New Zealand’s opposition National party is standing by its newest MP, Sam Uffindell, after revelations he was asked to leave from a prestigious high school more than two decades ago for viciously beating a younger student.
Uffindell, 38, was elected to parliament in a June byelection for the safe seat of Tauranga.
On Monday, NZ news outlet Stuff reported that in 1999, Uffindell – then 16 – beat up a 13-year-old as part of a group attack at Auckland’s Kings College that left the victim bruised and experiencing significant trauma.
After 22 years, Uffindell apologised to his victim last year after a stint overseas, telling Stuff his remorse was unlinked to his political ambitions.
“We had a long conversation and I was grateful that he accepted my apology. My apology was genuine then, and it is genuine now,” he said in a statement.
The victim told Stuff he accepted the apology at the time but was rocked to see Uffindell stand for politics months later.
“I sat down to watch the news on the couch with a beer and there he was, running for parliament. I felt sick,” the victim said, speaking anonymously.
The former Rabobank executive denied a suggestion from the victim that he beat him with wooden bed legs, saying he had “no recollection of using anything other than my fists”.
“I went over to the person and punched them several times in the arm and the body and they were hurt,” he said. “It was the last day of the year and we were just being silly and playing up … we got carried away and we did what we did.
“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.”
On Tuesday morning, Uffindell told media that he had apologised to other people for his behaviour at school.
“I’m not proud at all,” he said. “I was effectively a bully. I was a mean person. There will be other people at high school that I have hurt.”
Uffindell said he informed the party of the incident during the preselection process, though neither made the assault public.
National party leader Chris Luxon said on Tuesday morning that he was standing by Uffindell.
The New Zealand Herald reported that Luxon said that while Uffindell had told the party of the incident, he did not know of it until Monday. “He has my backing and he has my support but clearly he needs to build back trust with the voters of Tauranga,” Luxon said.
Appearing on the AM show on Tuesday morning, Uffindell confirmed he didn’t think Luxon had been aware of the attack before Monday’s revelations.
Uffindell also told the program that he would apologise again to the victim, and that he took full responsibility for his actions. “I am not running from this at all, I take full accountability for what happened,” Luxon said. “I own it. I was 16 years old, I am not a perfect person, I make mistakes a lot of people do but I have learned from them and I am a much better person as a result.”
Asked for her opinion on Monday, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said it was for party leaders to answer for their MPs. “Ultimately, the conduct of candidates or indeed, members of parliament, will be for the party’s leader and in this case, Christopher Luxon,” she said.
Ardern was asked if she experienced bullying during her younger years. “There’s no question some of our young people in school have a horrific experience,” she said.
“I think everyone through the education system will have either witnessed or potentially experienced [bullying] themselves.
“We know actually there are some, particularly our rainbow community, who have a particularly difficult experience in their younger years.
“As political leaders, we have I think a duty of care … to do everything we can to make sure that our education system is better than it was.”