Goff handling of Hughes affair raised again

Phil Goff
Phil Goff
Labour leader Phil Goff is facing fresh criticism of his handling of the Darren Hughes affair after police decided not to charge the former MP.

The Labour Party door is open to Mr Hughes returning to politics in future after police decided not to press charges against him. Police had investigated allegations by an 18-year-old male university student that Mr Hughes sexually assaulted him at the Hataitai home of Labour deputy leader Annette King in March.

Mr Hughes, 33, resigned as Labour's whip, then as an MP, after the allegations became public.

He told Mr Goff as soon as the complaint was made but no action was taken. After the claim was publicised, Mr Goff stripped Mr Hughes of his education spokesman and party whip roles.

Questions were raised about Mr Goff's handling of the case, with some saying he should have informed his caucus and Labour Party president Andrew Little when he first became aware of the investigation.

It has also been argued that had Mr Hughes been stood down immediately he would not have felt he had to resign.

Commentator Brian Edwards said Mr Goff did not handle the matter well.

"Darren Hughes has paid dearly for his 'lack of judgement'." Edwards wrote on his blog.

"He should not go on paying. Had the Leader of the Opposition handled things more adeptly, Hughes would still be a Member of Parliament. There would be celebrations in the Opposition wing. So it would be good not to hear any more talk of years of penance before he can return to the fold."

Another commentator Matthew Hooton said the way to handle the matter was to stand Mr Hughes down until the inquiry was done.

"If Mr Goff had done that I doubt the issue would have lasted a single news cycle," he told Radio New Zealand.

Broadcaster John Tamihere, a former Labour MP, said the Labour leadership approach was "a bit softer" than it had been under Helen Clark.

In hindsight it would have been better for the leadership to stand Mr Hughes down at the start but also the police inquiry was too long.

"It beggars belief that it took this long to get the decision done and dusted," he said on Radio New Zealand.

Mr Goff, who is overseas, said in March he followed a fair process and allowed natural justice by not going acting earlier.

"I can sleep at night," he said.

"I could have sacrificed Darren. I didn't believe that would have been right. I don't believe that would have resulted in justice or influenced the police process."

Mr Tamihere thought Mr Hughes may be able to make a political comeback in time.

"I think he's still got a lot to offer," he said.

Mr Hughes yesterday said the experience had been challenging but he hoped to continue to serve the country in future.

Shadow Leader of the House Trevor Mallard said he hoped Mr Hughes would return to politics, and that the Labour caucus would welcome him back some time in the future.

Wellington District field crime manager Detective Inspector Mike Johnson said evidence had been properly considered, both internally and by the Crown Solicitor's Office in Wellington.

"After this careful consideration, the allegations do not reach the evidential threshold required to bring charges," Mr Johnson said.

"As a result, no charges will be brought against Mr Hughes."

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