Politics

Nats suspended man only after story broke

A member of the Young Nationals accused of inappropriately touching a teenage woman after the group's Christmas function a week ago learned he was suspended by the party only after Newsroom broke the story yesterday of the police investigation.

National had claimed it followed all correct procedures following the incident. The victim had been led to believe the man had already been blacklisted from party events.

But earlier yesterday morning after Newsroom published details of the case, the man had received an email from National's general manager Greg Hamilton telling him a complaint had been made to the police and the party was temporarily cancelling his membership and barring him from events.

It was the first he knew of the complaint. He has also not heard from Auckland police, who interviewed the woman last Friday and told Newsroom on Monday evening that an inquiry was underway.

National's belated action over the Tuesday November 20 incident contrasts with public statements by leader Simon Bridges that his party had acted quickly and appropriately. Bridges told media yesterday:

"I learned about it late [last] week. I sought assurances that everything had been handled and dealt with appropriately. It seems clear to me that it has: that they followed very strongly a health and safety plan and did all of the right things, both at the Young Nats event and post."

Newsroom interviewed the man, aged 19, yesterday and he said he was confused and shocked by the accusations and investigation. He denied any assault or coercion occurred, saying he had recognised her at the party at the Brew on Quay bar as they had previously met online and he invited her and four friends back to his apartment.

The woman says he took her to a room, grabbed her face and tried to kiss her, later pulling her by the wrists back into the room when she started talking to another man.

The accused man acknowledged he tried to touch and kiss her but felt it was consensual. He said he got jealous when she later socialised with another man. "I was under the influence and got jealous."

The man confirmed the young woman's story that he had then followed her and some of her friends from his apartment down onto the city street.

"I got jealous to the point that I was angry and I followed them down....I tried to talk to the girl but her friend protected her and she was running away. I was saying why can't we have a chat, but I never touched her."

He said: "I didn't get enough of a sense of rejection, that I should leave her alone. It wasn't until the walk to Britomart that I realised she might not be keen on me."

He signed up as a member of the Young Nationals about a year ago and has appeared in a photograph with the leader Simon Bridges. "I think he is a great person and absolutely respect what he is doing for this country."

The woman and her friends said he had implied he was a donor to the National Party but the man told Newsroom: "I don't make donations. I might have said that when I was under the influence to try and be impressive but I don't remember saying that."

Part of National's defence of its youth wing holding a Christmas function at a bar was there were controls in place, including the requirement for ID on entry and to be served alcohol. 

However the 17 year-old woman had not been asked at any point for identification.

When Bridges was asked if there had been enough supervision for young party members, he said: "Yeah, I think that has been very strong, There’s a health and safety plan that’s in place – that meant ID ing proactively, that meant food being provided, I think more than enough. I think a cash bar. In fact in terms of that nothing of any moment happened there, it’s obviously after. Now, that’s not to make light of it but I think in terms of those processes they were strong. After it, as soon as it was brought to the party’s attention, within 24 hours, again, I think it was dealt with appropriately and in a caring way."

Again, the young woman has not been contacted directly by National. Another organisation she is involved in has helped her and when she went to the police, detectives interviewed her and arranged for her to go to tell her parents what had happened.

The party president, Peter Goodfellow's comments to media at Parliament for yesterday's caucus meeting were unusual.

Speaking hours after his general manager had emailed the accused man formalising his suspension, he claimed the party did not know who the man was. Asked if that meant the man could turn up at another party event, he said: "Well, yes.They could go anywhere. They could be on the streets, they could be in the same bar. I don't know who they are."

The Labour Party was widely criticised in March over its handling of sexual assault allegations at its summer Labour Youth camp. The party left the problem largely with its youth organisers, did not tell the police, did not encourage victims to do so or tell their parents and did not inform the Prime Minister, who had spoken at the event. The camp party was reportedly awash with alcohol and underage youth members were present. 

After a police investigation a man appeared in the Auckland District Court on four charges of indecent assault.

Labour reviewed its policies after the scandal and barred alcohol at youth events.

National has commissioned a review of its gender and workplace policies at Parliament following the Jami-Lee Ross allegations, of bullying and affairs.

Yesterday Parliament's Speaker Trevor Mallard announced a Parliament-wide review of bullying and harassment, covering all staff in Wellington and MPs electorate offices.

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