Politics

‘Gaslighting’ claims prompt Falloon resignation

Andrew Falloon has resigned after being presented with multiple allegations of sending women pictures that he later claimed were accidental 

Police will re-open their investigation into a National MP's sending of explicit pictures to women after new allegations against him.

Speaking to reporters before the start of the National Party's caucus meeting on Tuesday Judith Collins acknowledged more women had come forward and police were likely to be brought in to re-examine the circumstances behind the first case involving Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon.

"I've spoken to police. Police in light of the new information have advised me that they are likely to re-open their first investigation."

"I believe we are going to have more women come forward. If I've had two already into the office this morning there will be more. And I've certainly had indications from people that they know of more." 

At an earlier interview Collins told Newsroom National MP Andrew Falloon has resigned from Parliament effective immediately, after being presented with allegations of indecent messages being sent to other women.

"[My chief of staff] had put to him this morning the fact that there were now multiple allegations and immediately after that he resigned," Collins said on Tuesday morning, after Newsroom contacted her office and Falloon on Monday night with the new details.

Newsroom has seen evidence of Falloon sending multiple explicit messages and retracting them afterwards, then claiming on different occasions that he had been intoxicated, another person had control of his phone, or that explicit images had somehow been sent by accident. Afterwards he would ask for the messages to be deleted.

"It is entirely believable that he was drunk - from what I've seen," Collins said.

"It is entirely unbelievable that somebody could grab one of these parliamentary cellphones and access it without either a thumbprint or fingerprint or else a password and to send messages which would have to presumably have to be on that phone."

Revealing the exact contents of the messages seen by Newsroom would identify the recipients, but they date from a period well before Collins assumed the leadership.

One woman who received these messages described his behaviour as "gaslighting" - a term taken from a 1930s play where a woman is made to doubt her own sanity through a pattern of lies and psychological manipulation by her husband. 

"He sent me unsolicited, explicit pictures more than once and then acted totally incoherently, as if he hadn't just dropped a nude into the conversation," the woman said.

"He'd ask for them to be deleted to make it seem accidental, which made it really difficult to address because you'd just received an unsolicited picture and when you tried to ask him to stop he was incoherent and would feign innocence."

'Extremely strange behaviour'

Collins said this morning was the first time she'd heard of the term "gaslighting".

"It sounds very strange behaviour what he's done. Extremely strange behaviour and it is not something that I have heard of people doing," Collins said.

In an interview with Newsroom, Collins also revealed a police investigation into Falloon's messages with another young woman (the revelation that prompted his retirement on Monday) concluded that the MP had lied, but that what was alleged was not against the law.

"I understand from the email from the young woman who is the victim in this that the police investigated the incident and that they came to the conclusion that he was lying."

When she confronted him with the allegations, she said he claimed mental health issues were the cause of his behaviour in sending messages to a 19-year-old woman. 

"He said that he had significant mental health issues. I was very concerned for a young woman, who was my first priority, but I was also concerned that we got Andrew Falloon [home safely]...I wanted to make sure that he'd contacted his wife and told her what happened."

"I don't expect to see anything even remotely like this repeated. Anything like that will be dealt with by instant dismissal."

"I believed him when he told me that [about his mental health]. I'm not going to second-guess someone who tells me they've got significant mental health issues."

Collins said she had earlier sought assurances from Falloon that the messages around the young woman at the centre of the police investigation were the only ones. 

"There is clearly a changing story...it is simply untenable." 

At caucus on Tuesday morning, the new National leader would make it clear she would expect a higher standard of behaviour from her MPs and would not tolerate "excessive drinking" (one excuse Falloon has tendered for sending the messages).

She also encouraged any other women who had received such messages to come forward to the party in confidence.

"I don't expect to see anything even remotely like this repeated. Anything like that will be dealt with by instant dismissal."

Falloon did not respond to a request for comment from Newsroom about the new allegations.

National deputy leader Gerry Brownlee said he was “disgusted” by Falloon’s alleged behaviour, but did not believe there was a culture problem within the National Party or the wider Parliament.
“I’ve got a daughter who’s a similar age to the young lady who came forward - I wouldn’t want this happening to her.”

Brownlee defended Collins’ response to the allegations, saying the party leadership had dealt with the matter swiftly but did not have the full picture of Falloon’s behaviour when he initially cited his mental health concerns.

“If someone does come forward and say they’ve got an issue like that you have to take it seriously. We would expect everybody else in any workplace to take it seriously - it’s just that other stuff has dribbled out in the ensuing hours.”

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