THE SECRET LIFE OF DAVID BENSON-POPE
[Author’s note: when this story was published online in November last year, David Benson-Pope refused to deny the detailed allegations contained in the full version. In fact, he went to the trouble of ringing a senior Otago Daily Times journalist at home that evening, expressly to ensure that the newspaper was not quoting him as denying the story. Instead, the quote he approved was the much more vague: “When would I have time for that?” To this day, despite many attempts to get a straight answer, Benson-Pope has still never denied the story.]
By Ian Wishart
In July 2004, at the height of the clash of cultures surrounding Labour’s civil unions legislation, the man responsible for ramming that law through Parliament laid down a gauntlet challenging the integrity of groups opposing him. Married, with two children, Associate Justice Minister David Benson-Pope was the heterosexual face of the contentious gay marriage bill, and he’d been brought in to front it amid fears that the public would react badly to having openly gay Labour MPs Tim Barnett and Chris Carter leading the charge.
Both Carter and Barnett had taken prominent positions to push through the legalization of prostitution just months earlier, and the last thing Labour wanted was even more accusations that its homosexual wing was really in control of the party.
“It’s helpful if they’re not identified as the main supporters of the bill,” Benson-Pope was quoted in the Herald, “because that lends fuel to the fire that this is pandering to the gay community, which it isn’t.”
As a father, former schoolteacher and close confidant of Prime Minister Helen Clark, Benson-Pope was the epitome of tolerant middle-class Labour – comfortable in his own marriage and reaching out to protect the rights of oppressed minorities.
It was in this context, then, that Benson-Pope threw down a gauntlet to groups opposing the Civil Unions Bill. In a media statement dated 30 July 2004, the minister accused lobby group The Maxim Institute of not declaring its interests:
“The minister responsible for Civil Union legislation is welcoming people taking an active part in the debate but he says this must be done in an up-front and open manner.”
One of the minister’s criticisms was that members of Maxim were writing letters to the editor “without identifying themselves as Maxim members” – an accusation that hit home more recently with several letters published in the NZ Herald from “Brian Edwards, Herne Bay”, without reference to the fact that he is Helen Clark’s approved biographer and media trainer.
But Benson-Pope’s main beef was that in such an important public debate, it was crucial that people were honest about declaring their interests.
It was a theme he repeated in a speech to the Orewa Rotary Club, when he launched a stinging attack on Christians for opposing civil unions:
“These type of people and organizations have found labeling people ‘PC’ a very useful distraction as they try to influence mainstream debate from their very narrow and often extreme standpoint.
“They represent very small minorities, yet through sophisticated use of communications, lobbying and the media, we have seen in other countries and are starting to see here, are able to carry sway far greater than their numbers indicate that ought to.
“I described their intolerance as a challenge. The way to meet that challenge is head on. Ask them to explain their views. Call on them to be honest about what beliefs are really driving their agenda.”
In case you missed it, it’s now clearly on the record that David Benson-Pope doesn’t like people pushing barrows without being honest about their own motives and background. This, then, is the standard Investigate is about to apply to David Benson-Pope. Before we get to the fresh allegations, however, we first have to give them some context by briefly re-visiting the earlier allegations.
Mention the name David Benson-Pope these days and you get two reactions. “Tennis balls” would be one, while the other is invariably: “They went too far when they called him a ‘pervert’.” Benson-Pope is a man who polarizes. The classes of children he taught at Dunedin’s Bayfield High School were divided over his brusque style, and in his seven year parliamentary career he has continued to intimidate and bully his opponents, particularly attacking National’s female MPs like Katherine Rich and reducing some to tears in private encounters.
But when National’s law and order spokesman Judith Collins picked up on a Rodney Hide comment and called David Benson-Pope a “pervert” during an incandescent parliamentary Question Time this year, you could hear jaws drop not just around the debating chamber but around the country, as little old ladies tut-tutted and the traditional kiwi support for the underdog set in.
Although Benson-Pope had bound and gagged a student, had bashed another youngster in the face, and had spanked teenage girls on their thighs and busted into their changing rooms repeatedly while girls were showering on school camps, suddenly in one fell PR swoop he became the ‘victim’ of a media and political ‘witchhunt’.
In the House, Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen hinted he had “dirt” of his own about National’s Judith Collins, and Labour wheeled out its own female MPs, Lianne Dalziel and Annette King, to launch a blistering attack on Collins:
“She has been prepared to expose David’s wife and children to unjustified personal abuse and public attention,” Ms King said. “She has laughed and she has celebrated as she made her despicable comments of ‘pervert’ and ‘dirty old man’.”
