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Former Foxton Board chair apologises to seawall opponents

Former Foxton Board chair apologises to seawall opponents in defamation settlement

Former Chair of the Foxton Community Board, Basil Vertongen, has apologised to Christina and George Paton in a settlement of their defamation case against him.

At the official opening of the Foxton Beach seawall in 2009, Mr Vertongen burned a newspaper photograph of the Patons and accused them and other seawall objectors of causing delays and $200,000 in increased costs to ratepayers. He later repeated these claims in the media.

The Patons were very distressed to learn of these actions, which they believed were deeply misleading and unfair as well as an attack on the democratic rights of people to participate in decision-making. They called on Mr Vertongen to retract and apologise for this actions, but he initially refused.

In their defamation claim, the Patons argued that they were not responsible for any increased costs or delays. They noted that the Department of Conservation had also opposed the seawall consent applications. The district and regional councils refused consent because the application provided too little evidence of how adverse effects on the environment would be dealt with. Following court-assisted mediation, all the parties agreed that the seawall could go ahead, but only with conditions attached. Mr Vertongen accepted all of this, but denied that he had defamed the Patons.

Mr Vertongen has now provided an apology to the Patons and the defamation claim has been settled.

Under the settlement, the wording of the apology and the other terms are confidential.

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