The young women, the film industry boss and a fight for justice

Eve Ainscow, 43, was a victim of indecent assault by her horse wrangling boss Wayne McCormack on...
Eve Ainscow, 43, was a victim of indecent assault by her horse wrangling boss Wayne McCormack on a film production. Photo: NZ Herald
Eve Ainscow spent years helping build evidence against her film veteran boss and endured a week of humiliation in court testifying against him. But at the end of it, at least she had the relief of his conviction and some sense of justice.

The owner of a multimillion-dollar horse wrangling business, Wayne McCormack — who has been described as running a "monopoly" within the New Zealand film industry — was convicted of two charges of indecent assault against younger female employees.

That was in January 2020. Two years on, Ainscow and her fellow victim have not worked in horse stunts and wrangling on New Zealand film productions since.

Both claim they have been blacklisted from the industry and had their careers "destroyed".

Meanwhile, a new company set up by McCormack's wife two months before his trial began in Auckland District Court continues to work with international film studios.

It is understood that new company - NZ Film Horses Ltd - has worked on the billion-dollar Lord of the Rings TV show, Jane Campion's Oscar-nominated The Power of the Dog, teen drama Mystic and hit children's series Sweet Tooth.

The Herald has spoken to seven separate crew members in the New Zealand film industry who have claimed McCormack's wife company is working on productions streamed by industry giants Amazon and Netflix.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog.. KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021
Angry that she believes justice has not been served, Ainscow has launched a new fight after taking the daunting decision to have her name suppression lifted — a six-month process through the courts. She fears McCormack is still able to reap the benefits of the lucrative film industry.

McCormack declined to speak to the Weekend Herald or answer questions.

"My career got destroyed," Ainscow told the Weekend Herald. "It literally got destroyed. Even though I was in the right, I still have no [work], because where do I go?"

'Both victims have suffered'

Ainscow's nightmare — and the ripples of NZ's own #MeToo moment — began when she was indecently assaulted by McCormack during the filming of Spartacus in New Zealand in 2013.

"It was the end of the production and Mr McCormack said as he was laying his hand on me 'you look after me and I will look after you'. I was new working for his company, I didn't want to lose my job," the 43-year-old Ainscow said.

Wayne Patrick McCormack on trial at the Auckland District Court in January 2020. Photo: NZ Herald
Wayne Patrick McCormack on trial at the Auckland District Court in January 2020. Photo: NZ Herald
McCormack's other victim was working for him on a Weinstein Company production being filmed in Queenstown. She was groped repeatedly in front of other crew during a wrap party in 2014 and left the room to get away from McCormack.

McCormack then tried to get into her hotel room that night.

The 35-year-old woman, who still has name suppression, says she has also not worked in stunts or horse work in the New Zealand film industry since McCormack's conviction.

"She [Ainscow] and I sort of felt we didn't get a huge amount of closure after the court case," she said.

"As someone who's worked in film and TV, plus had horses and ridden horses since I was really young, it was kind of a perfect career for me, and it's something I really enjoyed. And because he's got such a monopoly in the industry it's pretty much ruined that career," she said.

McCormack eventually faced court in January 2020 to fight seven charges relating to three women, including a charge of sexual violation. He was acquitted of that most serious charge and of four other indecent assault charges.

He was convicted of two charges of indecent assault.

It was another year before McCormack was sentenced and he spent much of 2020 fighting for permanent name suppression.

His lawyer Marie Dyhrberg QC argued the publicity from his conviction would ruin his business.

Dyhrberg said major film studios would continue to employ McCormack if his name remained suppressed, despite his sexual offending.

Judge Russell Collins rejected both this application for permanent name suppression and McCormack's application for a discharge without conviction.

"Here, in my view, the societal harm of this sort of offending, where fuelled by alcohol an employer in the position of power tries it on, on a one-off night basis, with a younger female employee. That has to stop," Collins said.

"It is unlikely to stop by urging the victims to come forward and going through what they have to. It will stop and society will be far better for it when men stop so that there are no consequences for such victims."

McCormack's name suppression was not lifted until December 3, 2020, after an application to the Court of Appeal was dismissed.

"There can be no doubt that the #MeToo movement has forced a long overdue cultural reckoning over unchecked sexual abuse and harassment by men in positions of power, particularly in the film industry," the Court of Appeal said.

"The power dynamic, [McCormack's] dominant role within his field, and the social norms which appear to still exist within aspects of the film industry, meant that the impact on the victims was more serious than it might have been in a different context.

