How a pervert became CEO of a crown entity
How could Phillip Barnes, a man who planted a camera in a gym changing room, be promoted to chief executive of a Crown entity?
The police who turned up at International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) wore plain clothes. They discreetly presented the warrant, asked for USB sticks and entered the general manager's office. But it's hard to fly under the radar in a country as small as New Zealand. An IANZ staff member recognised one of the men ferreting through Phillip Barnes' stuff as a cop, and soon a story was doing the rounds at the Crown entity's Auckland headquarters.
But it wasn't the truth; Barnes managed to keep that secret until today. The story back then was the truth twisted into insignificance, the real tale scrubbed clean of guilt and perversion. It was the story of how Barnes was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was just at his gym when something unsavoury went down and now police were busy trying to rule out every fitness fan who was there when the incident happened. All of them under suspicion. All of them inconvenienced. Poor Phil.
That version of the story fit with his reputation. Former colleagues describe the bespectacled and clean-shaven Barnes as a nice guy, the type of manager who had an open-door policy, who was happy to listen to his staff when they had problems. He was married, a father, a dedicated career man nearing retirement age.
What IANZ staff didn't know was that Barnes was also a man wrestling with alcohol and porn addictions, and that over two weeks in November 2017 he had repeatedly gone to an Auckland gym and stuck a spy camera under the sink in the unisex changing rooms. He captured six people naked or partially dressed on video before one of his victims spotted the camera.
Barnes' career began in the science lab and grew until he was earning about $200,000. When police made their way through the IANZ carpark toward its mirrored windows and charcoal pillars and left carrying his computer, he must have thought his career was done for. Instead, while his personal life came apart, his work life rolled on.
In fact, it got better. He would go on to be promoted to chief executive.
How did he remain at the Crown entity for more than two-and-a-half years after committing his crime?
On paper, Barnes seemed like a man on top. He lived with his wife in their $1 million home in Browns Bay, where the roads, with their neatly mown berms, gently curve down to a white-sand beach.
At work, he navigated his way through gnarly, news-worthy events - suspending the accreditation of a pathology lab and taking part in the Havelock North water contamination enquiry.
His achievements were impressive, not least because of his background. Born in Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom, he survived a childhood a judge described as "marked with hardship and deprivation". Yet he gained a Master of Science in analytical chemistry and landed increasingly senior hospital jobs before moving to New Zealand in 1999.
He joined IANZ in a middle management role soon after.
The organisation has a snappy way of explaining its kaupapa: "IANZ protects the health and wealth of New Zealand". The longer version is that it gives accreditation to laboratories, inspection bodies, building consent authorities and medical imaging providers, and works with the government to adopt or develop international accreditation standards.
Former IANZ chief executive Llewellyn Richards, who was at the organisation for 24 years, says Barnes was "extremely conscientious and very dedicated and hardworking". He worked himself hard in his downtime too, keeping fit at the gym and running marathons.
In 2006, he left to work at Waitematā District Health Board but returned to IANZ in 2014 as general manager.
But Barnes was dragging the weight of his childhood behind him, court papers say. He felt inadequate, put himself through strict exercise regimes and drank heavily. When he began suffering from erectile dysfunction, his unhappiness deepened and he developed a porn obsession that mushroomed until it filled three to four hours of his day. Then it turned criminal.
On 8 November 2017, Barnes went to the gym with a spy camera; he says he purchased it for his IANZ office because he was worried someone was snooping through his documents, according to court papers. He attached it to a Velcro strip he had stuck under the sink in a changing room and left. A couple went into the changing room. They took off all their clothes and got into a shower together. When the woman stepped out of the shower she made sexual gestures to her partner. Barnes caught it all on a 10-minute video.
Over the next two weeks, Barnes went back to the gym (its name is suppressed) at least three more times. Each time, he planted the camera, retrieved it and went and sat in his car looking at what he had captured.
Then, on 23 November, one of his victims spotted the camera and the gym contacted police.
An investigation eventually uncovered a velcro strip underneath another changing room sink, and when police forensic staff analysed Barnes' camera they found 12 video files and thousands of still images showing six victims. They also found footage of Barnes velcroing his camera in place and slipping back into the changing room to retrieve it after victims left.
What did Barnes' superiors do after police turned up at IANZ and carted away his computer?
Llewellyn Richards, who was chief executive at the time, remembers it like this: "We had received some information from the police, and I had asked Phil what was going on... I had the impression that it was a case of, effectively, wrong person in the wrong place at that particular time, and that there was no case to answer."
He says a few days after taking Barnes' computer, police returned it and that, combined with Barnes' assurances, made him believe there was no issue. "The assumption was that there was nothing."
Court papers say the Accreditation Council, which governs IANZ, was informed police were investigating after a hidden camera was found in a gym changing room. Chair Paul Connell says the chief executive and Council carried out an investigation with Barnes at the time of the police investigation.
"The employee involved maintained that they were not the offender and that the police were merely clearing potential suspects," he told RNZ in an email. "The police provided no indication that an employee had committed an offence."