For her part, Collins denied ever calling Benson-Pope a ‘dirty old man’, nor had she ever referred to Benson-Pope’s wife and children, but it was too late: Labour’s spin machine was in high gear.
Supported by the PR wunderkinds on the Beehive’s ninth floor, Benson-Pope finally came out of hiding to begin a charm offensive with the parliamentary press gallery, explaining how “hurtful” and “offensive” he found the allegations.
“I don’t think anyone should have to put up with the filthy, despicable behaviour we saw yesterday,” he told the Herald that week. “I did use corporal punishment for a little while. There was always a witness — and one told the policy inquiry (into the tennis ball incident) how distasteful I found it. I was actually one of the people who got rid of it.”
According to the newspaper, it was the accusations of violence and ill-treatment that seem to have hurt him the most.
“I guess that’s why I’m bruised and cut up. I’m seriously angry about what went down, because the accusations that (Judith) Collins and (Rodney) Hide have been making are so contrary to the bulk of the work I did in the classroom, and the work I did in the outdoors.”
“To be accused of being violent and bullying is pretty unpleasant.”
Remember those statements professing an anti-violence mentality – in a few minutes they will become highly relevant.
But the Herald article wasn’t the only one.
“I guess I’ve been pretty upset by the attack on my integrity,” he told Close Up’s Mark Sainsbury, before complaining about the impact on “my wife and kids”. Yet in a Sunday Star Times feature a couple of days later, Benson-Pope poses with his wife and children for a large photo on page A3, above a rambling interview with both himself and wife Jan Flood. It seemed strange behaviour for a man professing concern at his family being publicly identified, to then display them in a national newspaper.
“I continue to describe the Wishart claims as deeply offensive and nonsense,” Benson-Pope continued in his Close Up interview, “and I’m not resiling from that, they are, just as the behaviour of Rodney Hide and Judith Collins is deeply offensive.
When challenged by Sainsbury as to why the Investigate claims were “nonsense” and “ridiculous”, Benson-Pope replied:
“Well when you’re accused of being a vicious bully and beating children with a cane until they bleed, I challenge you to actually react calmly.”
“Did you ever beat a child with a cane until they bled?”
“Not that I’m aware, but how would I know? What I will say is that I did use corporal punishment for a short time. I found it distasteful, actually, as one of the fellow teacher witnesses comments on the police file.”
But Benson-Pope is not telling the whole story. The police file published in Investigate, and which was the basis of the “nonsense” and “ridiculous” retort, discloses students were left bleeding.
One student told police that when Benson-Pope delivered canings in the corridor outside the classroom, he did so with apparent relish:
“Mr Benson-Pope would whistle the cane in the air before taking a run up of about 10 feet. I’m estimating the distance but you could actually hear him running up. It was pretty psychologically damning, standing there bent over listening to the run-up. I’m pretty sure it was a run-up for each of the three canes on that occasion. As a result I suffered severe bruising but no bleeding. Obviously very painful to sit for the next few days.”
A second boy remembers refusing to jump the vault at PE in the third form because he didn’t feel confident. He told police his punishment from Benson-Pope was the cane. He was one of two boys given the cane for non-compliance at PE that day.
“I had to wait outside the school hall while Tony [the other offender] was dealt with first. I could hear screaming and yelling. I still remember it well today because [Tony] was such a tiny boy.”
A former teacher confirmed the incident to police. “It’s a lasting impression because it’s the only caning I’ve witnessed. I remember Tony ran a lap of the assembly hall yelling in pain after the caning.”
“When it was my turn,” continues the former student who’d refused to jump the vault, “I was brought into the hall. I was bent over and caned once over my trousers by Benson-Pope. I pleaded not to be caned again but was struck once more with the cane.
“I remember Benson-Pope laughing while he caned me, and that’s what got me the most. When I got home I realized I had blood on my bum.”
So when Benson-Pope accused Investigate of publishing ridiculous nonsense, he omitted to tell Close Up that the allegations actually came from within the official police file.
“Are you a bully?,” Mark Sainsbury asked Benson-Pope on TV.
“I don’t believe so.”
“Are you a liar?”
The responses to those first two questions from Sainsbury were instantaneous. But the next question appeared to give Benson-Pope something to think about, and if you study his response carefully you’ll see he actually did not answer the question directly.
“Are you a pervert?”
(four seconds of silence, so questioner moves to fill the pregnant pause)
“Because that’s what they’re accusing you of in this building?”
“I know, and that’s why I said to you earlier that it’s one of the most despicable things I think I’ve ever had to face and one of the things that my colleagues have said – was they felt like having a shower afterwards, because of the filth that was thrown at me in the chamber yesterday. And I don’t think anyone in this country, MP or not, should have to put up with that despicable mudslinging.”
