Ron Brierley child abuse case: Disgraced millionaire surrenders knighthood

Disgraced millionaire Ron Brierley has surrendered his knighthood.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this afternoon revealed that Brierley, who pleaded guilty to possession of child sexual abuse material, has relinquished his knighthood.

She said that if Brierley had not voluntarily relinquished the title, it would have been stripped from him.

The loss of his knighthood follows revelations a number of organisations are trying to figure out what to do with donations made by Brierley.

The 83-year-old former business high flyer pleaded guilty in Sydney last month to three charges of possessing child sex abuse material.

Brierley was knighted for services to business in 1988.

He has been estimated to be worth $220 million.

Speaking to media this afternoon, Ardern said no matter someone’s history, if they possess images which portray children being abused that “undoubtedly completely rewrites your history. Undoubtedly.”

Brierley wrote to the Clerk of the Executive Council – the group responsible for knighthoods, damehoods and other official honours – to tender his resignation as a Knight Bachelor.

Queen advised of forfeiture

“The Queen has been informed,” Ardern said.

This means he’s no longer allowed to use the title of “Sir” and he has been asked to return his insignia.

Officials wrote to Brierley on April 6, telling him he had 30 days to provide any information that he considered relevant before the Prime Minister made her decision.

Ardern said after he was notified the process was under way, Brierley resigned the title.

“But I’m very clear – had he [not] done so it would have been removed.”

His barrister admitted he possessed “some images” but the exact figure is “in dispute”.

According to the Guardian, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced.

“I think it’s a sad day for the children of New Zealand and, indeed, the world when someone is found guilty of possessing such horrendous images,” Ardern said.

She added that it was only right that there are “significant consequences” for that.

As a country, she said, New Zealand has to reject anyone who thinks this is okay.

Wellington College, where Brierley attended high school, severed its ties with the disgraced businessman after his guilty plea.

Although the process of stripping a knighthood, or damehood, is not unprecedented, it does not happen often.

Albert Henry, the first Premier of the Cook Islands, lost his knighthood after he was forced to resign in a 1978 voting scandal for which he was later convicted of fraud.

Hugh Hamilton and Morgan Fahey also had honours removed – in each case having their appointments as Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit revoked.

Meanwhile, a $1 million donation from Brierley is sitting in a cricket charity’s bank account while trustees of the organisation figure out what to do with the shamed businessman’s philanthropy.

Other charities associated with the 83-year-old former corporate raider are also at a loss after Brierley pleaded guilty.

Brierley, who was once one of New Zealand’s richest men, was particularly closely involved with cricket and had been a generous benefactor to the sport over the years. Rifts are emerging among prominent cricketing figures about how to respond to his guilty plea.

Alasdair McBeth, president of Cricket Wellington, told the Herald there is a “spectrum of views out there” about Brierley’s downfall.

“People of the 70s and 80s who would have spent a lot of time with him are stunned,” McBeth said.

Some in cricket circles regard the money Brierley donated as “tainted”, McBeth said, even though it came from business activities that had no connection to his offending, while others believe his guilty plea shouldn’t detract from the “good that has been done” by Brierley for cricket and other New Zealand institutions.

The two organisations most closely publicly associated with Brierley — Wellington College, where he went to school, and Cricket Wellington — removed signage celebrating their links to the multi-millionaire immediately after his guilty pleas on April 1.

Others have yet to decide what to do. Nowhere is the question of what to do about the association with Brierley more fraught than in Wellington cricket, where Brierley has connections dating back to his teenage years.

Brierley’s philanthropy in cricket over the decades was extensive, and he had close relationships with numerous prominent people in the game. He organised reunions of great New Zealand cricketers at test matches. In 1994, he sponsored a team of Kiwi up-and-comers that played against the touring Pakistan international side, which was known as “Sir R Brierley’s XI”. At one time, a pavilion at the Basin Reserve was named after Brierley.

One organisation whose future has been thrown into doubt by Brierley’s guilty plea is the Brierley Cricket Foundation, which was registered with Charities Services in August 2019.

That was the month that New South Wales police received an anonymous tip that Brierley had accessed child sexual abuse material.

The charity’s first annual return was filed in March last year, several months after Brierley was detained in December 2019 at Sydney Airport while waiting for a flight to Fiji.

Financial statements show that the charity had $1m in its account which had not been touched.

McBeth, a trustee of the foundation, told the Herald the charity was “in abeyance”, which means it has temporarily stopped operating, and that decisions had yet to be made about what to do with Brierley’s founding donation.

McBeth, a partner at law firm DLA Piper, said that Brierley’s guilty pleas had raised the question: “Is there a future for the trust?”

McBeth is president of Cricket Wellington, the umbrella organisation that oversees the sport in the capital, including the Firebirds and Blaze teams that compete in national professional competitions. Trustees of the Brierley Cricket Foundation would “take direction” on the charity’s future from Cricket Wellington, McBeth said.

“No money has been received since he was arrested and no money sought, and [there has been] no interaction with him,” he added.

Cricket Wellington is currently considering whether to withdraw Brierley’s life membership. Initial debate among the members has reflected the wider divide in views about how to handle the connection to Brierley.

At a meeting of Cricket Wellington late last year — before Brierley pleaded guilty — the association was accused by John Morrison, the former New Zealand cricketer, TV commentator and long-serving Wellington councillor, of “dumping” its benefactor.

“My involvement with Cricket Wellington started in the mid-1960s and the one absolute constant since then, and through crisis after crisis, has been Ron Brierley,” Morrison said, according to reports which were confirmed to the Herald as consistent with his views by sources close to him.

Morrison did not respond to requests for comment.

Another influential ally in that world is Don Neely, an eminent cricket historian and former New Zealand cricket selector and administrator. Neely, 85, has recently gone into care and was not available to talk but his wife, Paddianne Neely, told the Herald they were standing by Brierley, who had been a friend for decades.

Brierley’s involvement in cricket was particularly close in the 1980s, when his corporate vehicle Brierley Investments was at the height of its profile in New Zealand.

During that period, he travelled with the national team on a tour of Sri Lanka, where he socialised with players who were part of a golden era for New Zealand cricket.

Among the players on that tour was Sir Richard Hadlee. Years later, Hadlee published a book about New Zealand’s 1949 tour of England, ‘The Skipper’s Diary’, which included a special limited edition signed by several distinguished figures — including Brierley.

Hadlee told the Herald he would not make any comment about Brierley and would be surprised if others in the game took a different position.

The dilemmas confronting the cricket community over its links with Brierley are not limited to New Zealand. Brierley was also prominent in cricketing circles in Australia.

Brierley was once a trustee of the Sydney Cricket Club and funded a scholarship there for promising rural players. The Sir Ron Brierley Scholarship was first awarded in April 2019 to Hugh Sheriff, a promising Sydney cricketer.

A spokesperson for the Sydney Cricket Club said Brierley did not hold life membership or any other position which would require it to reconsider its connection with him. Asked about the scholarship, the club said: “To our knowledge it is no longer in existence.”

Adelaide Cricket Club, where Brierley held life membership, told the Herald it takes child safety and protection “very seriously”.

“Therefore the situation regarding this long-term former benefactor has been both a shock and a deep concern to the ACC and has been managed accordingly,” a spokesperson said.

The club planned to make a full public statement when the court process was concluded.

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