Jeff Blackett judgement in full
Thursday 10 July 2008
Background and Method of Inquiry
1. On Saturday 14 June 2008 New Zealand played England in Auckland in the first test match of the summer tour. It was an evening kick-off and the players returned to the team hotel (Hilton) for a meal. The RFU had asked Tony Ward (Wellington Hurricanes Team Manager) to act as tour manager for England during the tour. He had helped the Lions during their tour and is well regarded. Most major matches played in New Zealand take place in the evenings and there is a well worn routine for helping the players to relax after games. Mr Ward organised it for the England players to visit two bars where they could go for a few free drinks (the tab being provided by sponsors or breweries) and he also organised security guards to monitor the players and ensure they got back to the hotel safely. New Zealand players are used to these arrangements which have evolved for the protection of players from unwanted intrusion. There was no specific tour code of conduct or rules about drinking or prohibiting players inviting guests back to their hotel, and there was no curfew. Rules were issued in advance of the second test match relating to curfew and guests. An EPS Code of Conduct had been issued to the EPS squad in January 2008 and those players who had not been selected for that squad were generally aware that their conduct must not bring the Union into disrepute.
2. Sunday 15 June 2008 was a travelling day. Players had appointments with the physiotherapists at various times around breakfast that morning and there was an organised rehabilitation session in the swimming pool at 0900. There were no other scheduled team meetings or training sessions prior to the players' departure.
3. After the meal in the hotel a number (but not all) of the players went to one or both of the bars that Mr Ward had organised for them to go to. Some met young women and took them back to the team hotel. Late on Sunday evening, one of the young women sought medical intervention at a hospital in Auckland. Although I have been told certain details about this young woman – the name she was known by, her age and where she said she worked – she will be referred to as "the complainant" in this report to protect her anonymity. She is content to disclose that she is 18 years old and she is not a lap dancer (as reported in some press articles). In the course of receiving some treatment it appears that she made a disclosure to medical staff that she was sexually violated by four playing members of the England squad and she confirmed that when the Police attended. As is the usual practice in New Zealand in such cases, the information was brought to the attention of the sexual abuse team which is part of the Criminal Investigation Branch of the New Zealand police and an investigation was commenced.
4. On Monday 16 June 2008 the police contacted Russell McVeagh, a firm of solicitors who had been engaged by the RFU before the tour started to act on the team's behalf in New Zealand if any need arose. This is standard procedure for England touring teams. The police advised Russell McVeagh that the complainant had made an allegation of sexual abuse/rape, but that she had not yet made a formal complaint – that is she had not at that stage given the police a signed statement detailing her allegation. The police subsequently made a formal request to speak with four players who they named. This information was passed to Richard Smith QC, a member of the England party, who became the point of contact for further legal inquiries.
5. Those four named players, together with one other who had indicated that he was aware of some of the facts, received legal advice that they should decline to speak to the police. The players accepted that advice and the police were informed.
6. In the absence of any formal complaint the police did not move to charge or arrest any players. That position did not change up to the end of the tour so the players were permitted to leave New Zealand.
7. On Wednesday 18 June the Auckland police issued a press statement that a woman had complained that she had been seriously sexually assaulted by four England players. On Friday 20 June they issued a further press statement that the players had, on legal advice, declined to be interviewed. They also stated that no formal complaint had been made.
8. The first press release by the police led to a flurry of activity in the press. Speculation about what had occurred and who had been involved was rife and a number of reports appeared in the papers. Since then the media have continued to seek out additional information and this has made my inquiry more difficult because witnesses have been unwilling to speak to me without guarantees that their identities will be protected. On Sunday 22 June the News of the World published an "exclusive" story from another young woman which contained an account of her night with David Strettle in the team hotel. She said that their activity was entirely consensual and that he could not have been guilty of any criminal act with another girl because he was with her all night. On Tuesday 24 June the Sun newspaper published photographs of David Strettle, Danny Care, Topsy Ojo, and Mike Brown and named them as the four players alleged to have been involved in the affair.
9. Further speculation appeared in the press with commentators reporting a number of stories with allegations of excessive drinking, group sex and voyeurism. These allegations did not, as far as I am aware, emanate from the police but were probably picked up by members of the press who were sharing the same hotel as the players in the week after the first test match and were able to listen to speculation and comment.
