Brian Edwards Media

Why are the police dragging their heels in the Darren Hughes case?

It is now almost three months since Darren Hughes returned  to his  Wellington lodgings in the early hours of March 2,  accompanied by an 18-year-old man who is said to have later run naked from the house in a state of considerable distress. The 18-year-old subsequently laid a complaint ‘of a sexual nature’ against  Hughes, the precise nature of which has  yet to be revealed. Hughes later resigned from Parliament.

Only two people, Hughes and the young man, know precisely what happened that night. They are the only first-hand witnesses.

This makes it both easier and more difficult for the police to decide whether to prosecute Hughes. Easier, because there are only two first hand witnesses; and more difficult because independent corroboration of either  of their stories seems virtually impossible.

Their creditability as witnesses will therefore lie at the core of the police’s decision whether to accept the young man’s complaint and charge Hughes or to conclude that there is insufficient evidence to undertake a prosecution.

Hughes’ resignation from Parliament cannot be taken as evidence of guilt. The very existence of a complaint of a sexual nature against him made his position as an electorate MP and front bench Labour spokesman untenable. He could not go on doing his job.

As for the 18-year-old, aspects of  his behaviour seem to require explanation:  

How did he get naked? To get naked you have to take off your own clothes or have them taken off by someone else. One implies consent, the other possible consent or force, stupefaction (including drunkenness) or waking from sleep to discover some form of sexual assault in progress.

And why did he run naked into the street that night? Unless they were actually under threat of immediate physical violence, most people, one would have thought, would at the very least  grab something to cover their nakedness.

For his part, Hughes has denied that he ‘did anything wrong’. But there is an ambiguity in the phrase. Does he mean morally wrong or legally wrong? The two are quite frequently not the same.

Since there were no witnesses to what happened, unless Hughes confesses, or the young man admits he made the whole thing up, or  the items taken from the house provide incriminating evidence against Hughes, what the cops have to judge on comes down to issues of credibility and probability. So we end up where we started: it’s Hughes’ word against the 18-year-old’s.

Which brings me to my question: Should it really take the police almost three months to form a judgement on those matters? I would have thought not. More likely in my view is the theory that this sort of case, fraught with political considerations as it is, makes the police extremely nervous. Wrongly charging a former Labour Party Minister, Labour Chief Whip and Deputy Leader of the House with sexual assault would not be a good look. But not charging him would undoubtedly bring accusations of a weak-kneed response or even of favouritism toward a prominent figure.

More worrying is the possibility that, unable to come to any definite conclusion, the police might find it politic to go ahead and charge Hughes, thus transferring  responsibility for his fate from their hands to a judge or jury.

In the meantime, a cloud of suspicion hangs over both Hughes and the complainant. Those who think well of Hughes or support him politically may  be attracted to the view that he is the victim of ‘morning-after’ regret by the 18-year-old or of some dastardly plot by Right Wing operatives to ruin his career. Hughes’ political enemies, along with those uncomfortable with homosexuality, may  be attracted to the view that there is no smoke without fire and the ‘fact’ of an18-year-old ‘fleeing’ Hughes’ lodgings naked and seeking help from the police, is about as much evidence as they need.  

Both men’s lives are on hold and it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that our boys in blue, who are absolutely brilliant at tracking down rapists and  killers are, in this case, and for whatever reason, dragging their heels.

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  1. I thought the nakedness story was the construct of a tradesman who saw an unnamed naked man running in Hataitai on the night in question? The media seemed to be the ones who connected the 2 stories and made the ‘naked man running from Darren Hughes home” claims.

  2. “A Wellington business owner, making deliveries around 4am on the morning of the alleged incident, said he saw a naked man walking near the entrance of the Hataitai end of the Mount Victoria tunnel. He was covering his penis and “didn’t look in a good way”. Police were soon on the scene, possibly called because of reports of the naked man wandering the streets.”

    MP resigns, DomPost seeks a scandal

  4. clearly the local force does not react as swiftly as the NYPD as a certain frenchman would no doubt regretfully agree. it does seem far too long. if hughes had been “joe ordinary” the matter would in all probability have been settled by now.

