Phillip Barnes' struggle to keep his identity secret is over. Photo: Supplied

The story of the changing room pervert promoted to head of a covid-fighting crown entity while the court system allowed him to keep his identity secret. 

Phillip Barnes has finally been named as the crown entity boss who secretly filmed people in a gym’s changing room. But it was a strikingly similar case involving an investigative journalist that helped lead to his identity being made public.

RNZ’s executive editor of longform journalism, Veronica Schmidt, reveals to The Detail how her investigation into Barnes started when she published her own personal experience of being secretly filmed undressed in a changing room.

Yesterday Barnes was named as the gym spy cam offender who managed to keep his name secret; was then promoted to chief executive of International Accreditation New Zealand without anyone knowing what he’d done; and then used his new position to justify further name suppression.

IANZ has been involved in certifying laboratories testing for Covid-19. 

Schmidt’s story tells how Barnes wanted his name, and that of IANZ, kept secret but a permanent name suppression order was quashed after Police, RNZ and NZME successfully challenged it in the High Court.

Barnes appealed to the Court of Appeal but lost, then went to the Supreme Court, which on Monday declined to hear his appeal, meaning Barnes’ name suppression lapsed yesterday.

Schmidt had come across the story of the then unnamed peeping CEO when she was writing about her own experience.

She explains to The Detail’s Sharon Brettkelly how she had read in the New Zealand Herald about “the high level government manager who had stuck a camera in some gym changing rooms and filmed six people”. At the time he had been discharged without conviction and got permanent name suppression.

“My own case, which was similar, was just about to go to court and it had taken me a year to get there and my heart sank. I just thought what was the point of all this,” says Schmidt.

In August 2019 she had been trying on bras and other clothes in a Kmart changing room when she looked down and saw a smartphone had been poked under her cubicle from the adjacent one.

Veronica Schmidt talks to The Detail today. Photo: RNZ/Claire Eastham-Farrelly/Vinay Ranchhod

A year later, Schmidt’s essay of her experience was published on RNZ, detailing what happened from the moment she discovered she was being filmed, through to the justice process. The man, Walid Soliman, was found guilty in the Auckland District Court, he appealed his conviction at the High Court, then withdrew. But there’s a chance he may seek leave to appeal again.

Schmidt says she found it difficult to write and publish her story – “it was like letting people crawl inside my brain, almost”.

“I had seen how long the justice system takes, and I thought I understood victim-blaming and then when I was inside it I realised that you can’t quite understand the experience from a news story.

“I hoped that people would be able to understand it when they read that piece.” 

The response was overwhelming but it was her mention of the Barnes case in her story that led to a tip-off about him.

Schmidt learnt of his identity at the same time that the police were appealing his discharge without conviction and permanent name suppression.

Once she found out who he was and where he worked, Schmidt started investigating.

“I wanted to know as a Crown entity (employee) how did he keep his job, get promoted and who knew what and when and how did they deal with it.”

Schmidt tells The Detail about her painstaking work over several months and how she was able to finally reveal his identity and his background.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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