Feeley: Collins clearance ‘inevitable’

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Former Serious Fraud Office boss Adam Feeley says it was inevitable the Chisholm inquiry would clear the behaviour of former cabinet minister Judith Collins.

Last week, government inquiry head High Court judge Justice Lester Chisholm reported there was no evidence linking former Collins with a blog campaign to undermine the former SFO chief executive.

In August, as the election approached, Collins resigned her ministerial portfolios after an October 2011 email from Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater emerged claiming she was “gunning” for Feeley while justice minister.

On Friday, Feeley, who left the SFO to head the Queenstown Lakes District Council, told the Otago Daily Times the Chisholm inquiry’s terms of reference were very narrow.

“You’ve got a report that’s given within the constraints of fairly tightly-defined terms of reference, so in that sense, yes [it was inevitable].”

Justice Chisholm’s 98-page report says an electronic search of Collins’ email, phone and social media records turned up “very little” relevant material; her Facebook account had been deleted and detailed phone records were not available.

The report details how former Hanover director Mark Hotchin, who tasked public relations consultant Carrick Graham – who then engaged bloggers Slater and Cathy Odgers – to “rebalance” the public perception of the businessman, whose company was being investigated by the SFO.

Justice Chisholm decided not to interview Mr Hotchin.

This week, Labour MP David Parker used parliamentary privilege to level fresh allegations against Hotchin over an alleged smear campaign, and repeated calls for a police investigation.

Feeley, on Friday, said: “You’ve got to ask yourself, even if he is available, were you going to get anything out of [an interview with Hotchin]?

“Fundamentally, it was an inquiry into the minister’s conduct and if he saw no connection between Hotchin and the minister then he probably decided there was no purpose in pursuing that; even if … there is any substance to what David Parker has said under Parliamentary privilege.”

Feeley – who says his Queenstown job has not been affected by the Collins affair – says he took comfort from the Chisholm report’s observations that Collins and subsequent Justice Minister Anne Tolley rated the SFO highly.

“I think most people see me as an unfortunate meat in a very unpleasant sandwich.”

But he says it was concerning public servants could potentially be subject to a “pretty insidious” social media campaign with no effective way of countering it.

david.williams@odt.co.nz

– Otago Daily Times