  5. Just saying … (after all it would appear that Darren Hughes career as an MP has been finished by the incident no matter what the truth), he could perhaps circumvent all the speculation and make a public statement and tell the world just what exactly did happen that night. If he has something to hide, then it will eventually be known and it will reflect even more negatively on his character.

  6. 6

    Deborah Morris-Travers

    I agree… this is taking a long time, while this nasty business hangs over both men. Darren had such a promising political career ahead of him. It’s a shame to see if wasted in this way. It’ll be interesting to see if he makes a comeback, as Phil Goff has suggested he might.

  7. While I can agree to some extent to both bill’s and logie97’s comments I have a nagging fear that any decision about this case is going to be put on hold until the election campaign is about to be launched or worse still, is in full swing. Surely not. . . . .

  8. There does appear to be some inconsistencies in this case. On the one hand it was reported that the 18 year old in question made the complaint, but I also read somewhere that it was a student friend who laid the formal complaint to police a day or so after the incident occurred.

    @ logie97. If it had been an incident involving a member of the opposite sex I would agree with you, but I think the circumstances would make it difficult for him to go public at this stage.

  9. The only time the constabulary moves with any speed is when chasing someone doing 51kmh in a 50kmh zone.

    I suspect that the inaction is something to do with a senior political figure being involved. The police are terrified that whatever course of action they choose they will be criticised. Therefore if they leave it for several months we will be in the middle of the election, the case will have been forgotten by the public and the whole affair can be quietly shelved in the glare of Australia winning the Rugby World Cup leaving behind the wreckage of Mr Hughes career.

  10. Agree. This delay seems bizarre. Either there is enough evidence to support a prosecution or there isn’t. It’s a binary choice – albeit one that involves some degree of judgment as to the relative strength of evidence and prospects of proving a case. Perhaps this matter just isn’t seen as a priority? Unfortunate indeed for both people involved.

  11. I’m glad you raise this matter Brian, and I totally agree the NZ Police have had enough time to decide whether to charge Hughes or not (even if they had forensic tests done on whatever was taken from Hughes’ house).

    However, a few points:
    – I agree Hughes’ resignation is irrelevant
    – there *may* be witnesses other than Hughes or the complainant; the businessman, etc
    – I am uncomfortable with the way you framed the claim that ‘aspects of [the complainants] behaviour seem to require explanation’ – it felt a bit like blaming the alleged victim. Police should be finding out what the complainant alleges, then find out what evidence supports and opposes this having taken place. The complainant running naked into the street may support a claim of sexual assault – victims can freak and run, or freak and fight. It’s circumstantial evidence.
    – You say those who think well of Hughes may think the claim is caused by ‘morning-after regret’ – this implies sexual connection took place, which we public just don’t know.
    – Similarly, you claim those who think ‘no smoke without fire’ will be Hughes’ enemies and those opposed to homosexuality – but not everyone who thinks ‘no smoke without fire’ is an enemy of Darren’s or anti-homosexuality. They may just think allegations aren’t made without some truth being attached to them, say.

    Finally, what is the statute of limitations on sexual assault charges? Most criminal charges have these limits on how long police can take before charging – it is an incentive to make sure police are prompt, precisely because witness memories fade, etc.

    There is a concern NZ Police may be deliberately leaving things undecided in the hope they can quietly drop the allegations and any possible charges once they exceed the statute of limitations.

    Or it may just be the cops have squandered all their budget on trying to convict the Urewera 18…

    BE: As a generality, I think you’re mistaking my hypothetical scenarios as positions. They aren’t.

  12. do sub-judice rules not apply here?

    BE: Since no-one has been charged, I would have thought not.

  13. I cannot help but think that this is a “jackup” – what better way to get rid of a party leader than discredit his most loyal lieutenant. You need to ask why would anyone who is naked flee a house without grabbing something to cover himself, if he was distressed why did he not cqall out an wake others in the house, and how come a “passing” police patrol just happened to be cruising the back strees of Haitaiti at that hour of the morning. This may not be what happened but thanks to the media that is the way it reads. Darren was an exceptional MP who who always placed his electorate first. This matter needs to be put to rest.

