“All he had to do was apologise;” $2.3m defamation case against Andrew Little

BusinessDesk report by Rebecca Howard
On the second day of defamation proceedings against Labour Party leader Andrew Little, Lani Hagaman continued to assert that all she initially wanted from Little was an apology.

Hagaman and her husband Earl issued proceedings last June over statements Little made about a hotel management contract in Niue that was awarded to Earl Hagaman’s company Scenic Hotel. The contract was awarded a few weeks after her husband donated $101,000 to the National Party during the 2014 election campaign.

“I wanted our name cleared, I did not want to be called shady, murky and stinking to high heaven,” she told a judge and jury in Wellington’s High Court.

She accused Little of airing his opinion in the media rather than doing any investigation: “I would suggest that Mr Little did not have the facts.”

Little’s comments had been picked up in at least 90 news items in the days after he made them which “slurred our name and connected us to corruption,” she said. While the media’s interest may not last, the articles “stay on Google. They stay around forever,” she said.

Little called for the Auditor-General to look into the matter, something Hagaman said she fully supported. “I was happy for it (the investigation) to be done,” she said, adding there was no connection between the donation and the awarding of the contract.

In September last year, the Auditor-General said that from the information available, there had been a “standard procurement process, with reasoned and documented analysis for the selection of Scenic Hotel Group as the hotel operator for the resort and for the subsequent investment of New Zealand international development assistance funds in expanding the resort.”

On Tuesday, she reiterated that she requested a “suitable” public apology that would “clear our name.” According to Hagaman, Little initially said he would “promptly” respond after the Auditor-General’s findings. However, he didn’t respond until Christmas, three months later.

In March, Little said he had “made a serious effort” to resolve the issue with the Hagamans over the past three months, but his offers of an apology and redress had been rejected. In that statement, he said he wanted to “publicly apologise unreservedly to Mr Hagaman for any hurt, embarrassment or adverse reflection on his reputation which may have resulted from my various media statements.” He reportedly also increased a settlement offer from $26,000 to $100,000.

At the time, Hagaman responded by saying it was a surprise and that “Mr Little has had 12 months to apologise, and in the interim we’ve spent more than $200,000 in legal fees preparing for this case, which is now only one week away.”

Lani Hagaman said today they had not been able to reach an agreement on the terms of the apology, something she insisted had to completely clear her husband’s name.

The Hagamans are seeking a maximum of $2.3 million between them from Little, according to media reports. On Tuesday, Newshub quoted Little as he will pick up the bill should damages be awarded to complainants in a defamation case.

“I am meeting my costs. The offers I have made to settle, had they been accepted, would have been fully funded by me personally,” he said.

(BusinessDesk)

 

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