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Old 16th Oct 2014, 03:50
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Paul Howes drama takes centre stage at Opera House Ball

October 15, 2014 - 7:32PM

Andrew Hornery

Private Sydney Columnist

A distressed glamorous blonde in floods of tears past midnight, the contents of her bejewelled evening bag strewn across the cobblestones outside the glistening sails of the Sydney Opera House as former union boss Paul Howes fumes under his bow tie it was the sort of drama one would normally expect on centre stage rather than outside the building's taxi rank following a charity ball.

"F--- me ... this is a f---ing nightmare ... I am trying to live a normal life, I don't want to be a public figure anymore," Howes said on Wednesday when PS approached him following a report in The Daily Telegraph, which claimed that he "sprang to defend the honour" of his Qantas executive wife, Olivia Wirth, head of the airline's government and corporate affairs, after she told him two women had abused her at the $750-a-head Opera Ball.

A police spokesman confirmed Opera House security guards had contacted them after the woman had been approached by Howes, who declined to repeat the alleged insults directed at his wife.

The spokesman also said it was security guards who suggested Howes and Wirth leave the venue following the altercation, which had been witnessed by several parties, two of whom gave statements to police and spoke with PS following The Daily Telegraph's report.

"Police attended and the victim gave a statement, but she later withdrew it and that was the end of the investigation."
Wirth said in a statement: "The stranger was drunk and abusive, I was insulted and upset and my husband defended me. In the future when treated like this in public, I will make a complaint to the police." The allegations of drunkenness were strenuously denied by both women involved.

Howes and his second wife, Wirth, married in May at Byron Bay during a highly publicised ceremony which was attended by a collection of some of Australia's most influential citizens, including former prime minister Julia Gillard, Qantas boss Alan Joyce and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Howes denied claims reported in the Telegraph that: "At least one handbag was swung at Mr Howes after he gave the abusive two young women a piece of his mind."

PS can reveal the "two young women" involved are actually senior executives aged in their mid 30s with two prominent international luxury goods houses. Both women denied they had abused Wirth.
"My friend had simply gone up to her discreetly, on the side of the dance floor and suggested she might want to adjust her gown which appeared to have either split or come apart ... her underwear was showing and it wasn't very flattering ... she was trying to do her a favour. The next thing we knew we were being told off by her partner who demanded to know who we were," one of the women said.

"We figured it was best to get away from him as it was really unpleasant and went inside the party. Later, as we walked to the taxi rank, the same man came up from behind and started being abusive ... he grabbed my friend by her dress, suddenly her purse was kicked to the other side of the street and the security guards got involved ... it was the guards who called the police and we made statements at the station afterwards. It was a really unpleasant encounter."

PS was told the alleged victim's statement was later withdrawn because "she is so embarrassed and scared of what effect the publicity would have".

Another witness, a man who also made a statement to police, told PS: "He attacked her ... it really was not appropriate and she was very, very upset. I made a statement to police but if she doesn't want to pursue it then that is her decision and I'll respect that," he said.

However, when told a vastly different version of events had emerged from several witnesses to the incident, including claims Howes had grabbed a woman's handbag, Howes acknowledged "yes, there was an argument, it happens, but I did not grab anyone's handbag ... it kinda just fell".
"No, I did not pick it up. I had a go at her because my wife had been reduced to tears. They had said some truly awful things to her and I wanted to let them know that was very poor behaviour ... I did not speak to the police or any figure of authority ... we just left."
Paul Howes drama takes centre stage at Opera House Ballgl
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