  14. I too share your disquiet Brian, 3/12 ia a long time in what appears to be a simple matter. Justice must be seen to be done and fairly and transparently for all no matter their station in life for the rule of law to be upheld.

    Sadly we do have a politised Police force and possibly Crown law due in no larger part to your clients and friends the Labour Party.

    If Darren Hughues is innocent of any criminal charges the sooner this gets undone the better, similarly should he be guilty the same holds true. Shalom.

    BE: “If Darren Hughues is innocent of any criminal charges the sooner this gets undone the better, similarly should he be guilty the same holds true.” Agreed.

  15. 15

    Brian – absolutely right.

    My theory is that when a politician is involved the Wellington police panic and hope the issue will go away. The Brash email issue was not as serious as this obviously (in a criminal sense) but was serious in a constitutional sense but the cops took more than a YEAR to do anything at all.

    I think when a politician is involved, the police need to put the complaint right at the top of their list, to clear things up as soon as possible, to deter both frivilous complaints against MPs and to ensure justice is done asap if the politician turns out to be in the wrong.

    In this case, if it turns out the cops do decide to charge Darren Hughes, then it has been a long wait for the alleged victim. If they decide not to charge him then that is appalling too because his career has been lost over something that might not be true or even a set up.

    In the latter case, Goff’s appalling political handling of course would have contributed to the tragedy. The only way to deal with a case like this is to immediately go public, declare a “serious allegation has been made that Darren assures me is false” put him on leave and wait to see what happens. That way, Goff would have been protected if the allegation turned out to be true, and Darren would have kept his job had it turned out to be false.

    BE: Totally agree on all points, Matthew. Sorry about the delay in putting your comment up. For some reason it went into Spam.

  16. As Kerry said, Brian.

    The author of the “naked man” piece was Jonathan Marshall.

    I would never believe one word that sewer-crawler wrote.

  17. One routine i have heard is used to water the issue down, Deny, Delay, Defer

  18. Im curious to what would have happened if Darren Hughes had not resigned.Someone should be personally held responsible for the lack of action in this case.I would hope it isnt corruption.I consider incompetence to be more likely.

  19. 19

    As I read it at the time, the ‘naked man in the early hours of the morning’ story came from an unnamed businessman told to his unnamed staff at his unnamed business in central Wellington.

    As I read it, the unnamed businessman never spoke to the media.

    As I read it, his purported story — as retailed by his staff — was never verified or corroborated by media who have run with it.

    The ‘naked young man’ has been woven into the story as if it was fact when no-one knows if is.

    That includes the reporters who first wrote the story.

  20. I’m not in the least surprised at the length of time the police are taking over this.

    After a sexual misadventure people frequently lie, distort and give confusing and contradictory versions of what happened, particularly (but by no means only) embarrassed and humiliated teenagers. Its also not unusual for a statement made in the heat of the moment to be retracted a few weeks/months later when calmed down.

    The police would no doubt need the wisdom of Solomon to decide what happened, and what they should do about it. I also suspect that its by no means easy for them to decide the issues of credibility, and can you really blame them if they conclude that its up to a jury to decide this – after all, isn’t that their role in our legal system?

    Journalists and some of the public may be eager for the details of a juicy sex scandal, but most likely this is a no-win story for both Hughes and the complainant. I think its up to either of them to criticise the police for their slow progress, not the uninvolved.

    BE: “I think its up to either of them to criticise the police for their slow progress, not the uninvolved.” Really? Do you think either of them would be wise to criticise the police?”

  21. bizarre vacuum of a situation, understandably igniting speculation.

  22. No mention anywhere of the alcohol consumption of the two individuals concerned, which would have affected their judgement, behaviour and recall.

  23. Fact is, Hughes has paid a terrible price alright, but for what? The only thing he has said in public on the record on this matter is that he did nothing wrong. The police have said nothing material in public on the record. Nor has the young man. So we are left with trial by media, and as someone mentioned earlier, based on ‘facts’ established by Jonathan Marshall.

    BE: I’ve deleted a dozen or so words from the end of your comment, Tom, because I’m not certain of their factuality. If you can provide me with authentication, perhaps in the form of your claim having been published elsewhere, I’ll put the words back.