10. During the tour the England management, on legal advice, decided not to start any formal disciplinary investigation but to refer the matter to me on return to England. On Wednesday 25 June the RFU Management Board resolved to ask me to inquire into the events surrounding these allegations and the press reports and to take the appropriate action.
11. I requested Russell McVeagh to seek clarification from the Auckland police about certain matters, which they did. On 27 June I received an answer from the Auckland police, through Russell McVeagh, informing me that the complainant decided that she would not make a complaint to the police because she does not want to go through the criminal process. However, the police would not "close their file" because she could theoretically change her mind and, according to the police, she stands by the allegations she originally made.
12. The Sun Newspaper, in identifying four players who were said to be involved suggested, by implication, that they were the object of the police inquiries. One, David Strettle, was not in the list of people the police wished to interview – these were, in fact, Danny Care, Topsy Ojo, Mike Brown and one other player whom I do not intend to name. His name was apparently picked up by the police simply because he was in a room near to where relevant events occurred and they wanted to establish whether he saw or heard anything. He went to bed alone early and was asleep through the night. He saw and heard nothing and there is no evidence from any source to gainsay that account – indeed the material I have received from the complainant and other witnesses is such that I am certain he was not involved at all. It would, therefore, be inappropriate to single him out in this inquiry.
13. On 4 July Jack Hodder, a partner of Chapman Tripp solicitors in Auckland wrote an open letter to me which was handed to the media before I had received it. It purported to be acting on instructions from a young woman who alleged she was the victim of a sexual violation by four squad members of the England team in the early hours of Sunday 15 June 2008. A person called Glenda Hughes, who purported to be the victim's spokesperson, was reported in the press as telling TV3, a New Zealand television station, that the injuries suffered by the young woman were definitely indicative of non-consensual sex. Both confirmed that the complainant did not wish to pursue a formal complaint with the police. I have had further communication with Jack Hodder, and there is no doubt that he (and Glenda Hughes) have been acting on instructions from the complainant.
14. On 5 July I contacted Chapman Tripp by e mail setting out my preliminary findings based on the evidence I had seen and heard and asking them to establish whether their client wished to provide evidence before my inquiry, and subject herself to cross examination (controlled by me) from the players' legal representatives. I asked him to respond by 8am UK time on Monday 7 July. It was also reported to me that Glenda Hughes made some comments to the NZ media that the complainant would speak to me provided her lawyer was present, but she did not contact me. I spoke by telephone with Mr Hodder on Monday 7 July and he indicated that the complainant did not wish to deal with me direct but she may be prepared to let me have a copy of a statement written shortly after the alleged events.
15. On 9 July I received a further letter from Chapman Tripp which enclosed a declaration from the complainant that she wishes to assist my inquiry by making available the police "Job Sheet" (a contemporaneous or near contemporaneous summary of their interview with her in the evening of 15 June), and a copy of that Job Sheet with personal details redacted. Prior to completing the declaration the complainant read the players' version of events as recorded in my e mail to Chapman Tripp and she reconfirmed her version as outlined in the Job Sheet.
16. During the course of my inquiry I have interviewed all four players in person on two occasions. The first to ask them to recount the events of 14/15 June and the second to put the matters raised by Mr Hodder and Ms Hughes in their public statements. Following receipt of the 9 July letter the complainant's version of events was put to the players again. I have also read proofs of evidence provided by a number of members of the tour party and some independent witnesses.
Code of Conduct
17. Players who attended this tour were not given a specific code of conduct. However, all players who were members of the EPS squad announced in January 2008 were given a copy of the EPS Code of Conduct. That states that:
"The player is aware that he is representing England at all times and that the highest standards are expected in appearance, conduct and behaviour."
18. The Code of Conduct sets out a number of obligations for the players including that they are to set a positive example to others, particularly young players and supporters, at all times in all aspects of being a professional rugby player such as physical appearance and demeanour.
19. Ojo, Care and Brown were not members of the EPS squad announced in January and they did not receive a copy of the Code of Conduct. They said that they did, however, understand that as England players they should not do anything which may bring the Game or Union into disrepute.
