Police have released emails showing the steady stream of media enquiries they received about false allegations involving Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford - and the pressure they felt under to respond.
The documents show the NZ Herald, which was first to report on the allegations, said any statement would “absolutely not be used as a springboard” for a story - later reporting on police “taking the extraordinary step of signing off a media release that rejects the speculation”.
Rumours about Ardern’s partner Gayford, which circulated on social media for months, first surfaced officially in early May when police issued a statement saying he “is not and has not been the subject of any police inquiry, nor has he been charged in relation to any matter”.
While police normally do not respond to enquiries about whether individuals are being investigated, documents released under the Official Information Act show the flood of queries about the rumour from media.
According to a timeline provided by police, Newshub was the first media outlet to make an enquiry about Gayford, on April 4.
The NZ Herald (April 12 and 28), TVNZ (April 18), Newshub again (April 30), Stuff (May 1), and Radio New Zealand (May 2) also asked for comment before the NZ Herald published the first story about the rumours on May 2 .
'An organised campaign to spread rumours'
In an April 26 email to police, an NZ Herald reporter - possibly David Fisher, who authored the first story - told police they were writing a piece “about what appears to be an organised campaign to drive and spread rumours about Clarke Gayford”.
“These [allegations] have been a constant feature of a number of journalists’ lives over the past 4-5 months.”
The reporter said they were confident there was no truth to the rumours, and were “nearing a point where we can identify...a small group of connected people who have put a great deal of energy into driving the spread of the rumours - effectively weaponising gossip.”
While the reporter understood police would not usually comment, they said the situation was unusual as a failure to respond would allow rumour to go unchecked, while there were also allegations about “some form of collusion or corruption to have kept the alleged offending secret”.
In a follow-up email, the reporter said any statement “will absolutely not be used as a springboard to writing about the subject”, and would only be used in the context of a story about the campaign against Gayford.
The police statement was provided first to the NZ Herald on April 27, then to other media organisations who had made enquiries.
On May 1, NZ Police media relations manager Grant Ogilvie sent a copy of the statement to senior leadership, saying it was “the result of rumours which have been circulating widely for some time”.
“So far no media response has been published, and we can expect these enquiries to continue until such time that our response is made public in a media story”.
An April 4 email between police, in response to the first media enquiry about Gayford, makes reference to a "No Surprises query by the media".
In a statement accompanying the OIA documents, police said Police Minister Stuart Nash’s office was notified of the first enquiries from Newshub and the NZ Herald under the “no surprises” policy.
Ardern’s chief of staff Mike Munro was also informed under the no surprises policy on April 18, after police became aware of TVNZ’s media enquiry to the Ministry of Justice.
On April 27, senior police staff agreed on a written statement based on checks of information, following a phone call and follow-up email from the NZ Herald on April 26.
Munro and Nash’s office were again notified under the no surprises policy once the response was finalised.
“Police would like to make it clear the statement was entirely a police decision, and made after careful consideration of all the information available plus public interest considerations,” NZ Police acting deputy chief executive Jane Archibald said.