OpinionSeptember 30, 2016

Having trounced Colin Craig in comedy-horror libel case, here’s how Jordan Williams could spend his $1.27m


It’s a struggle to like either of the creeps who locked horns in the High Court, but the measure of the winner’s character will be in how he spends the damages, writes Toby Manhire

The Hollow Men was turned into a stage play. Secret Power was adapted into a visual art spectacular. And now another of Nicky Hager’s books has concluded a new and dramatic lease of life. This time it’s Dirty Politics and this time the theatre is the Auckland High Court.

Lest anyone be unclear: the court case that ended this afternoon with an award of $1.27 million damages to Jordan Williams, who the jury resolved had been defamed by Colin Craig, was strictly a dramatic interpretation of Dirty Politics – in these litigious times it is probably safest to spell things out. It did, however, centre in large part on false claims made in a pamphlet published by the former Conservative Party leader entitled Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas in a nod to Hager’s book, and the Dirty Politics personnel that paraded through the court – among them the Taxpayers Union boss Williams, controversial PR man Carrick Graham, Cameron Whaleoil Slater and Hager himself – were enough to prompt a heady buzz of déjà vu.

The accursed pamphlet.
The accursed pamphlet.

Or maybe it is better described as a tribute act to the fever dream of the 2014 election campaign, particularly when you consider that playing out simultaneously in an adjacent court room was the latest instalment in the Kim Dotcom extradition saga. It would hardly have surprised if Julian Assange and Edward Snowden were spontaneously beamed on to the front wall of the High Court.

This was a fairground haunted house of a trial: a spectacle that had you screaming in terror, squirming at the grotesques, yet still wanting more. Hideous sexts. Mawkish poetry. The clumsy, would-be-mysterious Mr X. Elaborate descriptions of massage and kisses. Pompous exhibitions of self-righteousness. For those of us rubber-necking at the comedy-horror circus, it sometimes became possible to overlook the fact that the unwilling individual at the heart of much of the case was Craig’s former press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, who had resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment, and who in the words of Williams’ lawyer had been “dragged into the case”. There was nothing remotely funny to be found in her testimony.

But while there was plenty of reason to sympathise with MacGregor, it’s difficult to see how anyone reading the reports of the trial would be feeling enamoured by either of these unpleasant men who seemed set upon slapping each other with legal fish (note to lawyers: there were not literally any fish).

I didn’t witness any of the trial itself – I was too busy tuning remotely in to the nearby Dotcom-and-co appeal, which I watched every minute of (and when I say every minute I mean the occasional minute) – so am in no position to doubt the jurors’ decision, but it does seem a shame that there is no formal legal remedy that orders a plague on both their houses. Like with locusts and everything.

On the radio this afternoon, the news reader announced the breaking news: “Jordan Williams has been awarded 1.27 million –” she said before pausing, perhaps double-checking her script in surprise, but leaving enough space for me to immediately think, 1.27 million grains of sand or pistachio shells or repeat viewings of the Kim Dotcom appeal livestream or laps of the bucket fountain in a clown suit, or “– dollars.”

The sum, which according to some reports this afternoon may be a record – there is no evidence to suggest damages are to be henceforth pegged to the Auckland house price index – was enough to encourage a few to wonder how they might get defamed, too.

Williams may have won a big payout today, but his character is a long way from unblemished. If he wants to go some way to repairing that, he’ll be thinking seriously about how to divvy up the Craig cash. How about this. A third to Rachel MacGregor. A third to Women’s Refuge. And a third to Poetry in Schools.

Meanwhile, sequels roll around faster than ever these days. If you thought Williams v Craig was a ride, brace yourself for Slater v Craig, coming soon to a courtroom near you.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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