20. After the test match had finished the team ate together in the Hilton hotel in Auckland. After the meal some of the players left the hotel and went to the Pasha bar in the town where there were free drinks. There was official transport to shuttle the players from the hotel to the bar and back again and a number of security guards were in attendance. Mike Brown and Topsy Ojo both said they were sitting at a table in the bar and they started to talk to the complainant. She had earlier been talking to Tony Ward, a member of the team management. They spoke and drank together, with other players in the vicinity joining in, and then decided to go to another bar (Degree) where there was also a free tab for England players. The complainant went with them. After about 15 minutes in this bar they went to a third bar (Pony Club) where they had to pay for their own drinks and where they met some of the All Black team. At some stage Ojo said that the complainant and he kissed each other, and at some stage the complainant gave Brown her mobile telephone number. The complainant then said she wished to go to a fourth club and asked Brown and Ojo to go with her but they declined and she left.
21. Brown and Ojo remained at the Pony Club for about an hour but then decided to go to the bar where the complainant had gone. Brown said he exchanged text messages with her to find out where she was and he, Ojo and another player found that bar (The Spy bar). When there Brown said he met up with the complainant, danced with her and kissed her. Brown admits that by this time he was, as he described it, "a bit tipsy", although still in control of himself. He said (and this was confirmed by others) that he did not drink much and in fact this was the first occasion that he had drunk any alcohol on tour. They remained at that club and then left. By now it was about 0700. Brown said he asked the complainant how she was getting home and she told him her car was parked near the team hotel and so went with them. Brown, Ojo, the complainant, and a security guard walked back to the hotel, returning at about 0730. Brown said he asked the complainant if she wanted to come up to his room and she agreed. The complainant's reported version of events does not contain this much detail but, apart from the timings, it broadly accords with this background.
22. Ojo said he went back to his room and decided not to go to sleep because he had a physiotherapist appointment at 0815. He dozed off but woke up in time to rush to his appointment which lasted about 15–20 minutes. He then went up to Brown's room to remind him he also had an appointment at 0815. Brown was woken by a loud bang on the door and he opened it to find Ojo who reminded him that he had an appointment with the physiotherapist. He quickly dressed and went down stairs to see the physiotherapist. He arrived at 0835 and spent about 20–25 minutes with the physiotherapist.
23. Ojo said that having woken Brown he stayed in his room after Brown had left for his physiotherapist appointment. He and the complainant remained in the room together. Very soon thereafter the door which was unlocked and interconnected with the next door room opened and two other players, David Strettle and Danny Care looked into the room and reminded Ojo that they were supposed to be in the hotel foyer at 0900 for their pool rehabilitation session. Strettle and Care said they were at the door for no more than a few seconds and then left immediately.
24. Ojo said that Brown arrived back from his physiotherapist session shortly thereafter. He picked up his swimming shorts and then accompanied the complainant in the lift to the foyer. When they arrived there she left, having first spoken to Tony Ward for a minute or so. She was observed by a number of other players when she left and they all describe her as not being at all distressed, but a little embarrassed.
25. Strettle and Care said they had no involvement with the complainant apart from when they saw her briefly when they looked into the room. They were leaving the room to attend rehabilitation they decided to remind Brown who was in the next room (with an interconnecting door) that it was time to go. They banged on the door, and when they went into the room they observed Ojo and the complainant. They stood at the door for a few seconds and then closed it and left. They both said there was no element of voyeurism and were actually quite embarrassed to have disturbed them.
26. Care said he went to the Pasha bar after the match and saw the complainant talking to Ojo and Brown, but he never spoke to her. He went back to his hotel room at about 0130. His room adjoined Brown's room (with an unlocked but closed connecting door). He said that he was woken briefly at about 0700 when he heard Brown's door open. He went back to sleep and woke up at about 0830 and went to his physiotherapist appointment. He returned at about 0845 and Strettle arrived at the room at about 0850 en route to the rehabilitation session. They both immediately checked to see if Brown was ready to leave for the rehabilitation session and looked in through the door to see Ojo and the complainant.
27. Strettle also went to the Pasha bar, another bar called Degree and then the Pony Club. He went back to the Hilton hotel by minibus – he did not have a watch and said it could have been anytime between 0330 and 0500. He did not see the complainant at all that night and he could not remember whether he saw Ojo or Brown. His account of the morning is consistent with Care's. There have been a number of so called revelations in the News of the World by a woman called Sophie Lewis. I have not interviewed Ms Lewis.
