Politicians, police, and the payout
Click on the player above to watch this special Newsroom investigation
The clandestine taping of an employee by Government MP Todd Barclay has resulted in a secret payment from former Prime Minister John Key’s leader’s budget to make the issue go away.
Current Prime Minister Bill English knew about the payment and the bugging — and National Party board members and the Parliamentary Service also knew about the secret recordings.
Barclay’s former electorate agent Glenys Dickson was paid the hush money after learning of the dictaphone left running in the Gore office and then engaging an employment lawyer.
Police who investigated whether illegal recording had occurred closed the case without being able to speak to Barclay and without seeking search warrants to obtain the dictaphone or transcripts from the office or his home.
Conversations thought to have been recorded included sensitive health issues raised with Dickson by women constituents.
Barclay, the MP for Clutha-Southland and Parliament’s youngest MP has repeatedly sought to downplay allegations that he secretly recorded Dickson.
However, a Newsroom investigation into the MP’s conduct — including an interview with Dickson, speaking publicly for the first time since her resignation — has produced new information about the first-term National MP.
- Barclay denied to members of his electorate there had been recording of Dickson, and about being approached by police.
- English knew Dickson had been recorded by Barclay and spoke to her about it, despite telling media he had not been directly involved in any discussions.
- Then-Prime Minister John Key’s parliamentary budget was used to pay part of a confidential settlement to Dickson, in an attempt to avoid “potential legal action”.
- Dickson and others in the electorate have been threatened and intimidated by others since falling out with Barclay.
Police investigating the case received a range of evidence, including a text exchange from English to electorate chair Stuart Davie which said Barclay had recorded Dickson.
Despite this, police dropped the case after a 10-month investigation and Barclay was reselected as the party’s candidate for the electorate late last year. Why?
And why was the young MP protected by English, ministers and board members over local staff and officials?
Newsroom put questions to Barclay throughout yesterday. He said he was out of cellphone coverage for much of the day, but: "This matter has been covered in the media extensively and I have nothing new to add to what has already been reported."
Last night Newsroom interviewed him as he arrived at Wellington Airport and he declared he had 'done nothing wrong' when asked if he taped Dickson. See Newsroom's full story in this package on our site.
An emphatic denial
Newsroom has obtained text messages sent by Bill English, stating that Barclay recorded Dickson in late 2015.
In the texts, English who was deputy Prime Minister at the time, said Barclay recorded Dickson by leaving a dictaphone running in her office
The texts also reveal Dickson’s “settlement was larger than normal because of the privacy breach” and had to be “part paid from the Prime Minister’s budget to avoid potential legal action”.
English added: “Everyone unhappy.”
Days after the texts were sent, Barclay, stood at the National Party’s Gore branch AGM in February 2016 and emphatically denied he had recorded Dickson. He even warned those who questioned him that they were making serious allegations and he would look at his [legal] options if they pursued the issue.
Later, the police investigation into Barclay centred on whether the MP had used an interception device to record Dickson’s private conversations.
Under Section 216B of the Crimes Act it is illegal to intentionally intercept private communications which you are not party to.
Barclay refused to cooperate with the police and the case was dropped in December because of “insufficient evidence”.
The novice MP’s actions have created a deep divide in one of National’s safest seats.
On one side are party members who believe Barclay has acted unethically, deceived them about the recording, and is not fit to be an MP.
On the other side are Barclay supporters, who know about the recording and have looked the other way, along with those who accept his assurances there was no recording.
Staff resignations and a reselection battle have added to the bitterness in the electorate. Complaints have been made to Gore Police that Dickson and others have been threatened and intimidated.
English has so far managed to dodge the crossfire but will now have to explain why he failed to take any action when he had first-hand knowledge that Barclay’s employee – who used to work for English – had been secretly taped.
English held the Clutha-Southland seat for 24 years before moving to the party list in 2014.
He chose not to endorse Barclay at the time and is said to regret the electorate picked the former corporate affairs manager for tobacco company Philip Morris to take over from him.
English knows most of those involved in the current skirmish.
He enjoyed a strong working relationship with Glenys Dickson who was his Electorate Agent for 17 years.
Dickson would often stand in for English at local events when he was busy with his duties as Minister of Finance. She was sometimes jokingly referred to as “the local MP”.
English also enjoyed a good relationship with his electorate chair, Stuart Davie. Davie quit following Barclay’s denial of the taping at the Gore AGM.
Dickson, who has spoken for the first time since she resigned in February last year, told Newsroom that working with Barclay became problematic not long after he was elected at the end of 2014.
