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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Footbrawlers Get Away With Pub Assault

In a disgusting breach of community decency, three violent professional footballers avoided any serious sanction for their role in a St Kilda pub brawl. Sadly, such jaw-dropping leniency is all too familiar to the citizens of Melbourne, enduring a state of permanent siege under the swaggering AFL players who own this town. This ruling will only further reinforce the notion that, in Melbourne at least, footballers are beyond judicial rebuke.

This case centres around the events of the 2006 Grand Final Eve (28th of September), involving a number of past and present players from the Brisbane Lions and St Kilda. The players charged were Fraser Gehrig, Michael Voss, Steven Lawrence, while Craig McCrae and Craig Lambert escaped any charges at all.

We've been tracking this case closely, as shown by this time-line:

  • (2/10/2006) Initial reports emerged of the attack.

  • (6/6/2007) Detectives finally get around to interviewing the accused, some nine months late. (The possibility that they were waiting for the depths of a Melbourne winter before flying to sunny Brisbane is raised.)

  • (7/6/2007) Players are formally charged.

  • (13/7/2007) A trial is under way and security video footage of the parts of the assault are leaked to broadcasters (see below).

  • (30/8/2007) While the criminal trial is under way, a civil case (law suit) is launched by the victims.

We now come to the final series of criminal judgments against these three men. Let's recap the allegations against them on that fateful night in the Prince of Wales Hotel:

Jarrod Rouse, 27, said his girlfriend Jacqueline [Cameron] was subjected to lewd comments and gestures.

"They were being sleazy. We all said we didn't want any trouble," Mr Rouse said.

He said [Steven] Lawrence, who plays for Port Melbourne, made a threatening gesture with a pool cue as they sat at their table.

Mr Rouse, who admitted he was drunk, said Jacqueline then pushed the cue back at the former St Kilda player.

"It escalated from there. I was just there trying to protect my girl," he said.

Mr Rouse said fighting broke out, during which he wrestled with [Fraser] Gehrig and was struck by others.

Jacqueline said: "There were four or five people kicking my boyfriend."

Mr Rouse's friend Jules [Julius Smith] said he was punched and knocked out after the violence spilled outside.

Jules said he remembered little after the initial angry words.

"I remember the bloke putting the the pool cue in Jacqueline's face. I must have been king-hit pretty soon after that. I was out cold," he said.

Mr Rouse said he had spoken to police. (The Herald-Sun, 29/9/2006)

Other sources:

"I found myself on the ground being attacked, being stomped, being kicked," [Rouse] told Ten News. (The Australian, 29/9/2006)

And this:

Ms Cameron told Channel 7 News last night ... "I pushed it back onto him. They pulled down my dress at some point. They pulled the button off Jarrod's pants and tried to pull his pants down," Ms Cameron said. (The Age, 29/9/2006)

It seems like a pretty standard Melbourne night spot scenario: a group of cocky AFL players spend all day drinking. For sport, they harass a local young woman, because, well, because they can. Usually, Melburnians just have to suck it up. In this instance, the girlfriend responds and the boyfriend's been drinking. Both seem not to understand the rules. Pushing and shoving breaks out and the footballers, by virtue of their propensity to fight in numbers, attack women, king hit, kick people on the ground and generally act atrociously, soundly beat various people up.

Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can see some of this behaviour in full-flight. Check out the security footage. I, for one, never get sick of seeing a 100 kg millionaire push a slight young woman to the ground. What a champion:

A disgusting display of cowardice and ugliness. Thankfully, a few guilty pleas might see some convictions finally get recorded against this pack of hate-filled morons, right? Might send a powerful signal that they're bound by the same law as everyone else, and their size and money means naught. Right?

There's a reason why the Melbourne Magistrates Court has an AFL division. It's not just to handle the huge workloads resulting from the league. Here's how Deputy Chief Magistrate Paul Smith doled out justice in this instance:

Michael Voss and Simon Black

Both escaped conviction despite pleading guilty to assault charges, and were put into a "diversion" program. They also have to do some volunteer work with arbias, a group that deals with "alcohol-related brain injury". (An area with which these two knobs have direct experience.)

