Tauranga MP recalls 'using only his fists' in high school incident

By Whatitiri Te Wake

New National Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell has responded to reports about an incident that happened when he was a student at the prestigious King's College in Auckland.

“When I was in fifth form (year 11), some other students in my year and I went into another dorm at the boarding house at the end of term and I punched a younger student in the arm and body multiple times. We were subsequently asked to leave the school,” he said.

He adds that he reflected on the incident many times over the 20 years since it occurred and has no recollection of using anything other than his fists.

A National spokesperson tonight released a statement saying the party was proactively informed about the incident by Uffindell in the selection process.

 “It was a significant event reflecting a serious error of judgment by a then 16-year-old for which he has apologised and regrets to this day,” the statement said.

In his maiden speech, Uffindell described Tauranga as a region "beset by gang issues and a growing culture of lawlessness and a lack of accountability.

“Ultimately, though, the state must hold people accountable,” he said.

Terrible timing

This controversy comes just after the National Party hosted a successful conference in Christchurch at the weekend and the results of a 1news/Kantar poll out tonight revealed National and Act had the numbers to form the next government.

It has been reported that Uffindell apologised to the victim 22 years after the incident and nine months before made public his intentions to become a politician.

“After I came back to New Zealand I called the person and apologised for the harm I’d caused. We had a long conversation and I was grateful that he accepted my apology. My apology was genuine then, and it is genuine now.

“Nevertheless, it’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done and something I deeply regret. I’ve worked hard to be a better person than I was as a teenager and to be a good role model to my children.”

Tricky situation

Senior political lecturer Dr Lara Greaves (Ngāpuhi) says that while everyone would have an opinion about how Uffindel and the National Party should have dealt with the situation, "we've seen MPs resign over something from their past coming to light".

"Uffindel has been forthcoming about events and it is hard to see what the ideal way to deal with this situation is. The National Party and other political parties do have to balance the need to make sure someone is of reputable character with the idea that past mistakes should not prevent someone from serving their country as an MP," she said.