Guest Post: Three disgraced MP’s and the Media – Part Two

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Part one of this series covered the blazing end of my political career, and my resignation as an MP in September 2010. I am reliably informed that in the TVNZ section of the Press Gallery, Guyon Espiner  made a dartboard out of a picture of my face, and gleefully celebrated the taking of  my scalp. Six months later, the MP in  the bulls-eye was – but the extent and nature of media coverage of him was somewhat different.

I should make clear that most of what follows is either public information, or information from reliable sources. Where I venture into conjecture,  or where I don’t know something for a fact, I will make that quite clear.

On  the night of 1  March 2011 Darren Hughes and others were out on the drink in Wellington after a debate at Victoria university. I am informed that he was at the centre  of a group of young Labour activists drinking with him and other  university students. While it later became clear that Hughes is homosexual, it is important to record that this was not widely known at the time. Parliament is a hot bed of gossip, most especially about MP’s personal peccadilloes and problems – it quickly becomes known who is a heavy drinker; who smokes dope or takes other drugs; and who plays musical beds.

No-one in ACT knew Hughes was gay, and I never recall any Nat mentioning it. I actually liked Hughes – it was hard not to – he was and I am sure still is  extremely witty and articulate, and  he was definitely not one of the  “nasty bastards” – like little Plughead – who are mercifully few in parliament. I have no way of knowing how widely known it was among the Labour members – or more particularly Labour Youth – that Hughes preferred young men to comely young women.

At some point on the night of 1  March 2011, Hughes took an  18 year old  youth – later spun both by media and Labour as “a grown man” – back to the flat in Haitaitai, Wellington, which Hughes shared with Annette King MP. Both Hughes and the object of his sexual interest were apparently drunk – the young man  reported to be far more drunk than Hughes.

No-one on our side of the fence knows exactly  what transpired at the flat, but what is clear is that in the early hours of the following morning, the young man was found running naked down the streets of Haitaitai. He was picked up by the police, and the following day a complaint of a sexual nature was made against Hughes. At that point, the Labour spin machine – and to a lesser extent the left leaning media – went into overdrive.

Firstly, the 18 year old youth became “a grown man” who had gone willingly with Hughes, who was well  known to be homosexual. In other words, “two consenting adults went off to have sex, so what?” The age framing was a  significant part of the spin. In my case, a boy aged two and a half at the time of my offence became “a dead baby”, and he has always remained so in the media. My shameful offence was the same whether the dead person was two days or two years old, but doesn’t “a dead baby” sound so much worse? For Hughes though, I don’t recall the words “youth” or “teenager” ever being used – he was always “ a man”, or at worst, “a young man.”

The police began investigating the complaint,  which by their statements indicated that the allegation was one of either unlawful sexual connection, or sexual violation of some kind. This was certainly no low level indecent assault – what Graeme Edgeler has referred to in the 3S context as “a drunken grope”.

Phil Goff, Labour’s then leader, immediately went on the offensive, accusing ”the Beehive” of leaking the details of the incident.  I know of no evidence that that was how the matter became public knowledge, but I am certainly aware that the Prime Minister’s office knows a great deal more than they are lawfully entitled to – including information of a highly confidential nature that the police provide to the inhabitant for the time being of the ninth floor, regardless of their party.

Hughes first went on leave from parliament – nothing remarkable about that,  I  did the same thing; that’s what MP’s do when a shit storm is erupting about them.

Hughes then effectively disappeared from the public eye for more than three weeks. Readers of part one of this series will recall that TV vans were camped outside my house even AFTER I had resigned; the former Journal of Record sent reporters to Australia to interview someone I had been to school with, and advertised on its front page for “those who know something about David Garrett” to come forward. But what about Darren Hughes’ doings, between the 3rd of March 2011, and when he resigned on 25 March?

It later transpired that Hughes had gone to ground at Paul Henry’s beach house in Hawkes Bay. Since Henry was what would loosely be described as a journalist, it would surely have been common knowledge among his colleagues that that is where Hughes was? It would certainly not have been at all difficult to find out – New Zealand is a very small place, and Paul Henry was then a leading media figure.

But no TV vans outside Henry’s hideaway; no door stopping Hughes, just media reports  from Labour sources which suggested that the “grown man” must have known exactly what Hughes had in mind when he went back with him  to the flat in Haitatai.

From that point until the police announced Hughes would not face charges, the media virtually shut down the story. It was yesterday’s news. Perhaps not surprising when it became known that Hughes had acted at MC at Guyon Espiner’s wedding – the same Guyon Espiner who had gleefully led the hounds after me, and placed my image over the dartboard in the TVNZ office.

Now, one can have anyone one likes as MC at their wedding, and I’m sure Hughes did a fantastic job – as I have said he is witty, clever, and highly articulate. I’m sure it was a wonderful occasion. But while an MC is not quite the best man, one does not chose just “some joker you know” to fill that role; you choose as MC a person who is a close,  if not one’s closest friend, and someone you have spent considerable time with.

DPF: Just to add some context here, Guyon’s wife used to work for Darren Hughes. So it wasn’t Darren being MC as he was best mates with Guyon, but rather that he was a very close friend and former boss of Emma.

So was Mr Espiner an impartial commentator on the Hughes affair? I suggest that he cannot have been. Was it proper that he led the charge against me, a person at the opposite end of the political spectrum to his good mate? You decide.

Eventually the police investigation into Hughes was concluded, with the announcement that he would face no charges over the incident some months before. Hughes immediately  foolishly burst into print claiming he was the victim of a false complaint. The police then took the highly unusual step of making a second public statement, making it clear that there was no question of a false complaint having been made, it was simply that “the evidence did not meet the evidential threshold required to bring charges”, in other words, in police speak, “we are sure an offence occurred, but we don’t think we can prove it”. Readers may argue about my paraphrasing, but it is certainly most unusual for the police to specify that there was no question of a false complaint.

So, what happened on the night of1/2 March 2011 at Darren Hughes’ flat in Wellington? Did the young man in question know he was going home with someone sexually interested in him? What did Hughes actually do  which resulted in a young man  running down the road naked and in a distressed state some hours later? Who knows? Well, some people know, but I am not one of them.

What is clear is that the jackals of the media gave Hughes a very easy ride over the whole business. Hughes left the country for a sinecure in London arranged by his mates in the Labour party. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t featured in political commentary since – until he was well down the list of “disgraced politicians” featured in the article last week to which I referred at the beginning of this piece.

Was the media coverage of Hughes commensurate with  whatever had occurred late at night at his flat? While he never faced charges, it is abundantly clear that SOMETHING of a serious sexual nature happened there – the lengthy police investigation, and their comments thereon, are clear evidence of that.

Next and last, Metiria Turei…or “Metiria” as she is known to New Zealand’s political journalists.

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