Simon Black (right) and Michael Voss (left) Escape Conviction for Brawl
Source: The Age

Black, 28, acted during "10 seconds of madness" when he kicked a bar patron, while Voss, 32, played a lesser role in the violent altercation, Melbourne Magistrates' Court heard.


Both Brisbane premiership players had been charged with one count of unlawful assault while a count of recklessly causing injury against Black was withdrawn.


The fight continued in the street outside where Voss, who says he was kicked, struck [Jarrod] Rouse with an open hand. Black kicked Rouse as he lay on the ground wrestling with Voss.

Mr Smith immediately agreed to put Voss through the diversion program, but asked for submissions from Black's lawyer, saying his role was more significant.


"He is regarded as a leading light so far as the Brisbane Lions Football Club is concerned," [Defence lawyer Michael Bosscher] said.

Mr Smith agreed to put Black on diversion. (Herald-Sun, 3/10/2007)

Staggering, isn't it? Let's see how the others fared.

Fraser Gehrig

Gehrig also pleaded guilty to his assault-related charges and applied for this same "diversionary program" as his co-accused:

Fraser Gehrig Escapes Conviction for Brawl
Source: Herald-Sun

Gehrig faced one count each on charges of unlawful assault and common assault.

Police today withdrew the more serious charge of unlawful assault before Mr Smith granted Gehrig's application.


"It looks to me that the assault relates to Jacqueline Cameron. Mr Rouse's girlfriend struck Mr Gehrig and struck [him] in the back.

"[Gehrig] then pushed her to the upper body with both hands and that caused her to fall to the ground."

Gehrig's lawyer, Marita Altman, told Mr Smith her client had instinctively pushed Ms Cameron after being assaulted from behind.

"He shouldn't have pushed her at all," Mr Smith said. He then asked Gehrig whether he took responsibility for the assault on Ms Cameron, to which Gehrig replied: "Yes".


In granting Gehrig's application, Mr Smith said two significant things in the case had changed.

"The first is Mr Gehrig faces a charge of common assault and a second, his codefendants [Voss and Black], who both played a greater role in the melee, have both been diverted."

Given that Voss and Black played a greater role, it would be unfair to impose a harsher penalty on Gehrig, Mr Smith said.

He described Gehrig as "a man of good character" and the assault as "a push only". (The Age, 4/10/2007)

Did you get that? It was "only" a push. Besides, the magistrate's earlier leniency (err, "judicial mercy"?) sort of forced him into a corner in this instance. He had to divert him too, otherwise it wouldn't be fair (to him).

So, Gehrig stone-cold got away with his part in the attack. Surely, then, Steven Lawrence will cop it in the neck?

Steven Lawrence

No conviction, no diversion and a $5,000 fine (less than a week's wages for the average AFL player):

Steven Lawrence Escapes Conviction for Brawl
Source: The Age

Lawrence, 31, of South Melbourne, pleaded guilty in Melbourne Magistrates' Court to one charge of intentionally causing injury over the incident at the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda on September 29 last year.

Lawrence had been with a group of friends and fellow AFL players, including Brownlow medallists Michael Voss and Simon Black and St Kilda spearhead Fraser Gehrig, when the fight erupted.

The court heard Lawrence placed his hand on the victim, Julius Smith, then swung his fist at his head, causing him to fall to the ground unconscious.

Lawrence left the scene and refused to comment when shown footage of the incident during a police interview, the court was told.


[Lawrence's lawyer, Ian Hill QC] also argued a conviction could hinder his career prospects in property development.

While Magistrate Paul Smith said the incident was serious, he noted Lawrence's clean record, supportive character references and the fact a conviction could harm him professionally.

"Despite the fact this is a very serious offence, you've never done anything before or since," Mr Smith said.

He imposed a fine of $5,000 but said no conviction would be recorded. (The Age, 30/10/2007)

Geez. Like we need a property developer with a penchant for biffo!

