Sam Uffindell; National Party leader,Christopher Luxon; and National Party Presdient Sylvia Wood at yesterday's media conference

The National Party leadership are neither confirming nor denying that Leader Christopher Luxon was in a position to know about MP Sam Uffindell’s King’s College bullying before the story broke publicly.

Uffindell was asked to leave the school after he had taken part in a savage beating of a junior student.

The story broke on Stuff on August 8 and party leader, Christopher Luxon, has maintained that was the first he knew about it.

But at a National Party pre-selection panel some time in April —four months before the Stuff story — Uffindell had confessed to the King’s incident and according to one National Party source spoken to by POLITIK, “the panel discussed it at length.”

National Party practice is that the panel would have reported to the party board of which Luxon is a member.

Either it did not do that — or he somehow missed the report. That is the only way he could not have known about it before the story broke on Stuff.

But at a media conference, yesterday to unveil a KC’s report clearing Uffindell of other bullying allegations and reinstating him in the National caucus, both Luxon and party president Sylvia Wood refused to answer questions about whether the panel had reported to the board.

National convenes pre-selection panels to interrogate nominees for selection and draw up a shortlist before delegates before selection.

Uffindell confirmed yesterday that he told the panel of the bullying incident at King’s.

Asked if the full selection meeting would have selected him if they had known about the King’s incident he said: “Some of the delegates did know because they were on the selection panel.”

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POLITIK understands he also told the panel that he had changed his behaviour and given up drinking.

Party Leader Christopher Luxon has persistently denied that he knew anything about the King’s incident before Luxon was selected.

But National’s pre-selection panels include two members dominated by the party’s ruling board.

Ordinarily, the two board nominees on the pre-selection panel would be expected to report back to the board on the proceedings of the panel, particualrly if there was anything noteworthy coming out of their interviews with candidates.

Apart from Uffindell’s confession, POLITIK understands the Tauranga panel also rejected one candidate altogether.

That alone would almost certainly have triggered a report to the boartd..

National Party rules specifically exempt the board nominees from maintaining the confidentiality of the panel proceedings so that they may make that report.

The question is how that report might have been made; was it verbal or was it in writing, an email perhaps.

And then who did it go to — the party president? the party general manager? or to some or all of the members of the board?

Was it included in the board’s papers for its regular monthly meeting in May or June?

POLITIK has attempted to get answers to the questions about whether a report was made and who it was made to.

On September 7, a party spokesperson simply said in response to a number of questions, “The proceedings of the pre-selection process are confidential and as such we have no comment to add.”

But POLITIK was not seeking to find out what happened during the panel’s meeting.

The party president, Sylvia Wood,  yesterday took a similar line to the spokesperson and refused to confirm or deny that a report had been made.

The pre-selection processes are confidential,” she said.

“What we have looked at very, very closely is our set of processes and disclosures, and I have acknowledged, and the party has acknowledged, we should have disclosed this to our voters in Tauranga.”

Asked whether a communication had been received from the two board nominees on the panel , she again refused to answer.

“The board matters are confidential as well, so I’m not going to comment,” she said.

POLITIK has been told by National Party sources in Tauranga that it was likely a report had been sent to the board because the pre-selection panel rejected another candidate, and that would usually require a report to the board.

And Uffindell confirmed that the panel also knew about the King’s College incident.

He was asked whether the delegates at the actual selection meeting should have known about the King’s College incident.

“Some of the delegates did know because they were on the selection panel,” he said.

This is the crux of the issue; if the panel knew (and obviously they did), why didn’t Party Leader Christopher Luxon know?

If there was a report to the board, then he should have known because he is a member of the board.

The President’s refusal to confirm or deny the existence of a report to the board does not help him.

Previously Luxon has said that he did not know about the King’s College incident prior to Uffindell’s selection.

He said that though National Party MP Todd McClay was a board nominee on the pre-selection panel, he didn’t tell his leader about it.

“He informed my staff. That wasn’t passed through to me, and that is regrettable, and it’s a mistake,” said Luxon.

But yesterday, Luxon claimed he shouldn’t have even been involved at all.

“As a member of the board, I recuse myself from any conversation around candidate selection,” he said.

“I’m clear on expectations, and then I leave it to the selection panel locally to be able to determine the candidate.”

But what also emerged yesterday was that Wood was made aware at some point before the news broke publicly of what had happened

at the pre-selection panel.

Media: “Were you aware at all of the disclosure that Sam Uffindell had made?

Wood: “Absolutely.”

Media: “Did you pass that disclosure on to the leader of the party?”

Wood: “After Sam had been selected. Yes.”

Uffindell was selected on May 1; Wood did not become President of the party until  August 7; therefore, any knowledge she had before the full selection meeting of the proceedings of the pre-selection panel (which she was not a member of) must have come in her capacity as an ordinary member of the board.

Again, that suggests that the board knew what was discussed at the pre-selection panel with Uffindell in advance of the selection meeting and that either Luxon or the other caucus member of the board, Chris Penk, the Chief Whip, should also have known.

However, the reinstatement of Uffindell in the National caucus yesterday was not because of the King’s College incident but because of subsequent allegations that he had behaved in a bullying manner in his flat whilst at Otago University.

The National Party caucus met and reinstated Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell, following an independent investigation which found that Uffindell did not engage in the serious behaviour alleged in the media, Luxon said.

Luxon had appointed King’s Counsel Maria Dew to conduct an independent investigation into the woman’s claim, and she interviewed 14 people, and a number of written statements were provided.

Luxon said he and Wood received Dew’s report late on Thursday night.

Luxon will not release Dew’s report but said that it found there were differing accounts of what occurred, and she concluded the event was not as it was described in the media.

In a statement, Luxon said, “The investigation has found there are differing accounts of an incident that happened 20 years ago in the context of a student flat that was breaking up.

“Mr Uffindell has acknowledged that things were said that he now realises his flatmate overheard, which he regrets.”

Luxon’s statement goes on: “With the known matters having now been independently considered, and with Mr Uffindell’s own acknowledgement that he is a different person now to the person he once was, we are now able to move forward.”

And so he has been reinstated into the National Caucus.

But he looked both chastened and subdued at yesterday’s media conference where he had to stand alongside Luxon and Wood.

“I’m not going to lie. The last six weeks have been incredibly challenging,” he said.

But even then, he had to confess to another gaffe on Saturday when he turned up at a Women’s Expo in Tauranga wearing a National Party rosette.

“It was a silly accident, frankly, but I just wanted to be there,” he said.

“I’ve been doing that through the six weeks out there, meeting local constituents and trying to stay involved in the community.”

It is easy to forget that Uffindell has been an MP for only 13 weeks, six of which he has been suspended from his caucus.

Incidents like the rosette one are easy mistakes for new MPs to make.

But his long-term problem is that his party did nothing to pre-empt the bad publicity about the King’s College incident, which at least some of its senior leadership knew could come.

Wood’s review of party processes, which will come on top of two reviews after 2020,  will need to explain how incidents like this can be avoided in the future.