Back in one of our early interviews I asked Matt what he wanted to achieve from his court action against Cameron Slater. Even then, it was obvious he couldn’t be doing it for financial compensation. Matt talked for a bit about recouping his reputation, about not letting Slater get away with spreading lies. Justice, in a word. But then he said something audacious.
What he really wanted, he said, was to take control of whaleoil. ‘I want people to log on to whaleoil.co.nz and find themselves directed to this book.’
He reached for a cigarette, savouring what was then just a crazy idea. ‘That would feel really, really good,’ he said. We laughed, and the smoke danced. I didn’t really think such a thing was possible.
In August 2019, Matt Blomfield took control of the whaleoil blogsite.
If you are reading this, you have just logged on to whaleoil.co.nz, and you will shortly be offered the opportunity to buy this book.
Since the watershed events of February, when Slater abandoned his appeal and declared himself bankrupt, much has happened. This entry – chapter 27 of Whale Oil — takes up where the book, published by Potton & Burton, left off. It is both update and epitaph to Matt Blomfield’s Whale Oil saga.
Some of the recent events are traceable within the records of the Companies Register. There, the dry accumulation of company names, name changes, changes in shareholdings and directorships whispers of the sheer human drama and desperate planning that has gone on behind the scenes as Slater and his supporters seemed to do everything they could think of to rescue something from their sinking ship. Social Media Consultants, then-owner of the whaleoil blog, went into liquidation. A new company, Madas 114, was set up and then shortly after became WOBH; whaleoil.co.nz became whaleoil.net.nz before morphing, chameleon-like, into a completely new blogsite. Slater passed all his shareholdings and directorships to his wife, to his accountant, and then back to his wife.
A liquidator, Victoria Toon of Corporate Restructuring Ltd, was appointed at the end of March, and it transpired that Social Media Consultants owed creditors around $670,000.
Slater himself, now bankrupt, was shown in the insolvency report dated 15 June to have further total estimated claims against him of $4,032,167.14. This amount comprised costs associated with the Colin Craig and Matt Blomfield defamation cases including the $2.5 million Matt will seek in damages (but excluded any damages that may be won by the three health professionals who are also suing Slater for defamation), and the Human Rights Review Tribunal award to Matt for breaches of his privacy. The lawyers who acted for Slater in the various defamation actions brought against him – Brian Henry, and David Beard’s Legal Street — were shown to be out of pocket to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In short, the estimated claims against Slater and his company so far total more than $4.7 million.
The liquidator quickly took issue with what she identified as the illegal transfer of assets away from creditors and into new entities. Following a post written by Slater’s wife Juana Atkins at the beginning of August trumpeting a ‘new era’, directing subscribers to a new site to which all whaleoil content had been transferred, and promising to honour their subscriptions, Victoria Toon posted a warning on the original whaleoil site:
‘It is the liquidator's opinion that the director of Social Media Consultants Limited, Juana Atkins or someone directed by her has illegally used the customer database for the benefit of another business entity.
‘This appears on the face of it to have been done for the purpose of misappropriating the company’s goodwill and causing the company loss, therefore breaching the duties as a director to preserve the assets of the company for the benefit of creditors.’
Juana Atkins did not reply to the liquidator; neither did she comply with demands to relinquish control of the assets. On August 5, the liquidator who, remember, is an officer of the Court, wrote to the police for assistance, citing six sections of the Crimes Act she believed Atkins may have breached. The police replied briefly, telling Toon she should take her complaint to the front desk of her nearest police station.
In general, with their lack of response and compliance, it seems that Slater and Atkins are giving a metaphorical finger to the liquidator and, less directly, to Matt and other creditors. Perhaps, having lost so much, they feel they have little left to lose. Their debts are so huge they perhaps seem meaningless.
‘Fill your boots,’ Slater said a few years ago. ‘When you’ve got nothing to lose, you’re dangerous.’
Also, there’s every indication that, despite everything, they still feel they are the victims. ‘Shadowy forces’ conspired to take their blogsite down, Atkins wrote in her post; ‘numerous legal cases against it’ have taken their toll.