The “pervert” allegation raised in parliament was based on accounts in the police file, such as one where a girl described Benson-Pope as “sleazy”:
“Quite sleazy, some of the comments he made used to grate me. The girls, including me, felt that he was always staring at our legs beneath desks…with the girls he was always sleazy if he could be, he seemed to thrive on it.”
Remember, that’s a witness interviewed by police, not by Investigate. The “pervert” label was further enhanced – again by witnesses spoken to by police – when girls told of being made to strip down to panties and nighties and forced to stand outside in the cold night air for an hour while Benson-Pope spotlighted them with a torch.
“I remember he told us that we had to take any surplus clothing off, eg, jerseys and trackpants. It was just our nighties and no footwear,” one girl said in her police statement. The police files show both girls and boys were punished this way, finding it “humiliating” and in some cases painful – having to stand absolutely still for an hour in the same spot.
“We had to stand on the concrete, outside the long dorms. There were a few girls involved, over a dozen. I remember [one girl] being there as she told Benson-Pope she couldn’t do it for health reasons – that night her ankles swelled up really badly as a result. I remember later a lot of the girls tried to comfort her.
“I remember the incident so clearly because it was freezing cold, I believe it was winter. We were out there for about an hour.
“Benson-Pope just stood there, watching. If anyone spoke he threatened we would have to stand out there longer. I imagine I was feeling pretty self-conscious standing there in just a nightie,” the girl told police.
But it was after Investigate published the police files in our March 06 issue that the cat really landed among the pigeons. The incidents just detailed occurred on the 1982 school camp, but this time stories emerged of Benson-Pope overstepping the mark on a 1997 school camp, bursting in on the girls’ shower block.
“Certainly I opened the door and shouted, or banged on the door, and shouted at students who were spending more time in there than they should have, to get out,” the minister admitted to Close Up.
“Did you go into the girls dormitories?”
“Only under appropriate circumstances. The routine had previously been that [I] would get up, make tea for the staff, deliver that, wake up the four dorms by going in, turning on the lights and opening the doors saying ‘Time for the run, out you go’…it was just because of the concerns that came out of whatever questions were raised there that we strengthened up the policies and said male staff would not do any wake-ups in the girls dorms. Can I say Mark, we’re talking about cold environment, people in sleeping bags.”
But contrast David Benson-Pope’s explanation of the dorm incident with what the girls actually told Investigate. It wasn’t a wake-up call where girls were safe in their sleeping bags, it was during the day, after an afternoon mud-run.
“He knew we were in there. It was straight after the mud run [Investigate’s emphasis], 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 [Investigate’s emphasis] 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. He’s an a**hole. 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.”
According to Bayfield High, which admitted receiving a complaint from a different family after media pressure was applied, the policies were changed so that there would be no repeat of the 1997 dormitory incidents.
But Investigate found a girl on the 1998 camp who confirmed the old leopard had not changed his spots, despite the new policy.
“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.”
These, then, were the incidents that prompted Rodney Hide to call Benson-Pope a bully, a liar and a pervert, and because of the public and media backlash, much of it overlooking the mountain of evidence in the police files, the wind turned and David Benson-Pope survived what was getting close to a political execution.
Little did anyone know, as parliament and the media stepped back from the brink back in March, that both Rodney Hide and Judith Collins had been far closer to the truth with the “pervert” label than anyone realized, because David Benson-Pope, the Minister for CYFS and Social Development, has a secret life, one well and truly worthy of a nervous twitch.
What you are about to read is R18 rated, because it has to be. It is impossible for readers to understand the mind of David Benson-Pope and whether he is fit to be Minister of Social Development if we shield you from all of the specific detail that follows. Additionally, the Labour Government will again challenge Investigate to “put up or shut up”, as the Prime Minister has done before, so this time we’re releasing enough information to prove the allegations beyond reasonable doubt. There is other information that we hold which may become relevant if Benson-Pope chooses to make it so.
When Dunedin private investigator Wayne Idour went public back in October with revelations that he’d been investigating the Labour government, it caused a shockwave in the Beehive. What no one, possibly not even Idour, realized was that it also caused shockwaves in Dunedin. Questioned on TV3’s Campbell Live, Idour at one point had admitted that he was looking into the activities of David Benson-Pope, and hinted that there might be more to come. Not only – according to observers at parliament – did Benson-Pope look stressed, but hundreds of kilometers away in Dunedin members of a BDSM (bondage, discipline, sado-masochism) group known as “Southern Kinx” suddenly froze like possums in the headlights.
