National Party candidate resigns following explosive, explicit photo claims

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 2 Jun 2021, 11:00am
Jake Bezzant ran unsuccessfully for the Upper Harbour seat in 2020. (Photo / Supplied)
Jake Bezzant ran unsuccessfully for the Upper Harbour seat in 2020. (Photo / Supplied)

National Party candidate resigns following explosive, explicit photo claims

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 2 Jun 2021, 11:00am

National candidate Jake Bezzant has parted ways with the political party following explosive claims that he impersonated his ex-partner online, shared explicit photos and even pretended to be her during cyber sex.

Bezzant's former partner, Tarryn Flintoft, with whom he has a son, has gone public with the claims in an hour-long podcast shared online this week.

Bezzant, who unsuccessfully ran for the Upper Harbour seat last election, told the Herald there is no truth to the accusations.

The National Party touted Bezzant as a promising part of its intake of fresh talent in 2019.

"We were first made aware of the podcast, and the allegations and behaviour it mentions, late this morning," a party spokesman told the Herald last night.

"We looked into the matter, and Mr Bezzant is no longer a member of the National Party."

Flintoft said she recorded the podcast after discovering that Bezzant was still allegedly impersonating her online, even though they had broken up a year ago and they hadn't been in contact for months.

"[He] used to impersonate me online, would make Snapchat and dating sites and things. and would engage in online sex as me, and would send nude images and videos of me," Flintoft said in the podcast.

"That's humiliating for me. I was so embarrassed. I was so upset that someone had even seen me intimately in that way [without my consent]."

She said they had been intimate with each other via Snapchat while she was in New Zealand and he was in the US.

"When he was in the States, I got a message from this guy I knew who said: 'I think there's a fake Snapchat going round about you ... somebody's messaging me, and I can tell it's you in the images, and the username was you but I just don't think it's you.'

"He explained to me the content, and I knew exactly what it was, when it was from, that Jake was the only person who had it."

The Herald has seen screenshots of a Facebook conversation where Bezzant says, about Flintoft, that "we had each others snaps the last few days".

Flintoft said she had also received a message from a different person she knew.

"He said he had full blown engaged in cyber-sex with him [Bezzant] thinking it was me. Again, so embarrassing for me. Just humiliating."

She said she moved to the US to be with him, but claims she felt emotionally abused and financially dependent on him.

"If I would find out he was messaging as me, he would immediately bring up that I didn't pay for anything."

Flintoft said she believed it was a pattern of behaviour that Bezzant had used with other former girlfriends.

The Herald has seen screenshots of another person who said she also dated Bezzant, saying that Bezzant had used a private photo of her "and sending it to all my guy friends to get dick pics".

Flintoft eventually went on Bezzant's iPad while he was away and found an online alias.

"Dating sites, Snapchats, Instagrams - a whole fake person. But had used images of me as this fake person - nude images of me being exchanged on these platforms ... I lost my shit. I lost the plot. I was hysterical."

Told a summary of the podcast's contents yesterday and asked if there was any truth to it, Bezzant told the Herald: "No, there's not, but I haven't listened to it."

This morning he added: "Personal relationship break-ups sometimes get messy. Two sides to every story. There is more than just her and I involved so I am going to respect that and so I am not going to discuss it. I am not going to put myself forward for candidacy at this point. Really enjoying being back in the private sector."

Bezzant ran in Upper Harbour last year, a seat that Paula Bennett won in 2017 with an almost 10,000 majority.

The seat was won in 2020 by Labour's Vanushi Walters.

Flintoft said she wanted to do the podcast to highlight a hole in the law because a police probe had found that Bezzant had not acted criminally.

"In the law's eyes, I had sent him a physical file and now he owns it and can do whatever he wants with it regardless of the fact that it's intimate, I haven't given him permission, [and] I never sent it to him in a way where he could keep it," she said in the podcast.

She added that there was also no offence under revenge porn laws because "the intent of him doing it was completely self-satisfactory, it wasn't to hurt me".

Police would neither confirm nor deny an investigation, but the Herald has seen correspondence between Flintoft and police regarding her statement to police.

"In general police are unable to respond to queries which seek to establish whether a specific individual is, or has been, the subject of a police complaint or investigation," police said in a statement.

Flintoft also wanted to do the podcast to highlight a number of issues, including mental health, and hoped that by speaking out she would empower people to stand up for themselves.

"I can't express how mentally unwell I was. I couldn't eat. I couldn't swallow water. My chest would seize up. I was having panic attacks.

"I just don't know how else to stand up for myself. It's not okay. It's not fair.

"Over time I've learned that this is his embarrassment, not mine. But initially I did feel very humiliated, upset, and just exposed, violated."