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Arrest in Labour Party sex assault case

Update: Police have issued a statement this morning after this Newsroom story confirming a 20 year-old man will face four charges of indecent assault and will appear in the Auckland District Court on July 5.

Police are believed to have arrested the man at the centre of the Labour Party summer youth camp sexual assault allegations.

Newsroom understands the man, who Labour said at the time was not a party member, was arrested and charged yesterday and will appear in a court in Auckland in the next week.

The governing party was rocked in March when details of the February camp assaults of four young people, all believed to be just 16, were revealed by Newsroom.

The victims were at an evening gathering after a day of workshops and briefings from Labour luminaries including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a venue near Waihi. The camp was said to have had a 'mountain' of alcohol available and the party involved adults and young people, including school students. At least one Labour MP, Liz Craig, was at the party, appearing in photos on social media at a table with young people drinking but had gone to bed before the alleged assaults.

The incidents involved the adult man touching male and female victims.

One victim told Newsroom last night: "To know that four months after the assaults occurred, that some action is finally being taken is fantastic. It feels like there’s some closure. After months of backtracks, lack of support and media coverage, its all coming to a head."

Labour officials expelled the man from the camp but did not assist victims to report the incidents to the police or to their parents or families. The party general secretary, Andrew Kirton, did not tell Ardern, even when news of the scandal was about to break because he believed a victim-led approach protecting those concerned meant the fewer people who knew, the better.

Ardern faced media questions without having been briefed and she later apologised for how the party handled the issue, including leaving the Labour Youth organisation with the heavy responsibility of dealing with the allegations and victims right after the camp. In a series of subsequent interviews and press conferences she made clear the party had let the victims down.

Her comments at the time included:

- "The event was not undertaken in a safe and responsible way."

- "Things went very, very wrong."

- "It has become clear to me the extent of our failure to both provide a safe environment for those young people at the Waihi Summer Camp and to properly deal with serious concerns raised by several attendees in relation to sexual misconduct and alcohol."

- "We failed the young people who told us they had been hurt - this failure left them feeling abandoned and I am deeply sorry for that. It is not good enough. We let them down."

- "The [police complaint] option should have been made very clear and the offer of support if they chose to go to the police should have been made very clear as well."

Police only became aware of the alleged assaults and initiated an inquiry after Newsroom's news story.

Labour arranged counselling for the victims three weeks to a month after the camp and learning of the allegations, despite initial contact with the young people. The party also offered counselling to the alleged attacker. An approach by one victim via social media to cabinet minister Megan Woods, who was not at the camp, eventually hurried the party into action with a Wellington sexual assault support organisation.

After the issue became public, it commissioned an inquiry by Wellington lawyer Maria Berryman into its policies and procedures and how it handled the allegations. She was not to investigate the actual camp assaults and her report is expected within weeks, although it is unlikely to be made public.

Kirton resigned last Friday to take a government relations role at Air New Zealand but is expected to be in office when the Berryman report is received. His actions over the camp allegations were widely criticised but he was praised highly by the party president at the time and when his resignation was announced.

The young victim said: “It's been such an unnerving time. To know that four months after the assaults occurred, that some action is finally being taken is fantastic. It feels like there’s some closure. After months of backtracks, lack of support and media coverage, its all coming to a head.

"[...] now the arrest.... and the release of the independent report in the next few weeks is really going to put the assaults and response to the assaults seriously in the spotlight.

"I’m hoping that some good will come out of it and the [man] begins to realise the seriousness of his actions and the awful position it has put not only me in, but the other three victims and the Labour Party too.

"This whole ordeal has detailed perfectly the party's failings regarding sexual assault as a whole, yet somehow I am confident and remain hopeful that the party will not let something like this happen in the future."

Outside the Labour caucus room this morning the party's Acting Leader, Kelvin Davis, offered no comment on the arrest because the case was before the court. He believed the Berryman report was due in "about a month".

"We're just getting on with governing the country. These things are issues that need to be dealt with, we just keep on doing what we need to do."

Davis had spoken to the departing Kirton and declared his resignation "entirely coincidental".

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