Victim speaks out on disgraced arts patron

Writer and lawyer Dom Shaheen was indecently assaulted by Sir James Wallace during a business...
Writer and lawyer Dom Shaheen was indecently assaulted by Sir James Wallace during a business meeting at the rich-lister's mansion. Photo: NZ Herald/ Supplied
A man indecently assaulted by Sir James Wallace regrets not reporting him to police earlier and says the veil of secrecy over the case meant the disgraced arts patron was a danger to anyone else lured back to his Auckland mansion.

Dom Shaheen, now in his mid-50s, was abused by Wallace in the early 2000s, and has bravely waived his right to name suppression to speak out about his attacker.

"I felt the sooner it was all out in the open, the sooner I could start to put it behind me. Maybe now I can get on with the rest of my life," Shaheen told the Weekend Herald in an exclusive interview.

Shaheen learned about Wallace's other offending after reading a Herald story in 2019 about the trial of a "prominent businessman".

He "immediately knew" the defendant in the trial was Wallace.

"My immediate thought was 'after all this time, he's still doing it'."

The 2019 trial came to an abrupt halt after a secret recording was uncovered of Wallace's associates conspiring at an Auckland bar on how to continue with their efforts to pervert the course of justice.

"Once the mistrial was declared, I said to myself 'well, I don't know the reasons [behind the mistrial] but perhaps I can lend my voice to finding justice for these men who have already come forward'. They had been so brave in standing up to him. I figured that the least I could do is to stand there beside them."

Shaheen, a qualified lawyer and former executive director of the NZ Writers Guild and chief executive of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, said even as he watched the #MeToo movement unfolding he was still unsure about talking to police.

"I didn't want to go to court and get torn apart. I felt I should and I did it, but I didn't choose any of this. I didn't even want to go to his house that night," he told the Herald after Wallace's name suppression finally lapsed.

In the early 2000s, Shaheen had gone to Wallace's grand Epsom mansion, which he calls Rannoch, to seek funding for the launch of a foundation while working for the Writers Guild.

"Mr Wallace's name came up for someone we could potentially approach for funding," he told the court during his evidence.

"We wanted luminaries, we wanted politicians. We wanted someone who was an arts patron. He was known as a patron of the arts and was known to be someone who was very generous to the arts."

Shaheen said at the meeting he had a whisky with Wallace, who talked about film star Robert Redford and ski trips to Europe.

The patron then forced himself onto Shaheen and indecently assaulted him.

Sir James Wallace arriving at court in 2019. Photo: RNZ
Sir James Wallace arriving at court in 2019. Photo: RNZ
Shaheen, who has worked at top law firm Simpson Grierson, told the jurors he would just "get over it" with Rannoch now secured for the launch event midway through 2001 and Prime Minister Helen Clark due to attend.

He told only those closest to him what had happened.

Two decades later, after coming forward to police, Shaheen anticipated the eventual trial, in the High Court in 2021, would be rough.

"I'm trained as a lawyer so I had some sense of what it would be like. I can't bear any ill will against [Wallace's lawyer] David Jones because ultimately he was just doing his job."

But being accused of colluding with Wallace's other victims as part of a wider blackmailing syndicate, Shaheen said was laughable. He had never met the other men before.

"It was the other things that were levelled at me that perhaps really stung. Being called a fantasist over and over and over.

"There was an accusation that I had invented the assault but I don't think the defence ever precisely expressed why. Was it for attention? For money? I can't imagine anyone wants to be branded a victim of James Wallace. I didn't and still don't."

Shaheen, now an author of six books, said after giving evidence during the trial he was exhausted.

"It was brutal and some of it felt particularly personal," he recalled.

"It had the flavour of James Wallace threaded throughout. The questioning was often extremely critical, peppered with insults. There was a cruelty bubbling underneath. The relentless nature of it was reminiscent of the evening of the assault where Wallace attacked me again, again, and again. In every way it reflected the Wallace that I had experienced."