So, these three hulking bullies kicked off a major brawl in a popular Melbourne pub by harassing a young woman, plead guilty, it's caught on tape and yet all escape conviction. A slap on the wrist and only minor inconvenience. Is anyone going to suffer sanction for this? You bet:

Jarrod Rouse

Yep, the victims. The one bloke without a top-flight expensive lawyer, huge fame and the resources of a media juggernaut like an AFL club backing him:

Last week Jarrod Rouse, 29, of Box Hill, was convicted and fined $2800 after pleading guilty to recklessly engaging in conduct that put others in danger of serious injury. (SMH, 2/10/2007)

No diversion program for you, son. Plus, an ordinary bloke from Box Hill will find it a lot tougher paying that fine than yet another footballer-cum-property developer. What a black day for justice in this city.

How can it happen? Clearly, this was not a jury trial. It was a lone experienced magistrate making a call on the evidence put before him. Before jumping to conclusions, let's review the sentencing history of Magistrate Paul Smith in regard to footballers. A brief search on Google turned up the following cases:

  • (2006) Carlton's Heath Scotland strikes a young woman in the toilets at a nightclub. Magistrate Smith directs Scotland into the "diversionary program" without conviction on the grounds that (sounds familiar?) a conviction might harm his chances of becoming a fireman. Scotland later faces allegations of striking another woman outside a pub in Ballarat.

  • (2006) Hawthorn's Campbell Brown put into "diversionary program" by Magistrate Smith following some unpleasantness at a 7-Eleven.

  • (2004) Former Collingwood footballer Des Tuddenham blows .133 (his third such offence) and causes a traffic accident. Magistrate Smith suspends the jail sentence.

  • (2002) Former Collingwood premiership ruckman Damian Monkhorst has escaped conviction for assaulting a 14 year-old boy at his country footy club - despite a guilty plea. Magistrate Smith was in the box seat.

These are all the cases I could find. Maybe there are instances of Mr Smith convicting current or former AFL players, but they're just not showing up in search engines. Now, I'm sure Mr Smith has far less qualms about convicting bloggers for contempt of court or similar charges. Or launching his own defamation action against me. So I have to be careful and state clearly: I do not believe - nor do I assert - that his rulings in this case are different from what we could expect from any other judicial officer. For example, County Court Judge John Barnett is more than capable of seeing that a vicious public brawl initiated by footballers doesn't inconvenience them too much. Hell, this blog is littered with stories of footballers' wrongdoings and dozens of court cases.

I must admit though, my initial thoughts on seeing this outcome is "How can the courts be so far out of step with community standards? Surely, Melbourne's Establishment isn't so parochial as to blackball people from their posh dinner parties just because they convicted popular footballers?".

But then it dawned on me: these are our community standards. Big, rich, famous young men simply don't need to bear the consequences for their actions. Their future career options are preserved. Sentencing "parity" is maintained (with other privileged footballers mind you, not mug punters off the street). They pay piddly inconsequential (for them) fines. They do "community work" that furthers their public profile. They have expensive QCs arguing their case in the Magistrates Courts. Professional publicists and image advisers are on tap. They get every opportunity, second chance, benefit of the doubt and break going.

No wonder they presume to own every venue in Melbourne. They can act rudely, even criminally, and they know the system will see them well looked after.

Citations: The Herald-Sun, 29/9/2006; The Australian, 29/9/2006; The Age, 29/9/2006; Herald-Sun, 3/10/2007; The Age, 4/10/2007; The Age, 30/10/2007; SMH, 2/10/2007

Word Count: 2124

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ben Cousins: Hot Potato

With Ben Cousins safely out of the country, it's now up to his manager Ricky Nixon to try to find Ben a new club for the 2008 season. But who'd have such a repeat offender in their midst? And will deals be done before the AFL Executive makes a ruling on a charge of "bringing the game into disrepute"? Join us in the game of Ben Cousins Hot Potato as we track the desperate bid to secure Cousins' playing career.

