Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig seeks up to $700k from bankrupt blogger Cameron Slater

Former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has asked a judge to award him up to $700,000 in damages for being defamed by bankrupt blogger Cameron Slater.

The multi-millionaire property developer won part of an appeal in July, which saw the High Court ordered to redetermine damages and costs against the man who was behind the Whale Oil website.

It followed a lengthy trial in 2017 over allegations published by Slater about Craig’s sexual morality, claims of electoral fraud, and lies to the media.

A more than 200-page judgment by Justice Kit Toogood in 2018 found Slater had defamed the former politician but declined to award damages. The now retired judge dismissed Slater’s counter-claim.

Justice Toogood was also the first to rule that Craig had sexually harassed his press secretary Rachel MacGregor “on multiple occasions from early 2012 to 2014”.

Today, a jovial and self-represented Craig appeared in the High Court at Auckland before Justice Rebecca Edwards to argue about how much he should be awarded.

Craig, who founded the Conservative Party in 2011, was seeking damages of between $500,000 and $700,000.

Slater, who went into voluntary bankruptcy last year and suffered multiple strokes in 2018, was neither at the hearing nor represented by a lawyer.

The most damaging falsehood published by Slater, Craig told the court, was the allegation he was “abusing my position as leader of the party to witch-hunt people and committing electoral fraud”.

“One cannot run for office if there has been a finding of electoral fraud,” he added.

When speaking about Slater’s other claims, Craig said: “Mr Slater did enjoy some success on this because there was a finding that I did sexual harass Ms MacGregor.”

But still considered it less damaging than the false electoral fraud allegation.

“It’s not something you are going to go to prison for and are not going to be ruled out of a political career because of it,” he said of the harassment finding.

Craig argued Slater aggravated the damage by maintaining claims “that simply are not true” and continued to blog during the trial.

“Those actions add to the harm,” Craig said. “That sort of behaviour is not acceptable and we should signal that in some form of punitive damages.”

Craig started the case with legal counsel but in February 2016 became self-represented.

He did, however, have the help of a lawyer as a McKenzie friend and was seeking total costs of $157,000.

“I did have some legal assistance on what were complicated matters,” he said.

Justice Edwards reserved her decision but told Craig to expect her ruling next year.

“I’m not going to promise it before Christmas,” she said, adding time was needed to review the proceeding’s lengthy history.

The case is one of several defamation actions involving Craig.

They followed what Justice Matthew Palmer described as the “implosion” of the Conservative Party and what Justice Toogood called “the political rise and fall of Mr Colin Craig”.

Just two days before the 2014 election MacGregor spectacularly quit as press secretary and later filed a sexual harassment complaint against Craig.

Several public allegations were then made against Craig in 2015.

Craig responded by holding his now-infamous press conference with his wife, Helen, and published a booklet titled Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas.

The booklet, which came at a personal cost of more than $250,000 for Craig to produce, was then distributed to 1.6 million Kiwi households.

Included in it was an interview with Mr X, a foulmouthed whistleblower who described Craig as “freakish under pressure”. It was later revealed Craig was in-fact Mr X and had fabricated the interview.

Despite this, the booklet targeted a so-called trio of “schemers” for legal action, whom Craig believed had plotted against him in a calculated and ruthless character assassination.

The three men were former Conservative Party board member John Stringer, New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union founder Jordan Williams, and Slater.

The subsequent legal fallout has created history after a four-week trial in 2016 saw a jury rule in favour of Williams and award him $1.27 million, the highest amount for defamation damages in New Zealand.

But after a series of appeals, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial in April last year.

The retrial would never eventuate after Williams admitted making false allegations and unreservedly apologised to Craig and his family last December. He also made an undisclosed payment to settle the case.

At a 2018 trial, Craig and MacGregor counter-sued each other before Justice Anne Hinton again found Craig had sexually harassed the former TVNZ reporter.

The judge also said the pair defamed each other.

Craig, who withdrew his claim for damages against MacGregor during the trial, has challenged the decision and a hearing before the Court of Appeal is scheduled for later this month.

A confidential settlement between Craig and MacGregor had been reached in May 2015.

However, Craig was later ordered to pay MacGregor more than $120,000 by the Human Rights Review Tribunal after it ruled he breached the agreement in media interviews.

Meanwhile, Craig and Stringer’s case continues following the Court of Appeal’s reversal earlier this year of a High Court ruling that stayed Craig’s proceeding against Stringer.

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