In four years of covering the seamy underbelly of Aussie Rules misbehaviour, Carlton's Andrew Walker has set a new bar for shameless arrogance and contempt of wider society. His crime - driving whilst unlicensed - is relatively minor by AFL standards, but his flagrant disregard for the law is truly breathtaking.
On February 22nd, 2008, Andrew Walker had his licence suspended (presumably for traffic offences). He was given a paltry $500 fine (equivalent to one morning's "work") and, naturally, no conviction was recorded. A mere eight days later, on March 1st, he was picked up by police for driving, obviously now unlicensed. He complained he was left "confused" by the Magistrates Court (AFL Division) about whether or not he was allowed to drive. (We can be quite sure there's absolutely no chance that he would be confused about the sentence from the AFL tribunal, but then, that's a legal force that actually matters to Mr Walker.)
Why on earth would he think he could get away with being "confused"? We've heard that he does a very convincing "playing dumb" act, but surely it would be hard to mount a case that, for instance, he wasn't sure who the magistrate was referring to when he was standing in the dock at the time. "Oh right, you were talking about me." or perhaps "Oh I see ... I'm suspended from driving any car. Yep, got it now." Surely any lingering confusion would have been dispelled by his own lawyer?
But let's look at some recent history. His colleague, David Teague, rendered an elderly woman a paraplegic when a borrowed hotted-up hoon wagon spun out of control early one Sunday morning. Teague successfully persuaded a magistrate that it wasn't because he cornered too quickly; no, a design fault meant that the floor mat got wedged on the accelerator.
What about Collingwood's Brody Holland - also caught driving unlicensed and on the tram tracks on Swanston St, no less - who claimed that he believed his Western Australian licence was sufficient even some five years after he allowed it to expire. What an absolute crock.
And then there's Hawthorn's Mark Williams, pinged for driving while disqualified (after earlier speeding offences). His excuse? Didn't realise his licence had been suspended. Oh, and Corey McKernan? Driving while disqualified and using a mobile phone. (He lost his licence for drink driving too, the selfish bastard.)
So, not surprisingly, Andrew Walker tried to bullshit his way out of the charge. And why not? The historical odds are good. But Magistrate Jennifer Tregent suggested that this "beggared belief". In plain English, she wasn't buying that Walker didn't realise the February suspension a) applied to him b) immediately and c) for any car. His lawyer described him as "bemused" and conceded that there was a compulsory jail sentence for disregarding the earlier suspension.
And the fallout for this egregious display of lawless contempt?
Told that Walker was a "professional athlete", [Magistrate] Ms Tregent asked what type and was informed by [Walker's solicitor] Mr Kemp he was a footballer with Carlton.
Ms Tregent suspended a one-month jail term for 12 months, suspended Walker's licence for two months, fined him $500 without conviction, and told him she did not anticipate he would drive during the suspension period. (The Age, 19/8/2008)
And here's the kicker: Andrew Walker drove his car to court to answer charges of driving unlicensed. Setting a new bar for chutzpah, he then had to have a mate give him a lift home, leaving his car behind (apparently opting out of the free priority taxi service for AFL footballers). What the hell was he thinking? Well, we know the answer to that ...
There's a distinct pattern going on here: over-privileged footballers realise that road rules and licensing requirements are for other people. They willfully break the law. They lie or act dumb or just plain old try to bluff it out. The legal sanctions have no effect. The clubs leave them be while they're kicking goals. There's no serious negative public comment. And so things get worse.
Sure, driving unlicensed is a relatively minor crime. But it speaks volumes of the general contempt and feeling of being special that can have much more sinister consequences. Let's not forget that during Essendon's Andrew Lovett's trial he allegedly said he was a "special person" who "could probably get away with murder". Outlandish? Well, Victoria's most senior detective is on record expressing doubt about his detectives' abilities to fully investigate footballers during the Heath Culpitt missing rape evidence scandal. And in one of Daniel Kerr's assault trial earlier this year, a witness gave testimony that immediately after the vicious assault Kerr told the victim "I am too good for the Eagles. They wouldn't delist me." Given the frequency with which he calls upon their services, we assume his brazenness extends to police and courts too.
This attitude must be very disheartening for police trying to do the right thing and downright scary for victims and witnesses trying to seek redress. At The Speccy, we argue that this culture of impunity and being special and above the law starts with minor traffic offences and, unchecked, culminates in serious cases of assault and rape.
Citations: The Age, 19/8/2008
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