Ben Cousins, shown below heading to the airport with well-wishers, jetted out to complete his drug rehab (and a spot of firefighting!) in Malibu. We're all hoping the next attempt goes better than the first session. No doubt, the stylists, masseuses, hairdressers, pedicurists, manicurists, trainers, nutritionists, astrologists and other clinic staff will all be rooting for him too.

Cousins Leaves for Airport in Convoy ...

Before Re-enacting Cavity Search for Cameras

Perth's meth and coke markets reacted strongly to the news, with prices plummeting in response to the fall in aggregate demand. Analysts predict markets will rebound as a number of meth labs are reportedly closing up shop. However, they point to the absence of a surge in second-hand glassware on eBay, suggesting the drop in supply will be temporary. Clearly, many manufacturers and importers are expecting Cousins to return to form.

As a sign of just how badly Cousins' mental state has deteriorated, he declared he "absolutely" would play again in the AFL. He leaves the Herculean task of shopping him around to player-agent Ricky "Millhouse" Nixon, perhaps best known on this site for his management of Wayne Carey during the dark days of the infamous dunny-shag.

Nixon's now talking up the prospects of a deal with another club:

"It's not a matter of if, but when," Nixon said last night.

"And probably in Victoria."


"I read all these newspaper reports about clubs saying they do not want him. That's different in what they're saying to me," Nixon said. (Herald-Sun, 26/10/2007)

Meanwhile, the AFL Commission are meeting on the 19th and 20th of November to, in part, decide whether or not to charge Cousins' with "bringing the game into disrepute". This will seem him locked out. For good.

(In fairness to Ben, the incremental amount of "disrepute" he brought into the game is really quite modest. Dozens of players have been in court this past few years and nearly all the vices have been covered. Should he wish to mount this defence, his lawyers are welcome to use the menu on the right to browse through the litany of bashings, rapes, drug-abuse, traffic offences, sleaze and swindles.)

So Tricky Ricky's going to have to use all the tricks in his book to land this deal in the next 28 days. The clocks ticking, Ricky! Move over, Arliss. Get out of the way Jerry Maguire. Forget it, Trevor Heslop. And step off Ari Gold. Ricky Nixon is going to get this hot potato a contract!

There are only 16 AFL clubs in the league. Join us as we track in real-time the dwindling list of possibilities. If you hear of a club publicly ruling out Ben Cousins joining their list, drop us a comment (with source!).

Port Adelaide.
West Coast Eagles.
St Kilda.
Western Bulldogs.

With plenty of clubs still to rule out having Cousins on their list, it should be an exciting few weeks. Is anyone - even RichmondFremantle - desperate enough to sign-up this talented but deeply flawed player for another couple of seasons? Stay tuned.

*** UPDATE ***

BLOODY HELL! Disgraced Ben Cousins has gone missing in LA. He never showed up to his rehab clinic, instead disappearing with "two blonde women" in a "Mercedez-Benz sports car" who picked him up at the airport.

Sources close to the Summit Centre in Malibu told The Australian yesterday the 29-year-old failed to check in, as scheduled, on Monday.

They say they are worried for his safety.

"No one has any idea where he is," said a person with knowledge of the situation.

"He's got everyone freaking out because LA's not a good place to be out doing what he may be doing.

"I just hope nothing bad happens to him." (The Australian, 1/11/2007)

Geez. Like Ricky Nixon didn't have a tough enough job shopping him around. Now he's AWOL, I hope any bidding clubs insist on COD.

I sincerely hope he's not waving a bunch of cash around the mean streets of Los Angeles trying to score meth. That city will eat him alive. I've watched Cops and it's no picnic.

Here's hoping the whole thing is a stunt to throw the media off his scent. Or win public sympathy. Hell, even if he turns up tomorrow covered in hickies, genital warts and pubic lice it would be a better outcome.

