Friday, August 05, 2005

Helen Clark: Safe at any speed?

The Speeding Prime Minister case has now ended its first week with the defence starting to present its evidence. Testimony from David Lewis, Helen Clark's press secretary, and Inspector Gaskin, the police area commander, has revealed that when the decision to drive from Waimate to Christchurch was made, speeding was not discussed nor did Helen order any speeding.

However once Helen saw how fast the convoy was going, didn't she have an obligation to tell her convoy to slow down? Helen has two possible defences. Firstly she claimed shortly after the event that she was engrossed in her paperwork. Secondly Jim Sutton, the Agriculture Minister, has testified for the defence saying that he knew the cars were going fast, just not how fast. So even if Helen wasn't engrossed in her paperwork, she would have been unaware of the dangerously high level of speeds reached.

However the first claim has been contradicted by the driver of Helen's Car in a police interview taken three weeks after the event:
"I could see her, she was seated behind the driver and she was leaning over to her left, more towards the centre of vehicle so she could look ahead," Simon Vincent said in a taped interview.

"She was looking in my direction past her driver...I don't know if she could see the speedo or not...she was definitely looking in my direction and I was looking at her face in the glimpses that I could see," he said.

"She was smiling and appeared to be enjoying the ride is how I would put it.

"Most definitely aware of what was going on in front of her and around her, and I can't recall her being engrossed in any paperwork."
Oops. Legally Helen's still in the clear (due to the testimony of Jim Sutton) but politically she has apparently just been caught telling a lie, which is not good for her electoral campaign.

Given the nature of the trial, there is unlikely to be any direct assaults on Helen Clark's credibility next week. It's not a legal defencee for the drivers to blame Clark while the prosecution has no interest in attacking her. I do get the impression of backroom deals for Jim's testimony looks to me like a pay-off to pacify the defence.

One final point interests me. On Tuesday, the Opposition raised questions about the matter during question time (Question No. 1):
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How could she not know about the speed of the car she was travelling in on the day in question, when the windscreen of her car had to be repaired and replaced, and a front paint job done because of the gravel and stones coming off the car in front of her car, the one she was riding in, and would not that be something she would notice in her busy schedule of reading her documents, at 140 kilometres an hour?
That hasn't been bought up by the prosecution as far as I can tell yet I would have thought it relevant to the question of dangerous driving (which means that the defence are unlikely to bring it up. Neither Helen Clark nor Jim Sutton would dispute the cracked windshield in the House yet it appears to discredit Jim's testimony that he saw nothing dangerous. It's unlikely to be discussed during the trial but it is something that I would expect to be answered after the verdict.