“He shouted at me and other staff and blamed us for things that weren’t our fault. But it was mainly the way he dealt with other people, especially older constituents that upset me. He just didn’t seem to have time for them.”
She says if Barclay cancelled engagements or was late to scheduled events he blamed it on things that didn’t ring true.
“He would say, ‘oh Google isn’t working or I had a flat tyre’.”
Dickson says the final straw for her came in November 2015. Barclay was supposed to attend the prizegiving ceremony at the Telford Agricultural institute in Balclutha but cancelled at the last minute.
He was the guest of honour but had stayed in Queenstown where the previous evening he had been attending a function and according to people who were present, the MP was in good spirits.
Later, Barclay reportedly told people he had been in hospital and had a medical certificate.
Electorate staff had already sought advice from the Parliamentary Service on problems they were having with Barclay and National party members in Clutha-Southland had started questioning his suitablity to be an MP.
On January 18, 2016, the Parlimentary Service sent representatives from Wellington to meet Dickson and discuss her and another staff member's concerns. At the end of the meeting she was told the MP had lost confidence in her.
Dickson offered to resign immediately but was put on paid leave and told to think it over.
A few days later she heard Barclay had bugged her office. A friend urged her to consult employment lawyer Kathryn Dalziel.
Dickson says the Parliamentary Service (her employer) confirmed to Dalziel that Barclay had recordings of her conversations — conversations he was not a party to.
When electorate chairman Stuart Davie found out Barclay may have been bugging Dickson’s office and using it against her, he organised a face-to-face meeting with the MP.
“I asked Todd if he had recorded Glenys and he replied 'I did not tap her phone', he said this several times and I left with impression that he did not record any conversations,” Davie told Newsroom.
A short time later Davie said he received information from a person high up in the National Party (he won’t say who) that Barclay had in fact secretly recorded Dickson.
Newsroom now knows Davie’s source is Bill English and Barclay had not tapped Dickson’s phone, but left a dictaphone running in her office.
Davie’s un-redacted police statement obtained by Newsroom shows he exchanged a series of text messages with English on Feburary 21, 2016.
Bill English to Stuart Davie: He left a dictaphone running that picked up all conversations in the office Just the office end of phone conversations. The settlement was larger than normal because of the privacy breach. (The full exchange is in the exclusive Newsroom video story above.)
Armed with this knowledge, Davie gave Barclay a chance to “come clean” at the AGM of the Gore branch of the National Party a few days later, on February 24.
Newsroom has an audiotape of the AGM which reveals Barclay denied recording Dickson even though he had admitted it to English.
Barclay: “I utterly dismiss the accusation and would remind everyone it is a very serious accusation. I’m categorically telling you it didn’t happen.”
When a committee member read out sections of the Crimes Act and Privacy Act, Barclay said:
“If you want to proceed with that I strongly encourage you to but I’ll be looking at my options as well” (Full audio in video story above).
Davie says following the meeting he was phoned by National Party board member Kate Hazlett.
“She said she had heard what had gone on at the AGM and told me it is obvious that I no longer supported Todd, and asked me to undertake that I would not stand for re-election as electorate chairman at the next AGM.”
Davie resigned as chairman four days after that AGM. He says he quit not because of pressure from Kate Hazlett but because he couldn’t work with an MP who wasn’t telling the truth.
“I was confident that he had secretly recorded conversations, which was breaking the law, and when this came out people would say that I had known about this and had done nothing, then I would be regarded as complicit with the crime and I wasn’t about to let that happen — this was the main reason I resigned.”
Over the next few days Davie would have further conversations with the regional chair Rachel Bird regarding the reasons for his resignation and soon after with another National Party board member, Glenda Hughes.
There is no sign they acted on the information given to them but according to Stuart Davie, “they seemed intent on shooting the messenger”.
By now Dickson’s lawyer had reached a settlement with the Parliamentary Service. Dickson, Barclay and the Parliamentary Service are bound by a confidentiality agreement so the details of the settlement are unknown.
However, according to the text messages from English, Dickson had received a payout from the Prime Ministers budget and “everyone [was] unhappy".
John Key was Prime Minister at the time but when interviewed by RNZ on March 7, 2016, appeared to know very little about the matter.
“Sometimes when you get a change of MP, you get a change of staff because the styles are a bit different. I don’t have any details other than that.”
Dickson says she felt frustrated by what seemed to be a reluctance by National’s top brass to hold Barclay to account for what she felt was “a criminal act”.