*** UPDATE ***

Well, Ben Cousins has cranked out another episode in his ongoing saga. It turns out he wasn't wandering the streets of LA trying to score meth after all. His father, Bryan Cousins, put out a media release stating that Cousins' is not loose or missing but in secret rehab.

He has since been charged with "bringing the game into disrepute" and fronts up to a hearing at the AFL Commission on the 19th of November. This makes poor old Ricky Nixon's job a lot harder.

Now, Cousins is back from the US and undertaking more secret rehab in Sydney. Let's hope "secret rehab" doesn't involve the use of glass pipes, white powders and naked women.

Citations: Herald-Sun, 26/10/2007; The Australian, 1/11/2007

Word Count: 1002

Tags: footy, swindle

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ben Cousins Arrested and Sacked for Drugs

West Coast Eagle's great Ben Cousins has fulfilled all our expectations with a spectacular flame-out that has left the football world reeling. He was arrested by detectives in Perth, charged with drug offences and then promptly sacked by his club. While he has thrown away his $800K/year career, he can now indulge freely in his great love - drug-taking.

It hardly came as a surprise. The weeks after the finals are traditionally a time for footballers to get a little crazy. Maybe take some extra risks. For Cousins, the temptation was just too great.

Cousins' A Goner.
Source: Daily Telegraph.

Here's how Ben Cousins' horror day, October 16th, 2007, played out:

In a statement, police said they stopped Cousins' vehicle on Newcastle St, Perth around 11.30am after he came to their attention "due to the manner of his driving".

They allegedly found a quantity of prohibited drugs after searching the four-wheel drive vehicle.

The 29-year-old West Coast Eagles' midfielder was taken for questioning to the Traffic Enforcement Group headquarters in East Perth.

Police will allege Cousins failed to provide a sample of his blood for analysis.

Nine Network television footage showed Cousins, shirtless, being led by a detective from his vehicle to a police car, where he sat in the back seat between two officers. (The Daily Telegraph, 16/10/2007)

If you want the gory details, here's the video footage of Cousins' Walk of Shame:

Cousins' car was searched and some prescription drugs (Valium) was found. Cousins does not have a prescription for the drug, commonly used to soften the come down from crystal meth and ecstasy. Cousins refused to take a driving competency test or provide a saliva sample for drug testing.

Interestingly, Cousins was not so shy about the AFL drug tests. He passed 14 of them, despite having a raging "substance abuse problem" costing a reported $3000 per week. There are mixed reports about whether or not he asked for - and passed - a test following the death of former Weagle and mentor Chris Mainwaring. Cousins had visited the troubled "Mainy" twice in the hours before his death and Mainwaring's toxicology report revealed a cocktail of drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, anti-depressants and alcohol.

If Cousins has been using illicit drugs, I'm not surprised he refused a drugs test by WA police. After all, the police will not give you a week's notice before the test. Nor will they accept "sorry, can't provide a sample right now" as an excuse - unlike certain other drugs testers.

Also in Cousins' car were two young women - described as "scantily clad" - but it's not yet clear what charges they may face, if any. At the same time, his out-of-contract team mate Daniel Chick was also pulled over and investigated. A passenger in this vehicle, Nathan Greaves, has been charged with possession of cocaine and cannabis following a search of his house. Methamphetamines and "drug paraphernalia" (presumably various glass pipes and/or scales and baggies) were also found.

It looks a lot like this cosy little par-tay was interrupted by the police. The predictable whiners and apologists over at the Big Footy forum had the usual mix of conspiracy theories and heads-in-the-sand, decrying this as a "sting operation" targeting Cousins and a waste of public resources. Here's a tip kids: if you wander into the middle of a drugs sweep in your pimp-wagon and drive erratically, you'll get pulled. What's more, getting drug-affected motorists off the road is a good use of our tax dollars, regardless of how wealthy, famous or talented they are.

It seems certain that Cousins will never play professional footy again. He was already on a strict contract with the club following his very public fall from grace in March this year, triggering an expensive - but ultimately ineffective - bout of rehab. It was always doomed to failure, requiring him to, amongst things, avoid underworld figures. (Technically, just turning up to training with the West Coast Illegals constituted a breach of this clause.) His half-arsed "public apology" was that of an unrepentant man.

