Luxon supports Uffindell, says he should have been told about attack

Source: 1News

The National Party's new president Sylvia Wood was tight-lipped on Tuesday after 1News asked her if a mistake had been made in not informing leader Christopher Luxon about a violent incident in now Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell's past.

And Luxon says it would have "been good" if he'd been informed.

It comes after Monday's revelation that Uffindell was involved in a school assault which saw him expelled from a prestigious Auckland secondary college.

Uffindell said he had been "upfront" in written form with the party's pre-selection committee about the incident at King's College and it had been discussed in his interview, where he was "open and honest about it".

"They looked leniently on the fact it happened over 20 years ago when I was 16," he told Breakfast on Tuesday.

READ MORE: New National MP sorry for attacking younger student while at school

The incident had not been disclosed to Luxon or the deputy leader, Nicola Willis. They were only recently informed.

Wood was involved in the selection process as a board member.

Wood ignored 1News' questions on her way into Parliament on Tuesday, which included asking her if a mistake had been made by not informing National leaders about Uffindell's history and if the selection process was fair.

Luxon: Would have been good if I was told

Sam Uffindell and Christopher Luxon

Luxon said at a media conference on Tuesday, “it would have been good if the Party had been able to inform me properly”.

He said there’s an initial screening of candidates which included good reference checking.

“Then it goes into what’s called a selection panel and in that selection panel all of those people were fully aware as they weigh up a series of candidates and they can choose to let them go through or not let them go through.

“And there was deep exploration of this issue with Sam with that selection panel,” Luxon said.

He said he has confidence in Wood who he said had been “critical to making sure we’ve got proper deep reference-checking and actually been driving a lot of the improve process”.

The party's come under fire recently for some of candidates it has selected.

Last year, candidate Jake Bezzant resigned from the party after he was accused by an ex-girlfriend of posing as her online.

Andrew Falloon resigned as an MP in 2020 after women accused him of sending lewd images.

He said Uffindell’s apology and remorse is genuine.

“He has my support. But clearly he needs to be able to build back trust with the voters in Tauranga.”

Uffindell wants to stay

Uffindell told Breakfast "I really want to stay on" and said he will be meeting with National leader Christopher Luxon on Tuesday after speaking briefly with him on Monday.

"I feel like I've got a lot to contribute. I want to use my position to do good.

"I'm very lucky to be in the position I am and I want to use it to do good for the people of Tauranga and I want them to see me for the person I am as an adult."

Asked if he's concerned he's lost the trust of the National Party and Luxon, Uffindell said he was "completely transparent" when he went into pre-selection.

"How Christopher feels about that is something we'll probably discuss today."

Asked if he can tell people they can trust his character, Uffindell said he'd "learnt a lot" from his teenage self.

"It was my action, it was my fault. It's my responsibility. I own that and I'm trying to live my life as a responsible adult." He repeated this throughout the interview.

Stuff reported Uffindell and three others used wooden bed legs to attack the younger boy, but Uffindell said he just punched him after they "raided" the Year 9 dorm on the last day of the school year.

"It's something I've regretted hugely ever since. I've felt a lot of remorse about it. I learnt a huge lesson as a young, stupid teenager," he told Breakfast.

"Actions have consequences and I was sorry for the hurt I'd caused. Going into adulthood I reflected on it a lot, wondered about the harm that it had caused emotionally to that person."

Uffindell said he had managed to get in touch with the victim last year and had apologised.

"He said he'd forgive the adult version of me."

Uffindell denied this apology was part of a pre-political career clean-up.

"It wasn't. This event had a significant bearing on my life and I've lived with humiliation as a result of it and also been upset by the harm that I would've caused the person."

He said he was trying to atone after returning to New Zealand after living overseas and wasn't preempting anything. He described the incident as "still bugging on me".

'A violent act'

Luxon says Uffindell had changed from the teenager he was 22 years ago but did not condone the “criminal” behaviour which happened at the school.

“The thing I’m most interested in is has the behaviour changed and is the individual different and have they actually understood and admitted their wrong, fronted up to it, been accountable for it and changed their life as a consequence of it – that’s the test.”

“My advice to Sam has been, you own it, you front it, you talk about it and you take every opportunity to do so with the media.”

Luxon said it’s clear Uffindell’s actions were wrong and that he sees the offending as “assault”.

“I can tell you as a parent, if that was happening to my children I would be incredibly upset, angry and distressed.

“It was a violent act."

But he says Uffindell’s behaviour has changed and he’s not the same person he was.