Knighthood — jump or be pushed, Brierley told
Ardern was ready to advise Queen to cancel business giant’s honour
Shamed business titan Ron Brierley was told he could jump instead of being pushed when it came to losing his knighthood, documents released under the Official Information Act have revealed.
And he did just that, with an email on May 3 in which he said: “I wish to advise that I resign my appointment as a Knight Bachelor. It has been a tremendous privilege to hold a New Zealand Royal Honour.
“However, I do not want to bring the system into disrepute by actions that I have acknowledged and to which I have entered pleas of guilty in an Australian Court.”
The action to which Brierley referred was his possession of child sexual abuse material, found by Australian Border Force officials in December 2019 as he prepared to board a flight from Sydney to Fiji.
On March 31 this year he pleaded guilty to three charges of possessing child sex abuse material, included tens of thousands of images of girls in swimwear and underwear in sexually suggestive poses.
Brierley also pleaded guilty to possessing a single more intrusive image and having graphic stories that detailed illegal sexual acts on minors.
That guilty plea set in train events leading to Brierley resigning from the knighthood awarded in 1988 for services to business and philanthropy.
Immediately after the conviction, the Prime Minister’s office said Jacinda Ardern had asked officials to begin the formal process that could lead to Brierley losing his knighthood.
Documents show Ardern was briefed on how that would happen on April 1, with advice that a “bright line” test for forfeiture was three months or more in prison. The charges to which Brierley had pleaded guilty carried a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Ardern was told the process was led by her as Prime Minister in a reversal of the process in which royal honours were granted. Ardern would have to advise the Queen “to cancel the appointment of a person to an honour where an individual’s actions are such that, if they continue to hold that honour, the honours system would be brought into disrepute”.
Ardern gave officials the formal go ahead, and in a letter on April 6, Brierley was told by Michael Webster, clerk of the Executive Council, the highest formal instrument of government, the PM was considering asking the Queen to cancel his appointment as a knight. Brierley was told he had 30 days to make a submission. Webster told him he could resign and return his insignia.
“Your name would be removed from the Honours lists. You could no longer use the title ‘Sir’.”
Brierley responded 28 days later: “My wish at the present time in respect of the Honour bestowed upon me is to minimise the impact on the Honours system by this resignation. I therefore ask that Her Majesty the Queen be informed of my resignation.” Within 14 hours Webster accepted the resignation. But there was a hitch in the return of the insignia — it had been stolen.
“The replacement is locked up in London,” Brierley said. “I will return it asap but likely to be some time.”
Almost two weeks later, the Queen accepted the resignation and annulled his knighthood. The knighthood’s removal was an unusual event, Ardern was told: “There have not
Your name would be removed . . . You could no longer use the title ‘Sir’.
Michael Webster, clerk of the Executive Council
been many cases of honours being cancelled in New Zealand.”
Among those few was Hugh Hamilton, former mayor of the Central Hawke’s Bay District, who surrendered his New Zealand Order of Merit, granted in 1997 for services to local body and community affairs. Hamilton was jailed for four years and nine months on charges of theft by a person in a special relationship.
Dr Morgan Fahey lost his Order of the British Empire in 2000 after imprisonment for rape and sexual assault, traffic officer David Seath lost his Queen’s Service Medal in 1987 after falsely endorsing summons notices for traffic prosecutions; and the 1980 knighthood of Cook Islands premier Sir Albert Henry was forfeited after fraud convictions.
Brierley will be sentenced in Sydney’s Downing St Local Court on August 20.