Since Wallace has been named, the Herald has heard from several people who say they were warned about the philanthropist's behaviour or had cleaned his mansion after "debauched parties".

A 2013 text to a pair of now accomplished musicians, seen by the Herald, read: "I just wanted to send you a quick message to tell you that if James Wallace invites you round for dinner please DO NOT go!!

"If you are invited please make an excuse or make sure that you take someone with you but preferably don't go!!"

One of Wallace's other victims, musician and Dunedin bar owner Dudley Benson, said he also warned people to avoid the "predator" rich-lister.

Benson, who was assaulted at Rannoch in 2008, said Wallace had "been enabled by the complicity of the NZ arts world".

"Over the next 10 years, I told people what had happened and to stay away from Wallace," Benson said on social media.

Last weekend, the Herald on Sunday revealed Wallace had received 89 letters of support for his sentencing from some of New Zealand's biggest names in film, art and classical music.

During the week, the Court of Appeal released its decision declining suppression for Rannoch's house manager Mustafa Erinc Yikar, who was convicted for attempting to bribe dancer and victim Roymata Holmes in what became known as the Gold Coast plot.

The court said his efforts had the hallmarks of a "desperate attempt to again frustrate the right of the public to know of his and Sir James' convictions".

Many of New Zealand's leading institutions have distanced themselves from Wallace, who was one of the country's biggest backers of the arts, leading him to be knighted for his services in 2011. The government has begun the process of stripping him of the honour.

Shaheen, who has worked for non-profit organisations including NZ Opera, said he wasn't in Wallace's immediate art world orbit and never received a similar warning.

"If I'd heard about the case earlier, maybe I would have come forward sooner. I still have a lot of what-ifs and regret about not coming forward sooner," he said.

Shaheen's experience of Wallace was someone "incredibly privileged, used to getting his own way".

"What he did to me was an extension of that. I felt he didn't view me as a person. I was a thing to be used, a thing he had the right to use."

Privilege also came to mind for Detective Inspector Scott Beard, who is in charge of Auckland police's adult sexual violence team.

"He's obviously very wealthy, he's very influential and creates that sense and [the police investigation team] just thought he came across as entitled," Beard told the Herald.

When asked about the possibility of other victims, Beard said: "We never close the door and say that there are no other victims out there.

"It's difficult for them to come forward. It's really important that if they have been the subject of sexual abuse then they seek counselling, support and help and then if that leads to coming to the police, then we'll deal with that."

Shaheen said it didn't surprise him when he learned of the lengths Wallace went to, including hiring the controversial Jevan Goulter in an attempt to persuade Holmes, first victim to come forward, to drop their accusations.

"The extent of his denial, his efforts to keep his convictions secret, did not surprise me. It was in keeping with the man who attacked me that night. Of course, he didn't want to suffer the consequences of his actions because it was his right do what he wanted, to take what he wanted."

After Wallace was found guilty, convicted and sentenced he was ultimately bailed to his mansion pending the outcome of his appeals.

"My immediate thought was 'they're sending him back to where he assaulted me'.

"The idea that he would be free to lure other men there to do the same thing to them was what made me most angry because the whole reason I came forward was to stand up beside the other men and say 'stop'."

Shaheen hoped that the lifting of Wallace's suppression, which prosecutors on behalf of the victims, the Herald and Stuff have fought years to do, would be the beginning of the end.

The extended nature of the case, Shaheen said had been debilitating.

In his victim impact statement at Wallace's sentencing, Shaheen said he didn't forgive the now 85-year-old, who is now serving his two-year, four-month prison sentence after exhausting his appeals.

"I specifically said that because he hasn't accepted any of his wrongdoing despite the mountain of evidence against him.

"I still don't forgive him. I don't believe I owe him that until he's prepared to look at himself and admit what he's done."

Sam Hurley is a news director and senior reporter. He joined the Herald in 2017 and has previously worked for 1News and Hawke's Bay Today. He has been investigating Sir James Wallace since 2018.