  24. It’s well known that the cops are agonisingly slow, when it comes to deciding on whether to prosecute or not. Forever, crippled by stasis.

    I shudder at the thought of them ordering a restaurant meal. They’d be every wait staff’s worst nightmare come true. Driving them crazy by not only insisting on a full detailed description of every single dish on the menu, but also the ingredients used. They’d probably want the full names of the kitchen staff; as well as their ethnicity, sex and their residency status.

    I’d really like to know: what resources are being used to investigate this unsavoury episode? Two teams of 10 working 24/7? Each with its own team leader? Shuffling papers, belching, farting and scratching their nuts, while pondering the imponderables?

    BE: Hmmm. Enjoyed the meal ordering analogy, Merv.

  25. I shudder at the thought of them ordering a restaurant meal. They’d be every wait staff’s worst nightmare come true.

    Don’t the police get free meals at McDonald’s?

  26. Having had my 16 yr old at the sharp end of the Police workflow facing some very serious charges, of which he was 100% innocent – I can tell you they do nothing quickly, apart from clog the system with cases they are slightly scared of. Their motto is charge everyone and let the courts sort it. In the Hughes scenario – The cops will be dragging the chain merely to allow time to let their legal team assure them, their arses are covered, in their handling of the inquiry. I’d bet a weeks wages, it wont be conspiritorial… just 100% inefficient and self serving.
    It took 15 months of hell, before they offered no evidence against my kid. Everyone else could see that the night of the horrific accident. Shameful. I’m no Red Coat, but Hughes has been dealt with in a most unjust and untimely manner, which is sadly typical

  27. Hmph. I heard he was going to be charged with Assault with a Friendly Weapon. Not much of a story really. Time we shrugged off this pinch-mouthed puritanism.

  28. 28

    1. @ bob.
    There is no such thing as a statute of limitations in this country. Most of us think that there is such a statute but that comes from watching American TV programmes. However, if a breach of the Crimes Act is alleged (murder, sexual assault, burglary and so on) the police can lay charges at any time. Not entirely a bad thing perhaps, in view of the perpetrators recently brought to justice with the advances in DNA, for example.
    2. I have come to this discussion late but I would have thought that there would have been some comment about the likely effect that letters from lawyers representing either or both Mr Hughes and the young man will be having on police processes. It would be naive to think that the police aren’t dealing with this sort of correspondence as well.

  29. I think we should immediately put this matter in the hands ot the NYPD. Within minutes everyone would be charged, a couple of shots fired, handcuffs applied and all suspects paraded in front of the media possibly naked in this case. You then scratch together $1 million bail money and get put on suicide watch. All sounds fair enough to me and it makes for better tv than Campbell Close Up.

  30. I do wish we’d all stop referring to an 18 year old as a ‘man’.

    He’s only a ‘man’ if he’s doing something seriously wrong, but still a boy in all other respects especially if he’s doing something good or devilish, or for having something bad done to him. Scores a ton for the Black Caps – a boy. Armed robbery? A man. Getting his mum’s friend pregnant? Boy. Getting beaten to a pulp by muggers? Boy. Peddling P? Man. Get the picture?

    And speaking of pictures, no matter what you think, believe or practice, having someone legging it from your digs at 4am butt naked is never going to look good on your cv, innit?

  31. It’s a case of he said/he said, and I doubt it can be resolved.

  32. Re Number Eleven.

    The following is an extract from the Citixens Advice Bureau web site:

    “What is a statute of limitations?

    A statute of limitations is a piece of law that prescribes the time you have to file a lawsuit or claim after the cause of the action (e.g. someone doesn’t follow their contract obligations). In New Zealand this is called the Limitation Act 1950. The time frame depends on the type of lawsuit, the circumstances of the lawsuit and claim, and where the claim is filed.”

    Sounds like a statute of limitations to me.

  33. Bruce
    The Limitation Act you refer to applies to civil claims only. In other words, how long you or I have to sue each other or that company that sold us a pup. It has no application to the prosecution of crime by the state.


  34. Political pressure perchance?