28. I have also established independently from schedules provided by the physiotherapists, Barney Kenny and Michael Snelling, that Strettle attended a scheduled appointment with him at 0800 which lasted for 12–15 minutes after which he advised him to get some sleep before rehabilitation in the pool at 0900. Care attended a scheduled appointment 0840 which lasted for 5–6 minutes. Ojo attended a scheduled appointment at 0815 which lasted for 15–20 minutes. Brown had a scheduled appointment at 0815 but arrived at 0835 and was treated for 20–25 minutes.
29. Another New Zealand person who does not wish to be named has provided a proof of evidence in which that person looked in through the door into Brown's room sometime between 0800 and 0900 and saw the complainant sitting on the bed in a dressing gown with her back to the door. This person could not see her face but saw no signs of her being upset or crying.
30. Another player, completely unconnected with any of these events, provided a proof of evidence stating that he was not in the test team for the first test and did not go out with the team that evening. He said he was in bed by 2230 and would have been asleep by 2330. On Sunday morning he arose just before 0900 and left his room on the sixth floor to go down to the foyer. He met a girl who he subsequently discovered to be the complainant in the lift. He said she was not crying nor was there any other indication that she was at all distressed, although she seemed a bit embarrassed. They exchanged a few words and after he left the lift he saw her chat briefly with Tony Ward, kiss him on the cheek and then leave.
31. Tony Ward said in a proof of evidence collected for me by Russell McVeagh in New Zealand that he met the complainant on the Wednesday before the game in Auckland when he was out with the England team management and she had come up and introduced herself. She spoke very briefly to him. He saw her again on Thursday in a restaurant where she was working as a waitress (although he did not speak to her that night). After the match he went to the Pasha bar to meet the team and the complainant was there and spoke briefly to him again. At 0900 on Sunday morning after the match he was waiting in the foyer mustering the players for the pool rehabilitation session. The complainant came out of the lift, came up to him and kissed him on the cheek. Tony Ward said he thought this a little strange because he hardly knew her – but he was able to observe that she was not crying and not at all distressed. She then left, he thought, to catch a taxi.
32. As already indicated above, I received a letter from Chapman Tripp solicitors, the contents of which were released to the media. This is not evidence but a statement by the solicitors of their instructions. It states that a young woman was invited back to the Hilton Hotel by a member of the England team where she was "sexually violated" by four members of the team. It also states that these violations caused injuries such that the medical professionals treating her referred her to the police. However, she has instructed her solicitors that she will not make a formal complaint to the New Zealand police because such a course would generate extensive and invasive news media, threaten her privacy and personal life and compound the impact on her of the sexual violations. For similar reasons she did not initially wish to deal directly with my inquiry but did want to provide me with the context from her perspective.
33. I have, through an e mail to Chapman Tripp, given the complainant the opportunity to provide evidence to my enquiry by way of video conference, having first warned her that if she did so I would allow lawyers representing the players to cross examine her, or by written statement. She indicated that she did not wish to subject herself to cross examination, but she provided a signed declaration of the truth of the record of her complaint in the police Job Sheet. The complainant's version of events, as recorded in the Job Sheet, is that she consented to going to the hotel room of one of the players; that there was consensual activity with that player; but that three other players later entered the room and non-consensual activity occurred involving three if not four players.
Assessment of the evidence
34. I have not seen any forensic evidence relating to the complainant, nor have I had the opportunity to test her allegations. Glenda Hughes told TV3 that the complainant suffered unspecified injuries. I have attempted to establish what those alleged injuries were but Chapman Tripp has been unable to provide them. I have, therefore, discounted the reports of what Glenda Hughes is reported as having said as pure hearsay with no evidential value.
35. It is unfortunate that Chapman Tripp released the complainant's instructions (no doubt also on her instructions) to the media because that has put a certain constraint on the amount of detailed evidence which I am able to place on public record. The players' accounts conflict entirely with the original instructions published by Chapman Tripp relating to sexual violation and they vehemently deny the complainant's version of events in respect of the non consensual activity. While I have been able to assess the credibility of the England players who have appeared before me, and asked them to answer that allegation, they have not been subject to rigorous cross examination on the detail of any allegations. The players specifically all denied doing anything which could have caused the complainant any injuries.
