Over the past year, Newsroom investigations editor Melanie Reid has been looking into the background and behaviour of former National MP Jami-Lee Ross. She has talked to a number of people who have given detailed accounts, recordings and documents of their close working and personal relationships with the controversial politician.
Some felt manipulated and intimidated by the way he goes about his politics and his social interactions. Others felt pressured not to speak out.
Today Newsroom presents, on the condition of anonymity, the stories of four women and the relationships which they now believe saw them variously groomed, used for access to information and power, and abused.
Each saw the MP speak out on Tuesday denying his leaders’ allegations of “harassment”, saying he was raised to respect all women.
Yesterday Ross, who is married with children, told journalists he was happy with how he had conducted his personal life and warned against anyone in politics trying to “lift the bedsheets”.
However, each of the women interviewed below wanted to speak out, now, to set the record straight.
Profile of a narcissist
A woman who moved in the same political circles as Ross says he targeted her for a relationship which evolved into controlling behaviour, “incoherent rages” and “brutal sex”.
The woman, who described herself as the ‘primary supply’ for Ross’ narcissistic tendencies, says she was manipulated during a time of personal vulnerability.
A close friendship developed into an affair after consistent and repeated pressure. She described it as “her biggest mistake”.
“I didn’t understand the true devastation that someone like him could cause.
“In hindsight, I could say ‘Oh my God, I was targeted in a systematic and calculated way’.”
He had described his own marriage as being “on the rocks” and insisted no one would know.
“I never found him an attractive guy, but I was getting compliments, roses, jewellery … I was like ‘Who is this romantic?” Then before I knew it, I was entrapped.
“Initially it was euphoric but I knew it was wrong.”
Once underway, the early stages of the relationship were intoxicating, with Ross making clear their alliance could be beneficial for both careers.
“It was like a fairy tale. I’d found this person, this soulmate, who provided meaningful advice … he always knew what to do. Looking back, it was nothing but a game.”
Cracks began to show when Ross started to interrogate her about where she had been and with whom, becoming angry when she failed to include every detail of her day.
“He would fly into jealous rages, arguing endlessly. That’s when the abusive part of the relationship started to outweigh the love-bombing. I would think, ‘Why can’t I get this right? Why can’t I communicate in a way that pleases him?’”
That’s when the sex became “what you’d describe as brutal and misogynistic”.
She got to a point where she was “barely functioning”.
Asked why she did not leave such a toxic environment, she said: “There were multiple times I tried to leave only to be hoovered back in through fear. The fear of him ruining my reputation, but mainly the fear of the unknown.
“I was physically and emotionally exhausted and had no fight left in me. The domination became more extreme.”
The woman made several attempts to leave, but was brought back each time Ross threatened to destroy her career or promised to be better. It became “a living hell”.
“It was very clear to me his political motivation was a lust for power and control.”
She saw her opportunity to get out after noticing him seeking ‘supplies’ in other women.
“Once you realise what narcissists are, they actually become very predictable and formulaic.
“They work on your vulnerabilities and mirror what you need and make themselves indispensable. But they aren’t real people – they are hollow.
“When I left, I saw him for what he was and only then could I fully protect myself. That was when a wave of people started coming to me to say ‘Me too’.”
Playing the long game
Another woman says she “absolutely regrets” having an affair with Ross and now believes he manipulated her for information about key National Party figures.
What started as a work friendship at Parliament became sexual after Ross initiated back-and-forth messaging – often late into the night.
The woman told Newsroom that while the encounters were consensual, she felt Ross had “100 percent groomed her” in order to seek information about National Party members she had access to.
She had initially developed a real trust and friendship with the then-National MP, who had shown her a lot of attention and began confiding in her.
“I felt I kind of trusted him and I became comfortable talking to him about all kinds of things.
“While I knew it was unusual for an MP to be texting me for hours and into the night, I was flattered by the attention.”
They first slept together at a National Party event.
She knew Ross was married, but because he had stopped wearing his wedding ring there was some confusion about where “things were at” between them.
She certainly had feelings for him but “felt used” when it became clear to her their relationship was a way for him to “dig dirt”.
“It’s a mind fuck .. and it was easy to be swept away. I was sucked in and swept sideways despite my better judgment.
“It’s not like he’s drop-dead gorgeous and has a hot body or anything.”
During this time Ross had suggested she sleep with other men in the workplace – including MPs who were married – and made many other inappropriate comments.
“He said things like ‘You’re going to go out tonight and pull’.”