While his time at the top has been relatively short, he packed a lot in. Brawling with Daniel Kerr. Giving advice (along with Michael Gardiner) to outlaw motorcycle gangs over their nightclub shootings. Fleeing a booze bus on foot. Collapsing out the front of a casino late at night. These are the sorts of punk-acts that he will be remembered as throwing away his career over: an arrogant spoilt brat who believed all his own hype and, in the end, wasn't big enough where it counted.

Ben Cousins had the whole world at his feet. A good-looking rich kid with a staggering talent for footy. Adoration from millions of fans. A salary 20 times greater than others his age. The highest awards from the game, including the Brownlow Medal. He had been given "one last chance" so many times that his club was a joke. So keen were they to ensure his brilliance continued despite the damage, the League had to step in and threaten to take away premiership points to get them to act.

Well, they've finally done it. They tried everything to look the other way but, coming on top of Mainwaring's death just two weeks ago and lost sponsors, they just ran out of ladder and had to let Cousins drop. Even the players' union, under Brendon Gale, have washed their hands of him.

That a selfish drug culture has been allowed to flourish in Perth is undeniable. Many former players and leaders are calling for further action for club officials. Here at The Speccy, we're calling for an inquiry into the AFL's drug problem by an independent retired judicial figure - at the AFL's expense, not the taxpayers'. The outcome of this inquiry should determine what's happened and who's responsible before making recommendations for drug policy reform in the League.

The AFL cannot afford to wait for further careers to be destroyed - yet alone lives lost - before acting.

*** UPDATE ***

Cousins has had his (first) day in court and been allowed out on bail:

In a brief court appearance, Cousins was remanded on bail for 90 days to reappear in the same court on January 21 to face charges of drug possession and refusing to undergo a driver assessment.

Lawyer for Cousins, Shane Brennan, told the court had had spoken to police prosecutors who had agreed to the long adjournment. (The West Australian, 18/10/2007)

He is now free to return to $5,000/day rehab in the US. One can only presume that the court decided it's safe for him to leave the country on the grounds that all his drug dealers are here.

*** UPDATE ***

News services are reporting that the possession charge against Ben Cousins has been dropped. It's not yet clear if Cousins actually "found" a prescription for his Valium or if former team-mate and sparring partner Daniel Kerr (who has a conviction for fraudulently passing a Valium script) kindly sourced one for him. Or, maybe, rich people just don't need scripts?

In any case, his charge of refusing to subject himself to a drug test is proceeding:

[The West Coast Eagles] released a statement that it had been informed by the West Australian police that the charge of being in possession of a prohibited substance had been dropped.

The club noted however that, "this does not change the club position or the decision made on Wednesday to terminate Ben's contract because of repeated and serious breaches to his agreement with the club". (Sportal, 19/10/2007)

Here's more juicy details about what was found in his car, including the suggestion of "hammerheading" or (groan) "sextasy" - combining Viagra with ecstasy:

They say other drugs were found in the car including the prohibited pain-killer, OxyContin, Viagra and an anti-depressant.

A $20 note with traces of cocaine and MDMA or ecstasy, was also found on one of the passengers in Cousins' car. (ABC, 19/10/2007)

Quite the little party for a Tuesday morning, wouldn't you say? Doesn't really change much since the possession charge was always going to be tricky; all that coke and dope were carefully stashed in the other car. Not that it was Benny's gear. I mean, who on earth would leave their precious stash in Daniel Chick's car?

*** UPDATE ***

Rumours of Ben Cousins' five-day cocaine binge in LA have been confirmed. News media are reporting that he was hospitalised, after a friend, software sales manager Susie Ella, made an emergency 911 call at 5am:

THE emergency early morning call to the Hermosa Beach Police Department last week described a 29-year-old man "on cocaine not acting right". Later, the caller added, the man "has been on cocaine for the past five days".