36. Nor have I been able to assess the credibility of the complainant because I have had no direct contact with her and can only make an assessment based on the papers I have been sent. However, as I am required to establish whether the players have engaged in conduct which is prejudicial to the interests of the Union, I must take a view of the facts and other information as presented to me. All four players appear honest and truthful in their accounts and from the evidence I have before me, I am satisfied that:
a. it is highly improbable that any one outside the four players named (Brown, Ojo, Care and Strettle) had any involvement with the complainant that might be the subject of any complaint;
b. Care and Strettle's involvement with her was fleeting and involved no physical contact whatsoever;
c. there is independent evidence provided by witnesses unconnected with the allegations which corroborates much of the four players' own evidence; and
d. there is insufficient credible evidence of any illegal activity between any of those four players and the complainant which would enable me to conclude that what she says occurred actually happened.
37. At the same time I have no wish to cast any aspersions on the complainant who has indicated through her solicitors that she wishes to protect her privacy. Unfortunately she may already have compromised that wish by agreeing that her instructions should be placed in the public domain, and I suspect some of the media will continue to seek her out. On the other hand the players have had to endure public vilification in a case which increasingly seemed to become a trial by media and they have not had the opportunity to clear their names of any wrongdoing. That leaves them in the intolerable position in which the allegations remain unchallenged. This inquiry has, therefore, placed on record their version of events, together with the complainant's, and, as far as I am able to make any, my assessment of their evidence.
38. Having assessed the available evidence I conclude:
a. Arrangements were made for England players to visit free bars in Auckland after the first Test match. These arrangements were similar to those made for New Zealand players after major matches and there were no special rules of behaviour specified in relation to those bars, no curfew and no prohibition against bringing guests back to the team hotel.
b. There was no tour-specific code of conduct for the England players, but those who had been in the EPS squad had all received a general code of conduct and all players new that high standards of behaviour are required when representing England.
c. Mike Brown and Topsy Ojo (together and with some other players) visited a number of bars in the early morning after the first test match. They met the complainant and she eventually accompanied them back to the team hotel some time after 0700 on Sunday morning. She went to Brown's room and was there alone with her. At about 0835 Brown left the room and attended a physiotherapist appointment and while he was there, Topsy Ojo (who had gone to the room to ensure Brown went to the see the physiotherapist) was in the room alone with the complainant.
d. Danny Care had returned to the hotel at sometime between 0130 and 0300.
e. David Strettle had returned to the hotel at sometime between 0330 and 0500.
f. Care and Strettle popped their heads round the unlocked interconnecting door of the room at about 0855 and saw Ojo with the complainant. They were there for no more than a few seconds.
g. Brown admitted that he was a bit tipsy while in the bars, although in control. He also accepts he was 20 minutes late for his physiotherapist appointment in the morning.
h. All of the other players admit modest, but not excessive, alcohol consumption and they all attended their morning physiotherapist appointments on time. They believed that they could relax a little more than normal because the day following the Test match was a travelling day.
i. All the players I have interviewed vehemently deny any criminal wrongdoing and I have seen or heard no evidence which has been tested to gainsay those denials.
j. The image of England rugby has been damaged by some of the press reports and speculation. While many media commentators have been measured in the way they reported the allegations, some of the press speculation has been irresponsible and wildly inaccurate. It is the irresponsible reporting which has done more to damage the image of England rugby rather than any actual events themselves and I hope that those responsible will redress the balance in reporting these findings.
39. There has also been some criticism in the media of the management of this tour in relation to lack of discipline. Although, in retrospect, it may have been prudent for the tour management to have repeatedly throughout the tour reminded the players that they would be in the media spotlight and must therefore be on their guard at all times, it would be unfair for the management to be blamed for any perceived indiscipline or misconduct. The first Test was brutal in its intensity and the players were entitled to some relaxation where they could let of steam away from public scrutiny. It was entirely reasonable for the tour management to agree to post match arrangements which were standard for New Zealand. This was particularly so after they had been assured that security guards would be on hand to ensure there were no incidents between members of the public and players, all of whom would be safely escorted back to the hotel. Those security guards were not part of the management and it was not their role to decide whether women could accompany the players back to the hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning. The tour management were also entitled to expect the players to respect those arrangements and act responsibly.
Further action and sanctions
40. Had it not been for the police investigation and the inaccurate and salacious press speculation any alleged misdemeanours relating to staying out too late, drinking or missing appointments would have been dealt with during the tour by the tour management. However, now that they have come to public attention they must be marked in such away as to remind players in the future that their standards of conduct when playing for England must be of the highest order. With the status of an England rugby international player comes the obligation to act even more carefully than other members of the public, and not to put themselves in positions where their integrity may be compromised.