Perhaps they just don’t understand. Or perhaps they are still calling bluff on the powers that be. However, a strange twist offers some depressing insights into the reality of life in whaleoil’s back room.
In early June Matt received an email from Victoria Toon. She had been to visit Slater and Atkins at their home. Slater soon went out for a long walk with a friend, leaving his wife — who was by then the director and sole shareholder of the company — with the liquidator. Atkins showed Toon a stack of boxes – seven fullsize file boxes filled with what she said were legal records relating to ‘the discovery process’ in the Blomfield case. Atkins said she wanted them gone from the house.
It was arranged they would be picked up and delivered to Matt. Matt assumed he would thumb through boxes of organized files, perhaps identifying information that could be useful in the final High Court hearing in 2020. What he found was complete disarray.
‘The boxes were filled with a whole mishmash of material.
‘I realised how disorganized he was. I was struck with almost a feeling of sorrow. This dude is really a mess. Everyone is in a mess. All the people who never got paid. It was really sad.’
Everyone is in a mess.
I marvel that Matt can still find sympathy. Since this book was published at the end of May he has been subjected to a daily stream of anonymous phone calls from blocked numbers – his phone rings, he answers but no-one speaks. There’s breathing, background rustling, then the click as someone hangs up. This happens around ten times a day, sometimes more. As he sits in my office one afternoon to catch me up on events, it happens three times in just over an hour.
‘You might never be free of these people,’ I say, suddenly struck by the possible truth of that.
At the end of April, Matt received a short email from Detective Sergeant Chris Goldsmith. The police re-investigation had concluded, and recommended ‘that no charges be laid against any of the individuals who were the subjects of the re-investigation’ into how Slater and his friends obtained Matt’s files, and also into the police handling of the armed attack, with the exception of one possible ‘avenue of enquiry pertaining to the Lauda Finem website’. It could scarcely have been a more different outcome, in substance or tone, to that indicated by then-investigator Detective Inspector Hayden Mander in November 2017. Mander had stated his belief there was there was ‘a failure from the outset in comprehending the complexity of this investigation’, and apologized to Matt for the handling of his file. There was no longer any trace of that perspective in the police’s communication. Goldsmith said he would be in touch with Matt once everything had been reviewed by the Crown solicitor. By August Matt had heard nothing further.
Since the publication of Whale Oil, the book, there’s no question Matt’s life has changed. He is now generally perceived for who he is, and no longer for what Slater’s blog said he was, and he reaps the benefits of that every day, every time he gets a new client, every time someone reads the book and sends him a friendly message. And yet the exercise of holding Slater to account was, he says, a kamikaze effort. Winning against Slater in the High Court, finding justice for himself, was a massive victory but whether he can claw his way back to financial stability and to a sense of peacefulness for his family remains an open question.
I know he’s doing it tough. I probably know it better than anyone outside his family, after my four years of almost daily contact with this indefatigable man; yet I can’t believe he won’t do what he always does: tough it out, battle through, do something audacious that will — somehow — save the day.
And so we arrive back at this masterstroke – this takeover of the whaleoil blogsite. What’s in it for Matt? Why would he bother? The toxic stuff once written up here about him is long gone, thanks to Matt’s efforts through the courts. The whaleoil site itself is worth nothing now, but it’s also worth everything.
All those other people, the ones who like Matt were slandered, bullied and humiliated on that blog over all those years — the horrible stories about them are still out there, recurrent reminders of vicious attacks. People like the woman I interviewed who was still too shaky to tell me what had happened but who simply googled herself and silently showed me the result on her phone; people like Scott Poynting, who knows that anyone googling him runs immediately into the whaleoil accusations against him. There are many, many such people.
All of that will — after Matt’s won the required court orders — be gone. Because the internet never goes away they will never be completely destroyed, but they will be gone from casual searches.
All the nasty stories, the lies and the taunts, will be pulled down.
This site — whaleoil.co.nz — now serves as a perpetual memorial to the injustices inflicted on all those people, and to Matt’s long battle to curtail falsity, bullying and manipulation.
That is a very fine ending.