The Herald has confirmed that Cousins was admitted to the Little Company of Mary hospital, in the adjoining suburb of Torrance, soon after the emergency call. Cousins remained at the hospital for two days before being discharged on Friday, November 2.


It described Cousins as "not acting right, is conscious and breathing". She told the operator Cousins had been on cocaine for the previous five days. She said he was "not being violent, is just scared". (SMH, 10/11/2007)

Absent a PR firm on retainer, Cousins' poor old dad Bryan was left to do the spinning while Cousins was on a coke bender and being rushed to hospital. Of more concern is that allegation that he spent a couple of nights in Sydney with the notorious Michael Gardiner - hardly the actions of a man hell-bent on getting clean.

I suspected that his "network" in LA might consist of anyone with cocaine. While this is a large group - especially in Los Angeles - I didn't think that he would end up hanging with the IT crowd. As the Yanks say - go figure.

*** UPDATE ***

In a startling admission of the impact Ben Cousins has on his team-mates, former West Coast player Glen Jakovich has spoken up about his relief at seeing Cousins sacked:

"Players will excel because the Cousins factor is gone," Jakovich said. "I truly believe players, young and older, felt intimidated by Cousins while he was in an unfit state to engage in training and team requirements.

"You can't win a premiership if things are not right off the field. It ruins team morale. (Herald-Sun, 13/1/2008)

We hear of phenomena like amphetamine psychosis and, from watching US reality crime show Cops, it looks very frightening. So while Cousins isn't a large man by any stretch, it's disturbing to think he could still intimidate the huge players in a violence-prone club like West Coast.

I guess this is one more reason to get serious about drug testing in the AFL. Those players who opt out of footy's drug culture shouldn't have to put up with intimidation by their colleagues.

Citations: The Daily Telegraph, 16/10/2007; The West Australian, 18/10/2007; Sportal, 19/10/2007; ABC, 19/10/2007; SMH, 10/11/2007; Herald-Sun, 13/1/2008

Word Count: 1938

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pies in Police Shooting Scandal

It seems that everyone wants to impress our beloved footballers. Sadly, it's not just members of the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club that believe a little gunplay will win the footy stars over: now it seems Victoria's police are using this same tried and true technique to suck up to their sporting heroes.

To say that Victoria Police enjoys a cosy relationship with AFL players is an understatement. It's not just the frequent and regular contact that police have with players in a professional capacity - it's the common interests and shared locker room cultures that gives police and footballers a special bond. Not to mention what they can do for each other.

Police are very accommodating of players. They will roar through traffic with lights and sirens to deliver a footballer (Saverio Rocca) to his son's birth - and then clumsily try to cover it up. This isn't an isolated incident - police are more than happy to ferry drunken footballers like David Johnson around in their own personal taxi service. Presumably, they get a buzz from having a player in the back seat. Police will also use "discretion" liberally when dealing with their favoured sons.

Sometimes, this cosiness crosses the line of decency, such as in the Heath Culpitt "missing rape evidence" scandal at Crown Casino. Victoria's top detective, Simon Overland, freshly imported from NSW, was clearly aghast at the favouritism displayed by local police to even the most obscure and talentless footballer:

Mr Overland admitted that while most police were not reluctant to investigate famous people, he could not discount the possibility that some officers "wouldn't be intimidated or wouldn't have other reasons for perhaps not pursuing allegations against high-profile people as vigorously as they might". (The Age, 10/02/05)

There have been other cases where footballer-friendly cops have "bulldozed" sex crime investigations, infuriating other police. Lord knows what other incidents have been mishandled, buried or simply not raised with police. After all, if the top detective has no confidence in his detectives, why should a rape or bashing victim?

Of course, all this cosiness takes on a far more sinister edge in light of the ongoing gangland violence and police corruption investigations in Victoria (eg Purana). It looks likely that corrupt police were involved in some of the killings. Certainly, corrupt police have been jailed for drug activities. Others have resigned under a cloud. Links between police and underworld figures are aired and - very gently - probed by the media. And let's not forget the extensive links between underworld figures and certain footballers (*cough* Ben Cousins *cough* Michael Gardiner *cough*).