41. It is not my place to make moral judgements about the consensual activities of young men and women. Whether a single man should take a single women back to his hotel room after a brief acquaintance during a rugby tour will now become a matter for the tour management in the knowledge that there will always be a risk that such activity, if it is permitted, will end up in the tabloid press. It has been said that this sort of activity has occurred on rugby tours from time immemorial and that it may be hypocritical to take disciplinary action today. However, players must constantly remind themselves that they now have high public profiles and there will be those, particularly in the tabloid press, who will actively seek stories about their personal lives. That is a sad fact of modern society – and it is particularly sad that this sort of interest has reached the world of rugby union where the "rugby" press has generally acted with integrity in the past. On this tour there was no prohibition on taking young unknown female guests back to the team hotel, although one was put in place before the second Test Match, and in my view that prohibition should now be included as part of any new code of conduct.
42. It is, in some ways, unfair that four players have been singled out. However, it could not be said that the conduct of others who stayed out late was prejudicial to the interests of the Union because it was private, unobtrusive and had no damaging effect on training or preparation for the following week. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to deal with the four players who have come to the notice of the media and effectively been accused of bringing the Game into disrepute.
43. Danny Care asserts that he has done nothing wrong. He only spent a couple of hours at the Pasha bar and returned to the hotel at sometime between 0130 and 0300. He did not drink excessively, nor did he miss any team appointment. There is no evidence that he was named or identified by the complainant or that he committed any criminal act. He only became involved in the inquiry because he popped his head round an unlocked interconnected door to remind Mike Brown that it was time to leave for the rehabilitation session and saw Topsy Ojo with the complainant. With justification he feels very aggrieved that he has been identified in the press as a potential suspect, and this has caused him and his family some discomfort.
44. In all the circumstances I have found that Danny Care was not guilty of any misconduct.
45. David Strettle also asserts that he has done nothing wrong and, apart from returning to the hotel later than Care is in the same position. However, his case has been muddied by the salacious story which appeared in the News of the World in relation to Sophie Lewis. That report has caused him and his family considerable personal distress. I have considered whether someone who is the victim of this sort of "kiss and tell" story, whether true or not, is guilty of any misconduct and have taken the view that unless the story highlights breaches of a code or conduct or some other misconduct then it, on its own, does not merit any sanction. Strettle, like Danny Care, only became involved in this investigation because he popped his head round an unlocked interconnected door to remind Mike Brown that it was time to leave for the rehabilitation session. He saw Topsy Ojo in Mike Brown's room and he effectively came forward as a witness to support Mike Brown and Topsy Ojo against serious allegations. He was not one of the four people the police wished to interview.
46. In all the circumstances I have found that David Strettle was not guilty of any misconduct, but I do warn him to be careful in future not to put himself in any compromising situations which may lead to him bringing the Game into disrepute.
47. Mike Brown accepts that he should not have stayed out until after 0700 and that he was late for his physiotherapist appointment. He also acknowledges that he was a little tipsy, albeit always in control. He said that since he knew that Sunday was a travelling day with no scheduled training he was more relaxed than he would otherwise have been. He also does not believe he did anything wrong in taking a young woman back to his hotel although he accepted my homily about not doing anything which could find its way into the media and bring the Game into disrepute. In this case a young woman with whom he says he had a consensual relationship has caused an allegation to be made in the media which has caused damage to the image of England rugby.
48. In these circumstances I find Mike Brown guilty of misconduct in that he stayed out all night during an England rugby tour and was thereby late for a physiotherapist appointment. In those circumstances the appropriate sanction is:
- To reprimand him; and
- To fine him £1000
In addition he put himself in a position where allegations could be made against him and I warn him to be careful in future not to put himself in any compromising situations which may lead to him bringing the Game into disrepute.
49. Topsy Ojo accepts that he should not have stayed out until after 0700 although his alcohol consumption was fairly modest and he was not at all inebriated. He too thought that since he knew that Sunday was a travelling day with no scheduled training he was more relaxed than he would otherwise have been. He did not take the complainant back to the hotel although he was in the group with her and other players and he went back to his room on return. He attended his physiotherapy appointment on time. He also does not believe he did anything wrong as regards his relationship with the complainant although he accepted my homily about not doing anything which could find its way into the media and bring the Game into disrepute. He accepts that a young woman with whom he says he had a consensual relationship has caused an allegation to be made in the media which has caused damage to the image of England rugby.