But speculation swept through the IANZ office. Richards says the organisation addressed it by briefing Barnes' direct reports, telling them their manager had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Barnes stayed on as general manager.
But several former colleagues, who RNZ has agreed not to name, say it was obvious something was going on with Barnes. He lost weight and began behaving differently; he seemed withdrawn and disengaged and would disappear for hours at a time.
"He was a shell of a man," one former colleague says. "He always looked a bit like a mad professor - like he'd slept in his clothes - but he started looking like he'd been through a bush backwards."
Barnes hired Ron Mansfield, a high-profile defence lawyer, who has represented the influential (Kim Dotcom, Lucy Lawless) and infamous (Grace Millane's murderer; toddler Moko Rangitoheriri's killer).
In February 2018, police charged Barnes. In June that year he pleaded guilty to making an intimate visual recording and secured name suppression.
He saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with moderate depression and anxiety, and he began working with a psychotherapist who had a practice near IANZ.
His case crawled through the courts. Months, then years passed while Barnes continued collecting his IANZ salary.
But by the end of 2019 he must have feared he couldn't keep his crime and career separate much longer. He had applied for a discharge without conviction and permanent name suppression, but didn't know if things would go his way at his March 2020 sentencing.
Barnes told his boss he would retire in March as he "had decided to pursue his hobby of woodworking, carpentry and fixing stuff," Richards says.
Court documents show he gave the judge a different story: Barnes said he had decided to retire to spare IANZ any adverse publicity.
Either way, he didn't retire. As Covid-19 hit New Zealand in early 2020, Richards went on leave and Barnes deferred his retirement and stepped in as acting chief executive. Soon afterwards, Richards resigned and the Accreditation Council offered Barnes the chief executive position, which came with a salary increase from $200,000 to $250,000. It came with ultimate responsibility for 52 staff and an annual revenue of almost $9 million.
The chief executive contract said Barnes had to comply with the Standards of Integrity and Conduct of the State Services, among them to act lawfully, honestly and to avoid any activities which may harm the reputation of the organisation. His contract also said he could be fired for serious misconduct, including "any offence for which the offender may be proceeded against by way of indictment". Barnes, about to appear before a judge for sentencing, said nothing of his crime and signed the contract.
His March sentencing was postponed but on the first day of the Level 4 lockdown his lawyer filed material to the court pushing for a further name suppression order on the basis that his client was now the acting chief executive of IANZ. The papers argued IANZ had an important role to play in Covid-19 testing and that the integrity of the organisation must be maintained.
Name suppression was granted.
Where did Barnes tell his colleagues he would be on Tuesday, 2 June, 2020? The Accreditation Council certainly didn't know he would be appearing in the North Shore District Court. Any suspicion of Barnes must have faded into the past - it had been about two and a half years since the plain-clothed police had shown up at the IANZ office and left with his computer.
In the boxy Albany courthouse that day, Barnes' lawyer asked the judge to consider his client's marriage, his ability to pay the mortgage and how locals would react in the "tight-knit community" of Browns Bay. He also asked her to think of the damage a criminal record and publicity would have on Barnes' career, as well as on IANZ and its important role in the Covid-19 pandemic response.
If Barnes was to leave IANZ because his crime was publicised, the organisation would be left without experienced governance and it would have severe consequences for the country, he argued.
That day, the Accreditation Council had no idea that decisions about what was best for IANZ's reputation and governance were being considered across the harbour, just 25km away from IANZ's offices.
Nonetheless, Barnes got what he wanted: a discharge without conviction and permanent name suppression.
The woman who found the camera - and had been nervously scanning for cameras in every public bathroom she had entered since - was horrified. She told the New Zealand Herald: "I can't help but be disgusted by our justice system that has blatantly said to me that if you're a wealthy, rich white guy - you can get away with anything."
But Barnes didn't get away with it. The Herald story caught the attention of the Accreditation Council's chair, Paul Connell. The article didn't name Barnes but it described a camera being stuck in a gym changing room by a "high-level government manager".
Barnes went on leave as Connell joined the dots. Connell emailed Barnes and raised the story. Barnes replied, "I have no interest in making any comment in relation to the article in The Herald to which you have referred - it is not relevant to me or IANZ."
In another email exchange between the two, Barnes stormed, "I am deeply disappointed in the lack of faith of some of my colleagues".
But things only got worse for Barnes. On 17 July, police confirmed they were appealing both Barnes' discharge without conviction and his permanent name suppression. That day - two years and eight months after his offending - Barnes finally resigned from IANZ. He said he was leaving because "recent stress" had exacerbated a health problem, but offered to work out his three-month notice period.
Emails flew. One from Connell to Barnes (which RNZ obtained via the Official Information Act) told him he didn't need to serve his notice and should "disengage from IANZ". Connell also said they should arrange a time for Barnes to collect his personal effects. "We would prefer after hours," he wrote.
