Guest Post: Three disgraced MP’s – and the media. Part One

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With Todd Barclay as a possible contender, I think it would be fair to say that the three   MP’s who left parliament under the greatest  cloud of infamy  in recent times were me, Darren Hughes, and Metiria Turei.  Left wing commenters, including some members of the  media to their shame, are now lamenting how “Metiria” – it’s always first names for people you like – was hounded out of parliament  by  vindictive and biased journalists. An examination of the  cases this three part series  covers shows that to be complete nonsense

Ms Turei has just reconfirmed the old adage that a week is a long time in politics – an MP on Monday, determined to stick it out, gone by Friday when John Campbell’s questions about what she really received by way of financial support in the 90’s while on a benefit proved too hard to answer.

My tumultuous week began on Monday 6 September 2010 with a visit to Arohata Womens’ Prison, the second visit I had made there. The previous week I had – I thought – successfully dealt with questions about my so called assault conviction in Tonga – the result of a Kangaroo Court conducted entirely in Tongan, and presided over by an untrained “Judge” who had clearly been bribed. It was only later I realized  that was just the entrée, the main course was to come in the form of Guyon Espiner waiting for me outside the Law and Order Select Committee room on  the Wednesday.

Espiner asked me about my discharge without conviction for forgery – in the form of an application for a false passport  made  27 years earlier. The day I had always known would come finally had. It was clear from his questions that Espiner knew all about the case – including the suppression orders made, both of my name and the dead child’s. I am sure he also knew that those orders made it impossible for me to comment in any detail. One cannot simply breach suppression orders, even when they are made for your benefit. To do so risks being found in contempt of court.

As I walked back to Bowen House I was largely in a daze, knowing what was to come – or at least I thought I did; the reality was much worse. My first step was to take advice from an eminent QC on what I could and couldn’t say about the matter. His advice was clear and unequivocal – I could only speak in the House under the protection of absolute privilege. To speak about any aspect of the case outside the House ran the real risk of exposing  me to further serious legal consequences.

Knowing as I always had that this fateful day would come, I had prepared a draft statement  which had sat in my bottom drawer since the election in 2008. I now amended that statement, and duly made a personal statement to the House detailing what I had done back in 1984 and why, and expressing my deep regret for  the pain I had indirectly caused the boy’s family when the police insisted on telling them, in 2005, of an offence which had occurred 27 years earlier.

Having made my statement, I  returned to Bowen House  via the “underground route” shown to all MP’s upon their election. I managed to reach my office unmolested, but shortly thereafter a throng of journos gathered in the lobby. I was fully aware of their presence, and decided that I needed to make some sort of statement to the media over and above what I had said in the House. I chose Jane Patterson of Radio New Zealand, who had always given me a very fair shake in the past to be the one journo I spoke to.

By this time I had realized the jackals in the media were already after my family – fortunately my neighbours had warned my wife that they had been trying to find which house down our quiet rural road was mine. So I had already got my wife and children out of Dodge; they were safe at a friend’s remote  place on Banks Peninsula. After I had made my statement to Ms Patterson, I managed to get out of Bowen House through the basement, and took a taxi to the airport, intending to join my family.  By this time, unknown to me,  the hounds were in full flight.

At Wellington airport the odious Patrick Gower came into the Koru Club looking for an interview. Although I did not realize it at the time, I was by then in the first stages of a nervous breakdown. I had no idea – clearly the brain wasn’t working properly – that down by the departure gate the jackals would be waiting en masse.

When I went to board my flight I was surrounded by journos, all yelling questions and poking microphones up my nose. I said what I could: that I had made a personal statement to the House; that I had legal advice that I must not make any further comment, but that I had risked doing  so  in an interview with Radio NZ, which by then had been broadcast. I said my personal statement and the interview to RNZ was all I intended to say.  It was as if I was speaking Swahili.

Gower positioned himself in the metal detector one must pass through to get to the gate lounge, poking his microphone up nose and yelling questions. I have no doubt that he hoped I would drop my bag and then drop him – he was prepared to risk a broken jaw to get a better story, all filmed for endless replaying.  I managed to get on my flight and flew to Christchurch, now well aware that a similar throng would be waiting for me there. They were. I had already said all I dared say on the matter, and managed to leave the airport without being followed.

Later that day, as I recall,  I resigned from the ACT caucus. It was clear to me by then that my position as an MP elected on the ACT list  was no longer tenable. I realized that I would also have to resign as an MP, but my wife was deeply distressed that doing that would leave our family – my children were then aged five and nine – without an income. The Law Society had already begun an enquiry into my conduct, a process which would not end until 18 months later.

We were informed that the media had figured out where we were on Banks Peninsula, so we decamped to another location in the South Island where I tried to work out what to do. We were told by neighbours that by that time, both TV 1 and TV 3 had reporters camped outside our house, so returning there was not an option.

By the next week, I had resigned as an MP, having realized that I had no choice. The last straw was my son’s plaintive voice from the back of the car as we drove to yet another hideout: “Daddy, will the media get us tonight?”  I resigned as an MP later that day, thinking “well, that will get them off my back”. Some chance.

For weeks after my resignation the media continued to dig for dirt on me. They approached the former headmaster of my high school, by then in retirement. God knows what they thought he would have to say of any relevance: perhaps that I had expressed in interest in actually being an assassin, as depicted in “The Day of the Jackal”, the novel which outlined the method I had used to obtain a false  passport? One journo flew to Sydney to interview a guy I went to school with. I hadn’t seen or spoken to  him since the day we left school in 1974.

The New Zealand Herald, that now woefully tarnished former Journal of Record, ran exhortations on its front page inviting those who had some dirt on me to contact them. The best they got was a mad woman I had met on a dating site almost ten years earlier. After meeting for a coffee at a McCafe, I had lured her back to my flat to watch the 1942 classic  “Casablanca”. Shameful.

Six months after my downfall, on 2 March 2011, Labour MP  Darren Hughes took a drunk young man back to his flat in  Wellington. What happened subsequently at the flat led to Hughes resigning from parliament  a couple of weeks later. The events surrounding that resignation, and Hughes’ interaction with the media, are Part Two of this series. 


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