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HARD NEWS 23/6/00 - Uncomfortably Shagged

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... well, I was getting sick of weeks of patting the business community on the head and taking its temperature - and, lo, along came a whole new agenda.

Just as he was about to go out and start presenting the historic 'closing the caps' initiatives to Maori, Maori Affairs minister Dover Samuels has stepped down for two weeks while the police investigate claims that, 14 years ago, he had a sexual relationship with a girl under the age of 16 and subsequently helped her procure an abortion.

The allegations come from the woman's mother and "uncle" via that friend of the downtrodden and amateur social worker, Richard Prebble. Samuels has never denied the relationship, or the abortion, but emphatically rejects claims that the girl was under the age of consent.

It's for the police to evaluate, but parts of the story as related by "uncle" Rodney Tregerthan just don't stack up. We were invited to believe that a 45 year old man could take a 17 - or 15, whichever - year-old girl to a public hospital, sign the forms and have her on the operating table without her ever knowing she was having an abortion. Sorry, but the law just doesn't work that way. Where were the two certifying consultants?

Then, apparently, despite allegedly suffering an immediate haemorrhage and subsequent infection which rendered her sterile, she received no medical follow-up. On the basis of that sterility the girl's mother, who recently emerged from prison and had been estranged for years from her daughter, began pursuing Samuels demanding money in the form of a trust fund.

Even though there was allegedly a historical criminal offence involved, at no time did they just go to the police. Instead they approached various parties, including Labour MP Chris Carter, in circumstances which basically amounted to blackmail - whether the allegations were true or not.

Since the affair became national knowledge, 3 National News has already turned up a family friend adamant that the young woman was not even living in the same town as Samuels until after she was 16, offering a school yearbook as proof. Samuels' lawyer has expressed similar confidence about other documentary evidence.

The law is actually less straightforward than you might think in terms of a prosecution. A little-known wrinkle in the Crimes Act puts a 12-month limit on complaints relating to a male having intercourse with a girl aged 12 to 16. So no charge would possible anyway - unless Samuels was considered to be in a care role, in which case the age of content is raised to 20.

Whatever happened, it was unwise for a middle-aged man to leave his wife and live with a 16 year-old. But there is no suggestion that it was not consensual, that he made a habit of this kind of thing or that he ever sought to make a secret of it. I'm not about to rush to judgment over something someone did 14 years ago.

The Opposition piled in on it by claiming that the Prime Minister ought to have stood down her minister and called in the police back in January, when she first heard of the allegations. Cover-up! snarked Wyatt Creech in Parliament. He subsequently claimed Helen Clark's handling of the matter shows her judgement is suspect under pressure.

Compared to the previous Prime Minister's performance last year, when all that was at stake was the identity of her dinner companions, Clark looks pretty frank and decisive to me.

And did Jenny Shipley go to the police when one of her Cabinet ministers was popularly rumoured to have been caught on a central Auckland security camera sucking another man's dick? No. If anything, she will have asked the minister whether it was true and been assured it was not.

The key here is that back in January it was not for Helen Clark to go to the police. Her minister confirmed the relationship and the abortion. If there was an actual offence committed 14 years ago, then surely those offended against should have complained. But they didn't.

It all changed, of course, when Richard Prebble got his sticky hands on it. Richard Prebble didn't go to the police either. He instead drafted official letters saying that he had received claims of "historical sexual offending" - and doesn't that sound nasty? - and sent it to the attorney general and the Prime Minister.

To guess what might have happened from here, look at the way Prebble and his oafish lieutenant Rodney Hide handled the allegations against another Maori Labour MP, John Tamihere. Tamihere was alleged to have committed various offences in his post as CEO of the Waiparera Trust. Prebble and Hide strung out the details over weeks; with no alleged incident so trivial that it couldn't be flung onto the pile.

We were even treated to a Parliamentary speech from Hide relating to an inflatable boat going missing from a compound owned by the Waiparera Trust. In the end, it was all separately investigated by the Prime Minister's Office, the police, the Serious Fraud Office and the Maori Affairs select committee, none of whom found anything they could proceed on.

Prebble just shrugged and said that he was only passing on the concerns of people who had approached him. In this case, he says he was "honour bound" to do what he did.. The truth or otherwise of the allegation does not concern him. His motivation was the opportunity to damage the government via another of its Maori MPs.

Perhaps the one beneficial aspect of the whole business is that it has shunted the week's first sex scandal back into the Jilly Cooperesque space where it truly belongs. Mark Todd, the great horseman of the nation, was the subject of a story in the British Sunday Mirror.

Under the headline SORDID DRUG SHAME OF DOUBLE OLYMPIC CHAMP, there was a story detailing a meeting at an English country hotel between the hitherto publicly heterosexual Todd and a gay man he had picked up. Toddy, said the Mirror, chopped out a line of coke, talked about pot and ecstasy, blathered on about who he was in quite unwise detail, and performed a number of "lewd acts".

The continuing absence of a ringing denial from the horseman appears to suggest that the story is not without foundation. But really ...

'Todd owes us all an explanation' declared the headline of a fatuous New Zealand Herald editorial on Wednesday. Well, I frankly don't see how he owes me an explanation. Or the Herald leader writer. Or anybody but his wife and family, really.

The Herald appears to maintain that it is a punishable offence for a public figure to surprise "those who thought they knew him". Obviously, nobody is going to see Mark Todd in quite they same way they used to. We will know him, if anything, a bit better than we used to.

But the fact that he is one of our most successful sportspeople does not mean we have the right to judge his private life. The Herald appears mortified that "our instant sophisticates" - what the buggery bollocks does *that* mean? - might make "private jokes" about him and that he should pull out of the Olympics because of that. He ought to "retire immediately with as much grace as he can muster" says the editorial.

Personally, I think the courageous thing to do would be to bloody well compete. But there I go, slanging off at the Herald again. I don't mean to, really. I am a daily consumer of the thing, in both its cyber and paper editions. I think a number of the Herald's people - John Armstrong, Brian Gaynor - are simply the best in their fields. I even buy things I see advertised in the Herald.

But until the Herald's editorial voice stops being so shrill and stupid I will find it hard to love.

Perhaps this week's Herald polling - which rather strongly indicates that the people do not believe their leading daily newspaper on either the Budget or the performance of the government - might give somebody pause for thought.

But anyway, if you want media absurdity, you really need TV2. A British series set for the 8pm Sunday slot temporarily falls over. The programmers have a three-week gap to fill. They could do something good with it. Instead, they make 'Whose House is it Anyway?'

I will read you verbatim, the programme brief from the Listener: "Part one of a three-part entertainment show in which three New Zealand celebrities claim ownership of one house and viewers must decide who is telling the truth." It would be quite funny if it were a joke. But it isn't. It is television in the age of Touchdown.

In case you were wondering the three celebrities were Paul Holmes, Temuera Morrison and ... oh, I don't know. I don't know whose house it was anyway and I frankly do not give a rat's arse.

Given that I might actually run into him at the Qantas Media Awards tonight, I should take this opportunity to point that Brian Edwards, has, since being lambasted by myself for the trivial and worthless nature of his 'Life of Brian' columns in the Listener, turned in a couple of excellent essays lately. The one about his marijuana bust was both frank and crisply argued.

Speaking of which, did you hear the one about the English drum 'n' bass DJ who arrived at Auckland Aiport? "What's your name?" they said at Customs. "Bukem," he said, and they did. D'oh! - G'bye!


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