Against this back drop of cosiness, special favours and corruption, we remember that Collingwood's Alan Didak formed a special bond with drug-dealing Hell's Angel Chris Hudson (now facing murder and firearms charges). This culminated in the so-called "Hell Ride" where Didak was taken from city stripclub Spearmint Rhino (where he was hanging out with footballers like Colin Syliva) to hang out at the Hell's Angels Melbourne chapter's fortress-compound in an outer-suburban industrial estate.

While it was never clear exactly who was trying to impress whom, it's clear that a mutual interest in speed played a role in the ugly courtship. Strippers too. And guns. Shots at the bar were (allegedly) followed by shots fired out of the car as they crossed the Bolte Bridge. More shots were (allegedly) fired later at a police car attempting to intercept the vehicle. While Didak was keeping quiet, the firing of guns in close proximity clearly left an impression on him. Sadly, just a few days later, Hudson went off the deep end and (allegedly) beat up one stripper, killed another stripper and a passer-by who tried to help her, and wounded another brave interloper.

How insensitive then, for Victoria's police to invite Alan Didak and the rest of the Collingwood Football Club to come down to their heavily-fortified suburban compound and blaze away with guns. Presumably miffed at being upstaged by the underworld, Victoria Police thought they could up the ante a little and woo the footballers back by letting footballers loose on the firing range:

A spokesman for the office confirmed last night that a complaint about members of an AFL club was being examined.

The complaint alleges that those involved falsely signed affidavits that they were intending to join a gun club - a condition of entry to the rifle range at the Victoria Police academy at Glen Waverley.

Channel Nine last night named Collingwood as the club involved. It was also reported last night that retiring captain Nathan Buckley and coach Mick Malthouse were among those who attended the range. (The Age, 11/10/2007)

The Office of Police Integrity - widely panned as a comparatively toothless tiger and enduring constant restructuring - will be looking into the matter. Falsifying an affidavit is a serious offence. Of more concern is the lapse in judgement by senior figures within Collingwood and the police. Why on Earth would police think that inviting the boys from a footy club down to shoot guns on their firing range would be an appropriate use of taxpayer resources? Let's face it: over the next few years the Collingwood Football Club is likely to remain an important source of work for the police. Is it appropriate that they socialise like this? And - as with underworld relationships - just who is doing the impressing here?

The OPI will also examine if people who fire weapons, even under supervision, require shooting licences.

The Herald Sun said the visit was approved by “very senior” police.

Magpies CEO Gary Pert confirmed players visited the shooting range at the police academy in Glen Waverley as part of a leadership program with the force. (Herald-Sun, 11/10/2007)

Oh dear. It seems this wasn't a bonding day for the Magpies, but a reward for senior police. I am ashamed that the police force that is meant "to uphold the right" is prostituting itself by enticing footballers - many of them with underworld contacts and criminal histories - with the prospect of gunplay. Our police are so desperate to bathe in the reflected glory of their teenaged heroes that they offer up their firing range as a lure, determined to outbid the bikie gangs.

At the very least, there's a prima facie case that our police have a) too much money b) not enough nous about how to spend it. Remember, this wasn't a spontaneous act of stupidity by 21 year-old cops and footballers; this was sanctioned at the highest level of both organisations and displays a disregard by senior police for the resources entrusted to them and concern for their judgement involving community sensitivities.

That young police recruits should be exposed to the wink-wink culture of protecting feted AFL sporting stars is disappointing. That police and Collingwood would overlook the club's connection to a shooting incident that horrified the nation is puzzling. That our police - well-paid and resourced as they are - should resort to gunplay to fawn over and pander to footballers is, sadly, entirely in keeping with this town's social hierarchy.

Citations: The Age, 11/10/2007; Herald-Sun, 11/10/2007

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