Labour MP David Benson-Pope’s parliamentary career may be on the rocks today, after new revelations from Investigate magazine.
The magazine’s website has today revealed major new allegations against Benson-Pope, including a much more recent criminal assault, which may well force police to re-open their investigation into the besieged cabinet minister. Those fresh revelations include:
• That Benson-Pope physically assaulted a teenage schoolgirl
by slapping her on the thigh, leaving a red mark. This incident happened in 1997 just two years before Benson Pope entered parliament, making it a very recent assault allegation
• That Benson-Pope watched naked schoolgirls while they showered, after bursting in on them in the shower block at a school camp in 1997
• That later the same day Benson-Pope again burst in unannounced on girls showering and getting changed after a “mud run”
• That Benson-Pope burst in on schoolgirls as they were getting changed ready for a tramp at a school camp in 1998
• That a formal complaint by a girl and her parents to the then Bayfield principal Bruce Leadbetter about the indecent behaviour went ‘unanswered’, despite a promise from the principal that he would forward it to the Board of Trustees for investigation
• That Benson-Pope socialized with students, including taking them on high-speed drives through the country side fast enough that the car appeared to become “air borne” as it jumped a rail crossing
• That Bayfield High School has a bigger problem with teacher violence and sexual behaviour than earlier publicized – that one teacher there was sleeping with a sixth form student in the late 1990s, and that another teacher assaulted students even worse than the Benson-Pope incidents
Investigate magazine was inundated with emails and phone calls from former Bayfield students after running a cover story on David Benson-Pope last week. As a result of new information, the magazine contacted more than a hundred former pupils by email in order to corroborate the fresh allegations that had come to light.
Of the latest criminal assault allegation from 1997, one student told Investigate David Benson-Pope used a ruler to slap her across her thigh, leaving “a red mark”. The student’s crime, apparently, was failing to count to ten in German. She told Investigate her reaction was one of shock.
“[I thought] Holy shit!, and I looked around the room to see if anyone else had seen it and people had.
“I seriously would like to have him in a room and tied to a chair so I could knock the living shit out of him! To be quite honest.”
Some of the former schoolgirls contacted by Investigate since the magazine came out have distinct memories of what they regard as unacceptable sexual behaviour by David Benson-Pope on school camps.
One woman has told Investigate Benson-Pope walked unannounced and uninvited into the girls dormitory while they were getting changed after a mud run.
“He knew we were in there. It was straight after the mud run, he knew we were all in there getting changed and things like that and he just wandered straight on in, and thought he had the right to do that.”
The woman says up to twenty-five girls aged 14 and 15 were in various stages of undress, some fully naked, during Benson-Pope’s “visit”.
“Girls were naked and in the process of getting changed.”
She says the Labour MP lingered, staring, for 30 seconds, before finally getting out because of the pandemonium his presence was causing.
“Screaming and yelling and telling him to get out, and all this swearing.”
The woman says it was the second time that day Benson-Pope had attempted to see the schoolgirls undress.
“He walked in on the showers one time, then later on that day walked into the dorm room while we were getting changed. Straight on in.”
This incident happened at the fourth form camp in 1997. The woman told Investigate she and the other girls were embarrassed and dumbfounded that a senior male teacher felt he had the right to enter the girls’ dormitories at all, when it should only have been female staff permitted.
“He’s an arsehole. He really is. I don’t know if any other students did, but me and my parents made a formal complaint about it, but nothing was done about it.”
She says they took their concerns in the first instance to Bayfield principal Bruce Leadbetter.
“We were told to write a letter and it had to go in front of the Board of Trustees. But that never happened.”
When Investigate phoned Bruce Leadbetter for comment, he wasn’t happy to hear from us.
INVESTIGATE: “There was actually a complaint made to you about him being found in the girls’ showers at a school camp, is that correct?”
BL: “I have no comment to make about anything, I’m sorry.”
INV: “Is that true though?”
BL: “I say I have no comment to make about anything, sorry.”
INV: “By making no comment, I’m anticipating that could be true and one of the other allegations –”
BL: “Listen, did you hear what I said? I have no comment –
INV: “- one of the other allegations is that the school had a culture of violence under your reign.”
BL: “I find this pretty, pretty rude.”
INV: “Bruce, if that teacher walked through the girls’ showers on a school camp –
BL: “Don’t threaten me, don’t use a bullying tone, I have no comment to make.”
And with that he hung up the phone.
If Bayfield High did discipline David Benson-Pope, and there’s no evidence they did, it didn’t work.
According to another female student in an email to Investigate, David Benson-Pope again tried to see naked schoolgirls on the 1998 fourth form camp, his last year at the high school before entering parliament.