“All of a sudden,” Roxanne*, one member of the group, told Investigate, “I don’t know what has gone on…but all of a sudden the Southern Kinx group – most of its official members have taken a big step back. Officially there are now only seven members. But it’s not for reasons of people dropping out because at the last ‘play party’ [a BDSM orgy] there were still 25, 30 people.”
What’s the connection between a private eye checking out Benson-Pope, and a BDSM group? Benson-Pope is part of Dunedin’s BDSM scene.
Sado-masochistic sexual torture has, surprisingly, taken off in recent years as society’s tolerance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sex has grown. In fact, if you search the websites [insert here] you will find it is common for sado-masochists to actively advertise online for group sex with gay men and transsexuals. The BDSM community calls itself “GLBT friendly”. If there is an intersection between heterosexuals and the queer community, BDSM is it. Gay Labour MPs Tim Barnett and Chris Carter sometimes attend BDSM functions in Christchurch and Auckland respectively, but until Investigate received a tip off earlier this year no-one knew that Benson-Pope was even more involved than either of his gay colleagues.
The tip initially came to Investigate from a moderately well-known Dunedin identity who’d been surprised to hear a friend laugh at an intimate dinner party when she saw Benson-Pope on a TV interview talking about one of his portfolios and behaviour issues. The tipster alerted Investigate about what Roxanne had then disclosed, and the magazine in turn finally made contact with Roxanne a few days later, explaining that the magazine had been given whispers of this earlier in the year and – like it or not – we were now officially on the case. We explained that we were not seeking to blow the BDSM community wide open – we were merely trying to establish the level of David Benson-Pope’s involvement. We were mindful of the ethical guidelines on prying into the private lives of ordinary people caught up in public events (see sidebar on Ethics), and told Roxanne that we would only publish what was necessary subject to getting corroboration.
“As in all groups of people,” Roxanne replied by email, “whatever the walk of life, there are those that allow an equilibrium to be maintained and those that cause disruption. Was around at mutual friends of [name deleted] and myself the other night when darling DBP showed up on TV. I, very unthinking, made a comment, joking about how I had seen him in a very different way than most. Which started what felt like, ‘question time’!
“The upshot of it is that I am now emailing you and letting you know that there is a lot more to this than most know, and a lot of personal preferences of the aforementioned do go a long way to explaining some of his behaviour both past and present. I have been to the same ‘parties’ as he has, and have sessioned with him and his Owner on many occasions. I have neither a positive nor negative view of him, but do not agree with his behaviour outside of these times. I do not wish to see the community that I know and love being brought down by one’s bad behaviour.”
In a second email, Roxanne explained she’d met Benson-Pope in the mid 90’s, while he was still teaching at Bayfield High.
“I met him through his Owner, who was an active member of the local group. Not being the public figure he is now, he was just ‘slave’, although was addressed as ‘My slave david” by his Owner.”
If you’re wondering about the capitalization of “Owner”, it is a signature trademark of the BDSM community: in emails and letters, “Dominants” are referred to with capitals in recognition of their power, while “submissives” use lower case letters for their names and personal pronouns. Investigate has included the example above purely to demonstrate the point, but from here on we’ll be using standard English grammar for personal names and the word “I”, to avoid confusing our proofreaders.
In her early 30s, with her short, mousy hair and blue eyes, Roxanne could be anyone walking down a street in Dunedin. Her husband doesn’t know about her involvement in BDSM, but as he travels a lot the issue doesn’t come up. Like many in the “community”, Roxanne is linked to a Master, or Owner, and has personally witnessed David Benson-Pope on several occasions.
“He was always more on the sub/slave side as opposed to pure submissive. Trying to use a vanilla (straight) way of explaining things is hard. It just means that his is a very serving play. Very much into puppy play, and age play, corner time, and his biggest seemed to be humiliation.”
He is also a cross-dresser, says Roxanne, but only when instructed to by his owner, “Mistress Princess”, during humiliation sessions.
“As part of his humiliation fetish he is called ‘panty-slut-boy’…when it’s humiliation time it’s normally beautiful lacy underwear.”
“In David Benson-Pope’s size?”
“Absolutely!” she confirms.
It was the “age play” that intrigued us, however.
“Age play is – that’s why I struggled when I got your email because some of the things you wrote about his school years, I just found myself quite stunned, because they’re actually his fetishes where he’s crossed the line!
“Age play is where the Dominant assumes the role of the parent and the submissive of the child, and it turns into simple things like corner time, humiliation and dressing up as a little child. Age play is more that he’s ‘a naughty little schoolboy!’, and she’s the ‘Schoolmistress’. He sits at a desk. His owner has a dungeon set up in one of her biggest rooms and she has a school desk set up there…
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