwelcome to MacGregor for almost two-and-a-half years, Justice Anne Hinton found.

Tuesday’s damages and costs judgment noted there had been defamation on both sides, but the claims by Craig against MacGregor were more serious. It comes more than two years after the High Court case concluded.

It awarded MacGregor $400,000 in damages and $77,550 in costs. MacGregor is ordered to pay Craig disbursements of $37,337. MacGregor had asked the court for damages of between $700,000 and $800,000, the decision noted.

Craig withdrew his request for damages during the 2019 High Court trial.

The decision rejected MacGregor’s claim that Craig had acted with malice, saying he was not a sophisticated political operator and had been motivated by response to an attack by blogger Cameron Slater and Jordan Williams, among others.

“It is, nonetheless, a clearly aggravating feature of this case that Mr Craig responded to allegations made by others by drawing Ms MacGregor further into the controversy and presenting himself as a victim when, although there had been no finding or concession made, it must have been abundantly clear even to him that the reverse applied. There can be no doubt Mr Craig did so deliberately.”

In an email, Craig said he still thought the Court of Appeal’s decision was wrong and therefore, “in my opinion, any amount would be too high.

“I am obviously pleased that the judge considered Ms MacGregor’s claim for damages was ‘excessive’ and has awarded her less than half what she sought.”

He said it was too soon to make a decision on whether an appeal would be launched.

Nicola Taylor​, a trustee for the Rachel MacGregor Trust, which was set up in 2017 to help MacGregor pay mounting legal costs, welcomed the decision but said it was “tragic” that MacGregor had been forced to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“No amount of money will ever restore the years of life Rachel has lost, the impact on her health and wellbeing, since she resigned from the party in September 2014,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the total amount of costs and damages would not come close to paying MacGregor’s full legal bill, despite her lawyers donating “a huge amount of their time” to her case.

MacGregor has been represented by Dentons Kensington Swan​ lawyers Linda Clark​ and Hayden Wilson​ throughout the High Court case and the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court appeal actions taken by Craig.

Clark welcomed Tuesday’s decision, saying it was “a significant vindication of Rachel and her reputation”.

In the 38-page decision, Justice Hinton said the damages and costs award was “the latest in a long and continuing series of ‘Colin Craig’ judgments which as the Court of Appeal has said have occupied exhaustive judicial time”.

In the 2019 defamation case, Justice Hinton found Craig had defamed MacGregor on four occasions – in two separate press conferences he called in June and July 2015, in a letter to Conservative Party members, and in a booklet called Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas that he distributed to 1.6 million households.

MacGregor was found to have defamed Craig by saying he was a bad employer and had harassed other women.

Alison Mau is a trustee of the Rachel MacGregor Trust.

Read the Stuff article here: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/300455504/colin-craig-ordered-to-pay-400000-to-press-secretary-he-harassed