When Jami-Lee Ross was referred to a psychiatrist in September 2018 before being exposed as the then National Party leader’s spending whistleblower and going to the police over political donations, he was in a major life crisis, a court heard.
Psychiatrist Dr Hugh Clarkson was giving evidence for Ross at the High Court trial, which focuses on donations to the National and Labor parties.
He told the court about Ross’ spiraling mental health and how the former MP was ‘bewildered, desperate’ and wanted ‘revenge’.
The Crown’s thesis is that fake donors were used and promoted by men inside both sides to disguise the real donor, businessman Yikun Zhang, who then received a royal honor.
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Ross, a former national deputy, and three businessmen – Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng – have all denied the National Party donation charges.
Zhang and the two Zheng brothers are also facing charges alongside two men and a woman, whose names have been temporarily suppressed, in connection with donations made to the Labor Party in 2017.
The trial in the Auckland High Court before Judge Ian Gault is now at the end of its fifth week.
On Friday, Dr Clarkson told the court that Ross was returned to him in early September 2018.
“He was in a major life crisis and had a series of emotional and psychiatric symptoms.”
Clarkson told the court that there was a combination of circumstances and that Ross expected to be exposed and anticipated major consequences.
“He felt both guilty for his own role and felt victimized and not at all sure he could survive the situation he was in,” Clarkson said.
The psychiatrist said Ross was worried about killing himself.
“He foresaw that there would be a battle between him and Mr. Bridges and that it would go badly for him,” Clarkson said.
Ross was also worried about his marriage and his children and felt like a failure.
“He saw very few ways to escape the worst consequences.”
Clarkson told the court that Ross was unable to think in a clear, level-headed way.
“He was trying to fight feelings at the time that he didn’t know how to deal with.”
Clarkson diagnosed Ross with severe adjustment disorder.
On September 27, when asked by Bridges to accept a demotion, Clarkson saw Ross who was “bewildered and desperate.”
Ross was determined to get revenge and prevent the demotion, Clarkson said.
MP Jami-Lee Ross explains why he went after National Chief Simon Bridges on Monday. (First published October 2018)
In the weeks leading up to Ross’ explosive statements on October 16 and 17 to police and the media accusing Bridges, Clarkson said his mental state was worsening.
Ross shouldn’t have made big decisions, Clarkson said.
Towards the end of October, Clarkson was extremely concerned about Ross and he contacted the police.
Later that night, Ross was found in the Waikato before being hospitalized under the Mental Health Act.
Under cross-examination by Crown Attorney Paul Wicks, QC, the psychiatrist said Ross would seem calm and rational most of the time, but there were small signs of anxiety.
Clarkson said adjustment disorder had no effect on the ability to tell the truth.
However, the veracity or consequences of actions are of much lower value to someone with strong emotions, Clarkson said.
Ross told another psychiatrist, Dr Ian Goodwin, that he had had suicidal thoughts from an early age and that it was a way out of difficult or distressing circumstances.
The breakdown of her extramarital relationship, the breakdown of the relationship with Bridges, and the impact both of these would have on her personal and professional life contributed to her feelings.
Goodwin said Ross’ statements to police and the media in October 2018 were heavily influenced by his underlying mental health issues and his belief at the time that he would commit suicide following the revelations.
In June of this year, Ross told Goodwin he still had thoughts of suicide, but what stopped him were his two children.
The trial before Judge Gault continues.
Where to get help
- 1737, Need to talk? Call for free or text 1737 to speak to a qualified adviser.
- Mental Health Foundation 09 623 4812, click here to access its free resource and information service.
- thelowdown.co.nz Web chat, email chat or free text 5626
- If it is an emergency, Click here to find the number of your local crisis assessment team.
- In case of life danger, call 111.