She's barely coffee-coloured - Sir Peter Leitch spokesperson

By Aroha Awarau , Wepiha Te Kanawa
  • Auckland

Prominent businessman, Sir Peter Leitch has tried to defuse a recent racial spat by saying that his comments about Waiheke Island being a “white man’s Island," which upset a young Māori woman, was only light-hearted banter.

But a spokesperson for Leitch told Māori Television that his remarks were not racially targeted because the woman was “barely coffee coloured” and says she only came forward because she wanted to be famous.

Lara Wharepapa Bridger, 23, says she was at a vineyard on Waiheke Island earlier this week with her mother. Leitch, famously known as The Mad Butcher, approached the group about not drinking and driving.  He doubted that they were locals, which sparked Bridger to tell him she was born on the island. This prompted  Leitch to make the comment – which he describes as light hearted banter but Bridger took as a racist taunt.

The exchange upset Bridger, who posted an emotional video on Facebook.

"He said specifically to me, 'this is a white man's island, you need to go. You need to acknowledge that this is a white man's island'," Bridger said on the video  She told Māori Television she has since deleted the video because she was receiving death threats and was warned about getting sued for defamation.  She says that she apologised to Leitch and didn’t mean him any harm.

In a press statement, Leitch says he “apologised unreservedly” when he discovered that Bridger was offended by his comment.

“There is no way I can ever be accused of being racist,” he says.

But Leitch media spokesperson Michelle Boag, says that his comments can’t be racially targeted because Bridger is “barely coffee coloured” referring to her being a light-skinned Māori. She also claims that Bridger has come forward because she wants to be famous.

Bridger denies these claims, saying that she was genuinely upset by being a target of racism.

“When you’re feeling a certain way it triggers an emotion. I didn’t do it for the attention,” she told Māori Television.

Bridger says she contacted Leitch to arrange a meeting to apologise. She says he wished her a Happy New Year but did not commit to a meeting.