MP ‘went too far’ claiming Mark Mitchell was ‘paid to kill people’

Police Minister Mark Mitchell. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police Minister Mark Mitchell. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour leader Chris Hipkins says the party’s police spokeswoman went “went too far” when making claims about Police Minister Mark Mitchell being “paid to kill people” and asking if he kept a “tally of how many you shot”.

Mitchell said Ginny Andersen’s comments on Newstalk ZB this morning about Mitchell’s former career working as a private security contractor in the Middle East were “outrageous” and she should apologise.

Andersen, however, refused. But Hipkins told reporters in Parliament his fellow Labour MP’s remarks were out of order.

“I think Ginny went too far with her comments, I don’t agree with all of her comments either. And she’s apologised for them,” Hipkins said.

He said Mitchell can be “very provocative in these debates” on the Mike Hosking Breakfast show but Andersen “went far too far in responding to those”.

In a statement released at midday, Andersen did not apologise but acknowledged she went too far.

“My comments this morning crossed a line, and I have spoken to Mark this morning to let him know that. Mark Mitchell and I have frequent robust conversations and I enjoy our debates.”

Hipkins said Andersen had told him she had since apologised to Mitchell, adding it was for him to talk about his work in Iraq.

“I would prefer we as politicians kept out of MP’s own backgrounds ... I don’t intend to go trawling back through other people’s pasts and backgrounds.”

Mitchell told journalists in Parliament he felt Andersen was being judged for her comments.

“I think the court of public opinion has probably spoken pretty loudly in relation to that,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about it today because it’s about Efeso today, he just left two little girls behind and that is tough.”

He acknowledged Andersen had sent him a text which contained an apology but he considered that insufficient.

“I don’t feel that’s the right way to apologise about something like that but that’s all that I can say here.”

Labour has refused interview requests for Andersen.

Mitchell has previously defended the work he did in volatile countries after political opponents described him as a mercenary.

He had worked as a security contractor in Iraq in 2004 straight after the invasion of Iraq by US-led forces, first working for a British contractor providing security to the Coalition Provisional Authority and training Iraqi security forces before setting up a company specialising in logistics. He spent about eight years in the Middle East, including doing hostage negotiation work and logistics.

Mitchell has said his work included tasks commissioned by the United Nations such as freeing up supplies at ports controlled by criminal gangs so they could reach communities. He said he was proud of his efforts delivering aid in countries like Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2017, Mitchell told the New Zealand Herald the label of mercenary frustrated him.

“I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done. I’m ... quietly proud, I’m not someone that shouts it from the rooftops — I’m a Kiwi after all. But I’m proud of the difference we made in people’s lives in terms of their security and ability to get on with their lives.”

He pointed to work he had done such as opening mass graves with scientists from The Hague gathering evidence for the war crimes trial of Saddam Hussein.

“When you’re opening mass graves and you’re finding the remains of babies clinging to mums, it’s a pretty clear reminder of the atrocities which were taking place. That was a very, very tough job for everyone involved. Instead of questioning why we were there, all it does is provide more resolve in terms of knowing there had to be changes made.”

Mitchell has previously been asked whether he had killed people over that time, and has said in the scenarios he had faced physical confirmation was difficult.

“All I will say is I worked in conflict zones where there were times there was engagement, and there are always casualties on both sides.”

Mitchell has spoken about his time as a private security contractor, including when he and former UK MP and British Army officer Rory Stewart came under frequent attacks from insurgents in Iraq.

In 2019, he spoke about their compound came under attack one night from “hundreds of pumped-up insurgents”.

“It felt like every terrorist in Iraq came for the party,” Mitchell said.

“He worked hard to get us air support. He monitored food, water and ammunition supplies and kept us updated,” Mitchell said of Stewart.

In 2019, Mitchell told Newshub he and others fought thousands of insurgents for five days from the roof of an Italian diplomatic compound in the Iraq city of Nasiriyah while working for British security company Control Risks in 2004.

“We were literally fighting for our lives,” Mitchell said. “They were trying to get into the compound. It was a very small compound. We were under indirect fire attack, which means mortar attacks, RPG and small arms.”

Mitchell said he was tasked with protecting Italian, American and British diplomats.

“All I’m going to say is that we were attacked, it was a determined attack, and we had to defend ourselves and that’s what we did,” he told Newshub.

“If they had got into the compound, it’s highly unlikely anyone would have survived.”

Andersen: ‘Did you keep a tally on how many you shot?’

Mitchell and Anderson appeared on Newstalk ZB this morning for their usual politics slot and they began discussing how some police stations contained mould and how it was an issue ignored by successive governments.

They then discussed Grant Robertson’s retirement before host Mike Hosking asked both Andersen and Mitchell what they had done before entering politics.

Mitchell referenced his time working in hospitality, as a police officer and working overseas.

Andersen then made a remark about the nature of work Mitchell had done overseas that led to her claim Mitchell had been “paid to kill people”.

Mitchell also noted how politicians on the left had repeatedly attacked him for his past.

“In my view, [the left] try to do these character assassinations, and that’s what they’re about.”

Andersen continued, asking Mitchell: “Did you keep a tally on how many [people] you shot?”

She alleged Mitchell’s company had earned $4 million a year through its work overseas.

Mitchell said the comments were outrageous and she should return and apologise.

“If that’s alright with you, Mark, morally, and if that sits well with you, that’s your choice,” Andersen said.

She claimed Mitchell had profited from shooting people, saying: “Free speech Mark, I’m allowed to have a view.”