“They kept saying it was an employment dispute but it was never an employment dispute.”
On February 29, Dickson, who is also a Gore district councillor, decided to go to the police.
Threats and a complaint to police
“I thought about it for a short time and then I approached the police because I thought, this just can’t happen and shouldn’t be allowed to happen, and there were people out there who had been recorded and that was completely unfair, they knew nothing about it.”
Dickson was referring to female constituents she believed had been recorded when they consulted her about sensitive health and personal issues.
“Some women who didn’t like to speak to the MP because he was a man would come and talk to me about things like that.”
Dickson said third parties had relayed information back to her that could have only come from a secret recording made in her office.
“That somebody in a very powerful position would do something like that, which to me ... is a criminal act and it shouldn’t happen.”
In her statement to police, Dickson said Barclay told her in January 2016 that “he could go to Spark and pay $5000 and get copies of my telephone conversations”.
“This was certainly said as a threat. He said that to me in his office.”
Dickson’s un-redacted police statement obtained by Newsroom reveals English told her Barclay had “recorded conversations" of her discussing Barclay. “Bill apparently told Todd he didn’t want to listen to this rubbish.”
I felt terribly let down by the police and wondered if there were two systems? One for politicians and one for the general public.
Within weeks of laying her police complaint, Dickson says she spoke to a National Party board member.
“I was told if I didn’t withdraw the police complaint I could potentially take down the National Party, and there was an [implication] that if National didn’t have Barclay in Parliament they were one short to pass legislation.”
Dickson said she was also told that it would be difficult for her and her family if she had to appear in a high-profile court case.
“The board member explained to me if I withdrew my complaint I would be considered a hostile witness and the police would have not had a case.”
By early March news broke in the media that police were investigating Barclay on whether he had breached section 216B of the Crimes Act, around “use of an interception device”.
When asked by a reporter If he could “shed any light" on talk of a secret recording, Barclay replied: “I’m not going to dignify that with a response.”
Days later, in March, he told the Otago Daily Times “If they (the police) do contact me on any matter I will cooperate fully.”
The police investigation moved from Gore to Christchurch to Wellington and police statements show Detective Inspector Antony Hill twice tried to contact Barclay in July.
He first phoned Barclay on July 12 and got an answer message. He later received a text message saying Barclay was out of the country until July 29.
On July 29 he phoned again and again left a message.
Subsequently, Hill received a call from Barclay’s solicitor advising “he would not be making any statement in relation to this investigation”.
While the police investigation continued, Barclay was seeking reselection for the Clutha Southland seat.
In November, Barclay signed a Candidate Application and Nomination form which includes a declaration on personal issues.
“I know of no past incident in my life or current or past aspects of my personal life or character ... or any aspect of my business affairs not previously referred to in this application, which – if disclosed subsequent to making this application – would or might cause embarrassment to me or the party.”
In the same month, when he was questioned directly about the police investigation by a reporter, he said: “I don’t know. I’ve never talked to the police.”
At a meet-the-nominee meeting in Queenstown the questions were more specific.
“Was Mr Barclay approached by members of the New Zealand Police Service in connection with several complaints relating to his conduct as a Member of Parliament?”
According to people who were there, Barclay responded by standing up, smiling and replying - “No”.
By now police had decided not to lay charges against Barclay. They issued a statement on December 2 confirming the decision.
“After consideration of all relevant information and the Solicitor-General’s prosecution guidelines, police [have] determined there is insufficient evidence to prosecute.”
The file was also referred to the police legal section for review.
Glenys Dickson says she doesn’t understand why the police couldn’t find “sufficient evidence” to charge Barclay and why the MP managed to avoid being interviewed.
“I thought it was very arrogant and it was completely wrong, because if he had done nothing wrong then he shouldn’t have had any problems speaking to the police. So really in my mind all this did was confirm his guilt.
“I thought the police were there to protect the public and because there was nothing going to happen about that, it was all left open, very up in the air. So, no one knows who was recorded or for how long.
“I felt terribly let down by the police and wondered if there were two systems? One for politicians and one for the general public.”
Stuart Davie also feels the police have failed in their duty.
He consented to his phone being taken for forensic testing (presumably to verify the text messages between him and English).
When asked by Newsroom what he thought would have happened if he had decided, like Todd Barclay, not to cooperate he replied: “I think they would have sent a car to get me.”
“This is not an employment dispute, it’s about the conduct of the MP, about his integrity, about his honesty. When you have actually broken the law to get your own way, that is crossing the line as far as I’m concerned.”
This article was originally published June 20, 2017.