11 Jul 2008

Two England rugby players guilty of misconduct

5:57 am on 11 July 2008

England players Mike Brown and Topsy Ojo named in media reports about an alleged sexual assault in Auckland have been found guilty of misconduct and fined by the Rugby Football Union.

The pair were named in a tabloid newspaper as being involved in a drinking session that ended with women returning to the team hotel and allegations of sexual assault.

The two players, along with Danny Care and David Strettle, strenuously denied any criminal wrongdoing and no formal complaint was lodged to New Zealand police.

However, on returning home the RFU ordered an investigation to be carried out by disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett.

Summarising his findings, 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."

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

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

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.