England players 'decline police interviews' in NZ

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The Independent Online

Four England rugby players have declined to be interviewed over sex attack allegations, New Zealand police said today.

Auckland City Police confirmed that a woman made "a serious sexual assault allegation" - possibly of rape - by four players.

Members of the Adult Sexual Assault Team flew to Christchurch hoping to talk to the players, who have not been identified.

But a police spokeswoman said: "The players have advised police - via legal representation this morning - that they are declining to be interviewed by police on the matter at this stage.

"Auckland City Police will continue to investigate the allegation - that a woman was raped and/or sexually assaulted by four players - as thoroughly as possible before reviewing the file.

"Any decision about where to take matters from there will depend on the outcome of that review.

"While no formal statement has been made by the woman who made the allegations, a formal complaint can be made at any time in the future and police are then obliged to assess the evidential basis of that complaint."

The alleged incident occurred early on Sunday morning in the team hotel following England's 37-20 defeat to the All Blacks.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) said the four players had declined to speak with police after taking independent legal advice.

In a statement the RFU said: "In the absence of any formal complaint in this matter the players were advised to decline the request made to them to voluntarily attend upon the police and it is fully within their rights to do so.

"The players continue to deny the allegations and have the full support of the England management, coaches and players."

The authorities have been engaged in a "series of discussions and meetings with the squad's legal representatives".

"The England squad fully understands the frustration felt by many members of the public and the media regarding the lack of information the squad have been able to provide," the statement continued.

"We hope it is understood that in the context of an on-going police investigation that this is a difficult time for all concerned and that when it is appropriate to do so further comment will be made."

The RFU chief executive Francis Baron said the players deny an allegation of rape and/or serious sexual assault in "the strongest terms".

He said: "The police have mentioned, through our legal representatives, four names. Each of the individuals has denied any wrong-doing in the strongest terms.

"There are some lurid allegations floating around. The boys have totally denied them. In our view those boys are innocent until proven otherwise.

"They have and will continue to have our full support in their efforts to clear their names as soon as possible."

The RFU has hired independent lawyers for all four players, who are said to be "angry and frustrated" at being unable to actively clear their names.

But the legal advice is for the players not to answer any police questions unless the alleged victim comes forward with a formal complaint.

Baron added: "We are very keen as a union to see this matter brought to a conclusion as soon as possible.

"We have to give the young lads every opportunity to clear their name, which is what we want to do. It is in everybody's interests to achieve that as quickly as possible.

"Having hired professional advice for them, they have to listen to the professional advice they have been given.

"I know the boys are very upset and very frustrated they can't clear their names asap."

Baron acknowledged that it would be difficult for the players to do that unless a formal complaint was actually made.

"It is a very difficult situation with no complaint being made," he said. "You are trying to clear yourself against what?

"I hope I am conveying the anger and frustration those young men are currently facing. They don't know what the charges are, they don't know how they can get to where they want to be."