Photo of Jacinda Ardern, tumour survivor misused on Twitter to 'slander' PM for failing to stick to social distancing rules

The photo that was shared on Twitter alongside a fabricated story.
The photo that was shared on Twitter alongside a fabricated story. Photo credit: Olivia Madgwick / Facebook

A young woman has slammed a right-wing former political advisor for misusing a photograph of her and Jacinda Ardern on Twitter, claiming he concocted a lie to further his "political slander" of the Prime Minister. 

Olivia Madgwick, who has suffered from a brain stem tumour, fired back at Twitter user Hamish Price for lying about a picture of her and the Prime Minister, taken in 2019.

In a now-deleted tweet shared on Friday, Price uploaded the picture of Madgwick and Ardern and captioned it: "The PM is trying so hard to maintain social distancing rules in this photo, she ordered her 4 diplomatic protection squad officers to immediately wrestle this young person to the ground and arrest her. But only after the obligatory hug and selfie. #nzpol."

The post was deleted after Newshub contacted Price for comment.
The post was deleted after Newshub contacted Price for comment. Photo credit: Twitter

At the time of writing, the post had been liked more than 180 times and retweeted 62 times. 

On Saturday night, Madgwick responded to Price in an impassioned public Facebook post, claiming the man's tweet - which he since defended as "lighthearted" - was an "outright lie".

"Please stop using my photo you had no permission to use, to further your political slander. The photo was taken a year ago. I was not tackled to the ground by Jacinda Ardern's bodyguards. You have outright lied to the public," she responded alongside the same image.

"My name is Olivia Madgwick from New Plymouth Taranaki. In 2019 My stepdad Francis Kelly took me to this [Labour] meeting to share my story, as I have dealt with a brain stem tumour and fluid on my brain and with that we got a picture as it inspired her. 

"I posted this on [Jacinda's] supporters' page as I have been told so much how we look like sisters. If you want to follow my Facebook page (Liv's Lane) which goes into a bit more detail about myself not at all her doing any non social distancing [sic]. I only left my house finally last week.

"That is the truth behind this photo."

People have extended their support to Madgwick on Facebook, with one woman commenting: "I'm so sorry that you have been used in this way."

Price's post generated controversy among Twitter commentators, with one account labelling the tweet as an "obvious lie".

"I don't know what's good about this… first, it's an obvious lie. Second, it's done to upend a good pandemic outcome thus far. Third, many of the replies to this are absolutely insane and hate filled," @NZSouthIslander wrote.

Another person, claiming to also be a former political advisor, responded: "You know when the Govt are doing well? When people have to fabricate stuff to make their opposition point. This wasn't a stir Hamish, this was capitulation. Weak."

Price deleted the post minutes after being contacted by Newshub.

In 2018, Stuff reported that Price was an advisor to former Auckland City Councillor Aaron Bhatnagar, the man behind the highly-publicized $10,000 donation to the National Party in 2014, initially made in the name of the Cathedral Club.

Price's response

Newshub reached out to Price for comment, to which he responded: "I can see that I have had various direct mail messages from people either abusing me or complaining about the image I posted. These messages were sent to my 'message requests' tab, which is composed almost entirely of spam. I did not see these messages until [Sunday] morning.

"I have since deleted the tweet this morning.

"I originally posted the tweet a couple of days ago as it had appeared on Twitter as a live photo, featuring the PM, from a publicly available source. I was not aware that the photo was taken a year ago. I posted a lighthearted message about how the PM was so outraged that a person had breached social distancing that she had ordered her DPS contingent to wrestle that person to the ground, and arrest her."

He said it was "on record" Ardern has been breaking social distancing rules. Last week, Ardern said that people had "moved into photos with me closer than I would have liked", and acknowledged there was "the odd occasion where I haven't managed to sidestep quickly enough".

Price said the "target of the commentary was clearly not any person in the photo other than the PM".