Eve Ainscow at her West Auckland property with her horses. Photo: NZ Herald
Eve Ainscow at her West Auckland property with her horses. Photo: NZ Herald
"Challenging [McCormack's] behaviour came at significant cost to the victims. Both victims have suffered the very employment consequences they feared if they spoke out."

Invisible on paper

Wayne McCormack ran Equine Films and was considered a world leader in horse wrangling. He boasts a CV including some of New Zealand's blockbuster productions, including Lord of The Rings, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Mulan, and The Luminaries.

But in upholding Judge Collins' refusal to grant name suppression and a discharge without conviction, the Court of Appeal said his offending was not a "one-off" lapse of judgement, and he had shown no remorse.

The suggestion McCormack should be provided with a "cloak of anonymity" to allow production houses to continue employing him was "unattractive", the court said.

In November 2019 — two months before McCormack's court case was to start — a new company called NZ Film Horses Ltd was registered. The director is Chelsea Jane Thorowgood, McCormack's wife and a shareholder in Equine Films.

The registered address of NZ Film Horses Ltd in Kaukapakapa is a short drive down State Highway 16 from McCormack's Helensville stables. Both McCormack and Thorowgood are listed on IMDb on the same 2022 upcoming short film Impossible as "horse master" and "assistant horse master" respectively.

Several figures within the New Zealand horse wrangling industry say McCormack was on set occasionally at the Amazon's LOTR production throughout 2020 and 2021.

A former stunt worker— who says they have also been blacklisted after testifying against McCormack in court — said having a company not in McCormack's name meant "now he is invisible on paper, I consider him more dangerous, not less".

After Weekend Herald inquiries, McCormack's lawyer Marie Dyhrberg QC responded to say her client "declines to speak ... or answer any questions".

She wrote: "I suggest that you be very careful with what you will claim are facts in your article because there are a large number of people in the film industry who know and support my client's very high reputation within that industry and his involvement in that industry.

"Also, you will wish to ensure you have properly investigated the source of material for your article so that you are aware of matters relating to your informant and/or informants as those in the film industry may well know more about those persons or person than perhaps you do."

"A disgrace to the industry"

McCormack's second indecent assault victim said she had spoken with numerous young women in the industry who she claims are reluctant and conflicted about working in proximity of him through his wife's company.

Wayne Patrick McCormack on trial at the Auckland District Court in January 2020. Photo: NZ Herald
Wayne Patrick McCormack on trial at the Auckland District Court in January 2020. Photo: NZ Herald
"I have done production work [since McCormack's conviction] and I've had other young women that I've had working with me who've said to me when they've gone on to other jobs they're like 'I don't want to work with him on set. I don't feel comfortable like being on set with him'. A lot of them voice that concern."

Another film crew member said in her opinion McCormack was "a disgrace to the industry".

"His horses are under his wife's name and [are] still being used by film companies, and after being found guilty of sexual charges he should not be reaping benefits from the industry he abused women in," the crew member said.

Another horse wrangler, who used to work with McCormack and has rehearsed at his Helensville stables since his conviction, said he believed McCormack was "still milking the ticket".

"All he did was disband his company and create another one through his current wife and then carry on as per usual," the wrangler claimed.

Ainscow fears McCormack continues to be able to reap the benefits of the lucrative film industry.

"I feel that there has been no justice. He [McCormack] has been given 100 hours' community service and is still controlling all of the horse work in the country."

In July 2021, the Herald revealed three stunt workers had been seriously injured on the set of LOTR — resulting in a $500,000 payout to Australian stunt woman Elissa Cadwell.

Nearly all the stunt workers the Herald spoke to then would not comment on the record because of fear of losing work within the industry.

Ainscow believes the same fear of retaliation exists in other film workers who witnessed McCormack's crimes.

"I witnessed it [the indecent assault on McCormack's second victim]," Ainscow said.

"Other employees witnessed it as well but no one would speak out. Nobody wants to lose their job. Everybody is too scared. Look where it ended me up: no job, no career. I haven't worked since 2015 and unless stuff really changes I don't see that there is ever going to be work for me ever again."

After stopping working for McCormack around 2015, Ainscow says she has resorted to living off her savings and a Working for Families benefit while raising her two children.

She lives on a block in Taupaki, West Auckland, with her kids and a few horses she rarely rides these days for the memories they conjure up.

"Any self-esteem I had was pretty much destroyed. I haven't been able to move on," Ainscow said.

"When you've loved your job so much and you've been so good at it, and for there to be no hope to go back there."

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