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Cullen Goes Nuclear Over Benson-Pope Tennis Ball

Cullen Goes Nuclear Over Benson-Pope Tennis Ball


- Accuses National's Judith Collins of fiddling Casino Control Authority expenses
- Says tennis ball complainants were bullies themselves
By Alastair Thompson

Today in question time the Labour Party has indicated an intention to fight fire with fire over allegations that David Benson-Pope placed a tennis ball in a pupil's mouth and taped his hands to the desk during his time as a teacher in Dunedin before becoming an MP.

In response to questions he first accused National MP Judith Collins of fiddling her Casino Control Authority overseas travel expenses and later accused the tennis ball discipline complainants of being bullies themselves.

Before the election Mr Benson-Pope was accused under parliamentary privilege by Ms Collins and ACT MP Rodney Hide of taking a lateral approach to discipline in his Bayfield High class during the 1980s. Several allegations were made including the tennis ball incident.

Mr Benson-Pope initially stated he ‘refuted’ the tennis ball claims, later he was stood down from his Education portfolio pending a Police investigation.

Yesterday the police announced that there was a prima facie case that he had indeed assaulted the pupil in the manner alleged, but that they were not intending to lay charges.

The matter was raised today during question time first by National MP Judith Collins, who brought along a tennis ball as a prop. Minister Ruth Dyson answered the questions evasively and order deteriorated.

During a subsequent point of order exchange Acting Prime Minister Michael Cullen accused Ms Collins of fiddling her expenses.

The outburst from the acting Prime Minister came after Mr Cullen first suggested National MP Judith Collins demonstrate that it was indeed possible to stick a tennis ball in her mouth by doing so.

Ms Collins responded that as it had indeed happened he should try sticking it in his.

Mr Cullen said this was outrageous and accused Collins of "ripping off the Casino Control Authority on her overseas expenses" before remarking that it was possible to make lots of serious allegations under Parliamentary Privilege.

In a later question from National MP Tony Ryall Michael Cullen - answering on behalf of the Minister of Police - said the decision not to prosecute was taken by the Dunedin police commander. He did not know whether the Solicitor General had been consulted.

Mr Ryall then asked whether it was now policy not to prosecute child abuse complaints when the offence took place a long time ago during which time the victim was frightened of the alleged offender. Mr Cullen said no, this was not the case.

Mr Ryall then asked if the full police report would be released and if not why not?

Mr Cullen said that would be a decision to be made by the police and not by the government. He invited Mr Ryall to make an official information act request for the report which would be dealt with in the normal manner.

ACT Leader Rodney Hide then joined the fray, asking whether the report confirmed that 19 students present at the tennis ball incident recalled the events, while Mr Benson Pope did not.

Mr Hide further asked whether the report confirmed that police were considering charging Mr Benson Pope with attempting to pervert the course of justice and making a false statement.

Mr Cullen then changed tack, attacking the alleged victims of Mr Benson Pope's unconventional discipline saying that they were terrible bullies and reciting a list of nasty things they had done to fellow students including kicking one child in the spine and dangling another out a window.

Mr Cullen said he was happy to table the document alleging the assaults by the complainants on others. As for the Police Report that was a matter for the police. "This is not a police state," he said.

ENDS

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