12 Jul 2008

Woman defends not taking part in rugby inquiry

3:17 pm on 12 July 2008

The spokesperson for a woman at the centre of sexual assault allegations involving the England rugby team in Auckland is defending her choice not to speak to an inquiry.

England's Rugby Football Union found players Mike Brown and Topsy Ojo guilty of misconduct, but the union's disciplinary officer says he was hampered by the fact the complainant refused to give spoken evidence.

The inquiry concluded there was no evidence of serious wrongdoing, and no formal complaint has been laid with New Zealand police.

Ojo admitted that he had stayed out until 7am following a night out in Auckland after England's first test defeat on 14 June, and was reprimanded and fined £500.

Brown was reprimanded and fined £1,000 for "staying out all night and missing a rehabilitation appointment with the physiotherapist".

RFU disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett says he would have been able to make a more complete ruling if the complainant had agreed to be interviewed, rather than provide a written report of her police interview.

The woman's spokesperson, Glenda Hughes, says privacy is now the woman's number one consideration and she refuses to put that at risk. The New Zealand police inquiry remains open.

The two players, along with team members Danny Care and David Strettle, strenuously denied any criminal wrongdoing.

RFU investigation

Summarising his findings, Mr Blackett said there had been no credible and tested evidence of serious wrongdoing but that management needed to keep players on a "tighter rein" when on England duty.

"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," he said in his report.

"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."

No action was taken against Strettle, although he was reminded about the danger of putting himself in compromising situations. The fourth player named by British media, Danny Care, was found not guilty of any misconduct.

Jeff Blackett said the image of English rugby and the RFU had been damaged by inaccurate and speculative reporting of the players' behaviour and made several recommendations.

He said players must avoid potentially compromising situations which could bring discredit on themselves and the game and that they should be prohibited from taking unknown guests back to team hotels.

Limits on the amount of alcohol consumed and post-match entertainment should also be made clear.

"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," Blackett said.

The RFU has already agreed a new code of conduct since the allegations were made.