50. In these circumstances I find Topsy Ojo guilty of misconduct in that he stayed out all night during an England rugby tour. In those circumstances the appropriate sanction is:
- To reprimand him; and
- To fine him £500.
In addition he put himself in a position where allegations could be made against him and I warn him to be careful in future not to put himself in any compromising situations which may lead to him bringing the Game into disrepute.
51. There is clearly a need for a tighter rein on players when they are on England duty and they all need to be given clear guidelines about the limits of acceptable behaviour. This is most important in relation to very young players who do not yet have the life skills to cope with sudden stardom. As a very minimum a future code of conduct should:
- Warn players to avoid potentially compromising situations which may become public and thus bring discredit on the players and the Game;
- Prohibit players from bringing unknown guests back to team hotels (without management approval);
- Set limits on the amount of alcohol a player may drink; and
- Make clear the limits of post match entertainment.
52. As I have already said, there is no doubt that the image of England rugby and the RFU have been damaged by the inaccurate and speculative reporting of what may have occurred. I am confident that lessons have been learned and that players will understand that they must be extremely careful in future not to open their personal lives to public scrutiny in this way. However, the RFU must ensure that these lessons do not have to be re-learnt by every generation of new players who will increasingly become part of the celebrity culture and have to live with the pitfalls which accompany such a lifestyle.
53. I make no criticism of the way in which the Auckland police, who were obliged to take matters forward having received information that a serious crime may have been committed, handled the approaches to the England squad. Indeed they seemed to have acted sensitively within the constraints of what information they could disclose. They have, very helpfully, kept Russell McVeagh apprised with as much information as is proper in these circumstances and that has been passed on to me and they have released the Job Sheet relating to the initial interview with the complainant to m. However, I believe their decision to issue press statements containing unsubstantiated allegations of serious crime against unnamed English players when no formal complaint had been made was injudicious. It led to and generated unhelpful press speculation which took on a life of its own. Indeed it is that press speculation which appears to have caused the complainant to speak publicly through her solicitor and a spokesperson. The interests of justice may have been better served had the police not made any statements to the press.
54. Once the police had issued their first release there was a vacuum because no further details were given. In that situation it was, perhaps, unwise for the England squad to share the same hotel as over 20 members of the British press, many of whom are skilled in listening to snippets and creating stories from them. Future tour parties should consider the wisdom of allowing certain members of the press such inadvertent access.
55. I am also very concerned that Chapman Tripp provided the New Zealand press with a letter to me, before I had received it, stating that it contained instructions from the complainant, although I accept that this public release may have been on instructions from the complainant. Chapman Tripp's letter has also constrained the way in which I have been able to conclude this inquiry, and that is particularly unsatisfactory. I indicated to Chapman Tripp that I intended to comment critically on this aspect of the inquiry. They disagree with any criticism stating: "It has been important for the complainant that, notwithstanding her anonymity, her position is known to your inquiry, and to counter the speculative and misinformed material in the news media. Publication of the letter has been made in that context." This highlights the difficulties caused by trying to conduct an inquiry in the glare of publicity.
56. Equally I was concerned that Glenda Hughes made public statements about the detail of this case. This is unfair to the complainant, because it will generate further media speculation and investigation, and to the players, because it makes very serious allegations which cannot be tested. If a complainant is not prepared to complain in the proper way then she should not be given a platform to tarnish the reputations of those who are unable to defend themselves. The proper way to test serious allegations is through the courts or disciplinary tribunals, not by making statements to the media.
57. In summary, without any credible and tested evidence of serious wrongdoing it is impossible to gainsay the players' own accounts of what occurred. This case has thus boiled down to no more than errors of judgement by young players on their first or second major international tour which are insufficient in themselves to effect future England selection. No doubt in the past England players on tour have stayed out too late, drunk excessive quantities of alcohol, invited guests back to the team hotel and missed physiotherapist appointments or training the next morning. Such activity is now inconsistent with the life of an elite professional rugby player in the modern era and with membership of a team seeking to be the best in the world. I recommend to the new England management that they consider my recommendation in paragraph 51 above very seriously.
HHJ Jeff Blackett
RFU Disciplinary Officer
10 July 2008
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