Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour Party president Claire Szabo speak to media at parliament today. Screengrab: RNZ
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour Party president Claire Szabo speak to media at parliament today. Screengrab: RNZ

PoliticsDecember 18, 2019

‘Worst nightmare’: Labour staffer complainants respond to Dew report

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour Party president Claire Szabo speak to media at parliament today. Screengrab: RNZ
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour Party president Claire Szabo speak to media at parliament today. Screengrab: RNZ

Former Labour volunteers say they’re left feeling ‘shattered’ following the report, which substantially finds the allegations, including sexual assault, are ‘not established’, and finds that evidence presented by a key complainant was unreliable.

Note: Representatives of the respondent have contacted The Spinoff reiterating that he adamantly rejects any allegations of sexual assault, and noting that Maria Dew QC found a key complainant to have provided misleading information to the Dew inquiry. The Dew report can be read here.

Complainants involved in the Labour Party inquiry into the conduct of a party staffer say they are “angry” and “disappointed” following the release of a report into their allegations. The Spinoff has spoken to some of the former Labour volunteers since the release of a summary of findings by Maria Dew QC into allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and bullying by a Labour staffer. Despite hearing from five complainants, Dew found that almost all the allegations were “not established”.

The QC’s report was commissioned by the prime minister and Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern, after Newshub, Stuff and The Spinoff reported on the botched inquiry into a former Labour staffer at the centre of numerous serious complaints including harassment, assault and bullying. The full report has been withheld to protect the confidentiality of those who participated, but an executive summary was published this afternoon. It found “insufficient evidence” to back up the most serious allegations – and suggested parts of a key complainant’s version of events were incorrect.

Citing the confidentiality agreement that all complainants and the respondent were required to sign, the woman who alleged sexual assault said she could not address the details of the report. She did, however, say that she had only received a full version of the report this morning, and stressed that she stood by her account as shared with The Spinoff. She said she also wished to acknowledge the “huge plethora of women who aren’t able to prove sexual assaults”.

“This isn’t the result that we wanted and we are disappointed,” another complainant involved in the process said. “I still believe all the complainants and their stories and am proud of the work that they did in coming forward.” Another described experience as a whole as amounting to “the worst nightmare” for anyone considering speaking up about sexual violence. “I just feel shattered.”

The Spinoff understands that on the advice of a sexual violence agency, it was recommended that the release of the report be delayed until welfare concerns for several of the complainants could be resolved. As reported by Newshub, at least one complainant has been hospitalised and another accessed mental health crisis services during the review process. “We have no tools to cope with this stuff,” one complainant said.

“[Labour] had a choice to delay it but they wanted to drag us all through the mud instead,” one complainant told The Spinoff.

Dew did find examples to substantiate complaints of “aggressive and overbearing” behaviour, but it was “not sufficient to meet the threshold for unlawful bullying”, insofar as such conduct “must be ‘repeated’ towards a party member or group of members, such that it may cause physical or psychological harm”. Dew also found, contrary to what Stuff and The Spinoff were repeatedly told, that the respondent and the woman known as Sarah in the Spinoff story, were in an eight month relationship – something Sarah continues to deny.

Dew’s eight-page summary can be read here.

The most serious of the complaints – reported by Newshub and Stuff and detailed in a Spinoff article published in September – related to allegations of a serious sexual assault in February of 2018.

Dew concludes, however, that “the allegation… is not established”.

She writes: “There is insufficient evidence that the events occurred as alleged by Ms 1 [“Sarah” in the Spinoff report] at any time during February 2018. Her evidence was incorrect in several critical respects in relation to the events of that evening.” The summary acknowledges that the complainant has never resiled from the central allegation, with Dew noting: “I do wish to acknowledge that Ms 1 will be distressed that this allegation is not established.”

The executive summary notes a disputed email exchange with the Labour committee initially tasked with inquiring into the allegations in March of 2019. It says Ms 1 / Sarah had “accepted that she had provided misleading information to this investigation and the party about her email dated 9 March 2019”. It is unclear what specific information this refers to. The report determines that “on the balance of probabilities, the emails … did not contain any attached document detailing her allegation of sexual assault by the respondent.”

There is no reference in Dew’s report to the email sent to the Labour panel on April 26 which seeks “an update on the investigation” and stresses: “Just adding the seriousness of the situation here, an accusation of sexual assault, manipulation, bullying and emotional abuse.”

Nor is there any reference to another email, dated June 11, sent to the three members of the investigation panel, in which the complainant directs them to “attached … notes of testimony”. The attached document, as previously reported by The Spinoff, contains clear reference to her allegation: “SEXUAL ASSAULT occurred February 2018”.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, the recently elected Labour Party president, Claire Szabo, said: “Regardless of the findings from Maria Dew, the party’s previous processes failed everybody and have taken a toll on all involved… It is now time for us to get on with applying the lessons we have learned.”

When it was put to Jacinda Ardern by Newshub’s Tova O’Brien that complainants had told her they had been rebuffed when asking for the publication of the summary to be delayed, and that they stood by their accounts, Ardern said she would not be discussing “elements of the report”, but would “leave it as it stands.”

She said: “We don’t want any more harm done by this situation … This process has poorly served everyone. Harm has been done to everyone involved. Now it’s time for us to draw a line in the sand and to try and get back to best practice, because that hasn’t been the case here.”

She added: “It’s time for us to start trying to look after our Labour members … We know we can and must do better.”

Nigel Haworth, the president of the Labour Party at the time of the original inquiry, resigned his position on September 11 after Ardern said she had been provided with “the correspondence from complainants written to the party several months ago”. Those documents, she said, “confirm that the allegations made were extremely serious, that the process caused complainants additional distress, and that ultimately, in my view, the party was never equipped to appropriately deal with the issue.”

The man at the centre of allegations resigned as a Labour staffer the following day, saying he had “made the very difficult decision to resign because of the stress of the situation, and my wish not to be a distraction to the work of the government”.

He added: “I adamantly refute the serious allegations made against me.” A further report, examining the Labour Party’s handling of the complaints, is expected in the new year.

According to one of the complainants, they have been asked to provide all relevant documentation to that inquiry within two days. A complainant told The Spinoff: “If I had a message for anyone reading this news who has experienced sexual violence, it would be to not feel discouraged because of this outcome.

“Speaking up is the most important thing that we can continue to do right now.”

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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