“I do remember one incident involving him when I was in 4th form at a school camp at Tautuku. I remember that the girls were in their dorm getting ready for a tramp and we were all mucking around and taking ages to get changed. BP [Benson-Pope] got quite agitated and just marched on into the dorm without knocking or any warning at all and yelled at us all to hurry up. At this stage quite a few of us were still trying to get changed.
“I’m not sure if anybody reported this incident to the other teachers but it was talked about for a few years after that and it didn’t do much for his image with the students in my year!”
The same woman told Investigate she also found the Labour cabinet minister “sleazy”.
“He was not well liked among the kids in my year, or by too many people at all! He came across to me as really arrogant, self important and a little sleazy, and could be very domineering and intimidating to students who didn’t obey him.
“BP also taught my mother at Bayfield High School in the 70s. He was new to teaching then and according to my mum he was not well liked then either. She says he quite often used scare tactics to get students to obey him.”
Another female student, who started at Bayfield ten years earlier in 1987, says she never saw inappropriate behaviour involving David Benson-Pope, but was aware of rumours.
“I had an encounter with David Benson Pope in the stairwell one day after some girls had been nasty and spreading rumours. He told me that what other people thought was irrelevant, that I knew the truth and that’s what matters. I often think of this as I face similar situations throughout my life. He was a brusque, sometimes arrogant man, but I don’t believe he was ever inappropriate.”
Remember, her memories reveal there were allegations about David Benson-Pope in 1987 – clearly unrelated to either the 1982 school camp where he watched girls in their nighties, or the 1997/1998 incidents 10 years into the future while he was a Dunedin City Councillor preparing to enter parliament.
Another aspect of Bayfield’s school culture to emerge as a result of Investigate’s sweeping survey of former pupils was sexual activity between schoolchildren and teachers.
One former schoolgirl, who started at the school in 1995 told us this:
“Bayfield has a bit of a reputation for pupils marrying, or getting into relationships with teachers, not necessarily while they were at school but certainly after. I can think of two at least that are still going strong.
“However, in my form there was a girl who was apparently sleeping with a PE teacher and now that we all think back she was in nearly every sports team he coached. He had team barbeques at his house too. He was “advised to leave” but the grapevine said that they were still together, at least for a while after he had left. The affair began while she was in sixth form and into the seventh form.”
Remember, those statements come from a girl who attended in the late 90s. What then do we make of these comments from a woman in the class of ’84:
“[student name deleted] was rumoured to be having a relationship with the [deleted] teacher (that was [teacher’s name deleted] wasn’t it?) after she left high school which I thought was odd given the age difference.
Investigate found more corroboration for the late 90’s incident when we raised it with another student we were questioning:
INV: There’s suggestions that a PE teacher, or a gym teacher was having –
STUDENT: – having an affair with a student? Yep, and they’re still together. I can’t remember his name, but her name was [deleted].
He got fired and she was told never to see him again but apparently they’re still together.
There are claims from former Bayfield students on the Oldfriends.co.nz website that sometimes they used to get “pissed” with teachers at the teachers’ homes after hours.
Another student, this one male, told Investigate he remembers going for a drive with Benson-Pope in what appears to be a low-rent version of a Helen Clark motorcade:
“I can clearly remember being in BP’s Green Fiat with two other students (as I recall) when the car was able to get airborne travelling at speed over a few railway mounds that intersect various points of the roads out on the Taieri! Looking back now that was inappropriate behaviour from a teacher (adult), even if egged on by his students.”
But like others, this student has also backed up Investigate’s claims that Benson-Pope ogled schoolgirls in their nighties.
It began, he said, when he and some others were caught raiding the kitchen.
“In 1982 (as I recall) I attended a school camp at Whare Flat. I and several other students were caught having broken the rules, in my case having been out of my bed after lights out. Nothing too untoward, I was getting something to eat from the kitchen in between two bedrooms at each end of the cabin. How I was caught is material in that there were two teachers on patrol with a powerful torch and my silhouette was enough to identify me and others through the cabin curtains.
“The punishment for this was for us guys to strip down to our grots, and stand outside along with some of the other girls, (they were allowed to wear nighties), who had also been caught out for similar reasons. There was more than one teacher in this group, one of whom was definitely David Benson-Pope.
“I distinctly remember having the torch shone upon me in a way that I consider to have been humiliating… Perhaps Mr David Benson-Pope would like to refer to the Bayfield High school’s policy of having male students stand outside in their underpants in the company of girl students, while a powerful torch is being shone upon them? One can only hope that the nighties were thicker than the curtains!”
With fresh allegations of criminal assault that are only a few years old, and large numbers of witnesses to David Benson-Pope repeatedly sexually harassing naked schoolgirls, Investigate believes the Minister’s position has become untenable.
Investigate approached Benson-Pope through his lawyers for comment, but no reply had been received two hours after the deadline passed this morning.