IANZ Chief Financial Officer Fiona Paulin sent an all-staff email. "I have been advised by Accreditation Council Chair Paul Connell that Phil's health has deteriorated since the beginning of Covid to the point that his health would be best served if he did not continue as chief executive. Accordingly Paul has accepted Phil's resignation on Friday."
Meanwhile, "no surprises" emails circulated in Wellington. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) was told of Barnes' resignation. The Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Kris Faafoi's office was too.
These emails, also obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act, are sparse and polite and cite health problems as the reason for Barnes' departure. But the messages hint the minister and ministry were given further details - there are references to "verbal briefings", discussions with lawyers and one, from MBIE to Faafoi's office, says: "We are monitoring the process and the chair will keep us updated".
The Accreditation Council was in emergency mode. "Recent events have cleared out the top level of IANZ with the CEO and GM operations leaving", Connell wrote to members. He then outlined their options, including parachuting a leased executive in as chief executive and abandoning a planned restructure to "battle on with life as we know it".
Barnes' departure wasn't just destabilising, it was costly. IANZ paid Barnes three months' notice, which would have totalled $62,500, as well as holiday pay.
Barnes didn't turn up at the High Court last September to see the police appeal, but this time IANZ did - by way of affidavit, anyway. Where Barnes' lawyer had previously argued Barnes should receive name suppression in order to maintain IANZ's reputation and stability, it now emerged that the Accreditation Council, in fact, did not support name suppression.
Lawyers argued about whether the district court judge who had sentenced Barnes had referred to the wrong summary of facts when she made her judgment, about the seriousness of Barnes' offending, the level of premeditation, whether his remorse was genuine and on and on and on.
Along with police, RNZ and NZME challenged the name suppression. A victim impact statement from the woman who had discovered the camera did too.
"By keeping this crime secret from the public, we are not protecting our community," she wrote. "Rather than protecting the well-being of a few people, the well-being of an entire community being left in the dark should be considered. The public should be informed of what this man has done so that small steps can be taken to make our public spaces safer. I feel that awareness and knowledge can be the best tools to making our community safer."
She got her wish. In a reserved decision, Justice Moore quashed Barnes' permanent name suppression and discharge without conviction. He said Barnes should be sentenced in the District Court and that previous cases indicated a sentencing starting point would be a short term of imprisonment.
But Barnes wasn't giving up. The day before his name suppression was due to lift, he applied to appeal, and so, in November, Barnes' lawyer, the police's counsel and RNZ and NZME's representation gathered once again, this time in the Court of Appeal.
What an affidavit Barnes filed for the hearing! It was an old one, updated, but parts of it were staggering, not least to Justices Kós, Thomas and Gendall, who heard the appeal.
Barnes doubled down on his decision to leave the Accreditation Council in the dark over his offending, despite the clear clauses of his employment contract.
"My offending had nothing to do with my work or the performance of my role. If I was not identified, then I could perform my role and I consider I could not and did not bring [the Council] into disrepute," he wrote.
That he saw no issues which could cause embarrassment to him or the Council caused Justices Kós, Thomas and Gendall to respond: "It is difficult to see how that position can be seriously argued."
Barnes also took issue with suggestions he had been dishonest in the early days of his case, when his affidavit created the impression he had only filmed once in the gym changing room. "I never said it all happened on the one day. But it all happened in one confined period," he wrote.
Again, Justices Kós, Thomas and Gendall were unconvinced. "We find it unsurprising that the High Court concluded Mr Barnes had been economical with the truth".
But when Barnes wrote of how bleak his prospects would be if he was convicted and named ("It is not too dramatic to say, my life as I now know it, professional and personal, is over"), the Justices agreed. But they decided that was the consequence of his offending, not of a conviction or being publicly identified. They upheld the High Court decision.
Was it determination, desperation or both that drove Barnes on? Again, the day before his name suppression was due to lift, his lawyer sprang into action, applying to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal.
The application argued Barnes had been the victim of a substantial miscarriage of justice and that his case raised matters of public importance.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court released its judgement: it would not hear the appeal and from 2pm today Barnes could be publicly identified.
Via his lawyer, Barnes issued a media statement.
In it, he talks of how everyone makes mistakes, of how his health issues lay behind his conduct, of how he hopes for forgiveness.
As well as apologising to his victims, wife and family, he apologises to IANZ.
"I apologise to my employer and work colleagues for the impact on them as a result of what I have done in such a senior and trusted role. I have let you all down when you were entitled to expect much more from me."
Then, he writes that his fight to keep his name secret was all for them.
"While the victims are protected by law, I have tried to protect the rest of you, where I have been able, from the ramifications of my action... My desire for name suppression was entirely driven by a want to protect those innocently hurt by my actions."
What will IANZ staff make of that statement? How will they feel now they finally know for sure that their former boss planted a spy camera to film naked strangers? Will they be shocked, let down, or, like one of his victims said she felt - sickened?
"It's just sad," one of his former colleagues says. "He's sad."