The woman said her reaction to Ross’ claim he respected “all women” was to “laugh out loud”.
Threats and harassment
A National Party member who says she was on the receiving end of Ross’ abuse, says she was “completely floored” by his claim he had never harassed a woman.
“I watched as Jami-Lee Ross looked reporters in the eye and told the nation that he, ‘to the best of his knowledge, had never harassed a woman’.
“He was calm. He was collected. He was every bit the master of deception.”
He went on to say that “he was raised by his grandmother to respect women”.
“Well, during the past two years, I can assure the public that my dealings with Jami-Lee Ross have never left me more harassed and disrespected as a woman in my whole life.”
The woman says she had been involved closely with Ross in political circles for a number of years and were at one time good friends.
That changed when a “difference of opinion” led to the two not seeing eye-to-eye.
When the woman made clear she “wouldn’t be blackmailed with his threats”, the harassment started.
“He said he would go to war with me and my family and told me ‘You are throwing away your career.’
“It was relentless and ongoing. Verbal threats. Intimidation. Lies, rumours to discredit me both personally and professionally. Manipulation of other party members to publicly embarrass me, statements to both myself and my friends which implied physical threats to myself and my family.”
The list went on.
As a National Party member and supporter, she stayed quiet over the years out of respect for the party. “I did raise my concerns with members of the leadership team of National. At the time, those people did what they felt they could to address the situation by discussing Jami-Lee’s behaviour with him.
“Unfortunately Jami-Lee is a very manipulative individual and he had plenty of ways to continue to intimidate and undermine me without it being particularly obvious to the National Party leadership. I do consider myself to be a strong person, and so I chose to rise above his behaviour and do my best to move on from it.
“But after watching his press conference and his deception to the nation, and his promise to continue to deceive the Botany community by fighting to continue to represent them in Parliament by standing in a by-election which he himself has caused, I can no longer stand aside and allow his behaviour to go unchecked.
“I am a woman. And over the past two years I have been left to feel absolutely intimidated, threatened and abused by this man.”
She says she finds it “absolutely appalling” that he is now claiming mental health.
And to his claim he, himself, was appalled by his leaders’ apparent lack of empathy?
“Well… in the words of Jami-Lee himself… ‘I’m calling BS on that’.
“This man is a narcissist. He absolutely turns on people when he doesn’t get his own way. He is a master manipulator and a deceitful liar who has no problem looking somebody in the eye and outright lying.
“This behaviour seems to come naturally to him. I have said it several times before – he does not deserve to be in Parliament. The Botany electorate deserves so much better.”
A pattern of behaviour
A woman who worked in close quarters with Ross says he “nearly destroyed” her.
“Not only was he rude and arrogant, he falsely accused me of things I didn’t do. He really didn’t treat me fairly.”
The woman had a history of many years in Parliament, and says she has never experienced anything like it “before or since”.
Ross continually undermined her and her work.
“He was setting me up and I knew I hadn’t done the things he said I had.”
The woman said Ross would retrieve things she had discarded out of the rubbish bin to confront her, and would give her the silent treatment for days for no reason.
Asked why she felt she could speak out now, she told Newsroom: “I’ve got nothing to lose.
“I lost my self-esteem … I lost everything.”
“I could have easily had a personal grievance case but I chose not to expose myself and the National Party for whom I had great respect.”
The stress and anxiety became so bad she had to seek medical help.
“I didn’t even feel like I could enter the building afterwards … he destroyed me as a person.
“It makes me shake, just thinking of him.”
Ross happy with personal conduct
Last night, Newsroom contacted Ross to ask for his response to the women’s allegations.
He would not speak on the phone, asking for communication to be via text message, and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
But at an earlier press conference, when asked if he had a moral compass, he replied:
“Well I’m the one here in front of a police station who’s just spoken to three senior sergeants about my concerns around the Electoral Act being broken, so I’m comfortable with my moral judgement to now come forward to the police.”
Asked about allegations of an affair, he answered:
“I’ve said that I’m comfortable with all of my conduct, I’m comfortable that I am somebody who is standing up and doing the right thing.
“I know that there’s smears about me at the moment: what I think has always been something in New Zealand politics that we leave personal lives and family out of this.
“I’m comfortable with what I have with my wife – if the way in which we’re about to play politics, when a political party and the leader is under pressure, if they want to start lifting the bedsheets on everyone that works in that building, you guys and MPs, then I think there’ll be a lot of people concerned – even those that are throwing allegations now.”