The crucifixion of Brett Stewart

National Rugby League

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It’s not fair what Brett Stewart has had to endure.  In summing up the case against him I couldn’t say it better than a friend who sat in on the entire two-week court case.

One must ask just who is responsible for this waste of public and private money, and who is responsible for putting this fine family through this horror? This nonsense should have been stopped along the way, before it snowballed into what it became, a tragedy.  And the real ‘victims’ in this are the Stewart family.  They are the ones who have to put up the hundreds of thousands of dollars to clear Brett’s name, and they are the ones who have expended the emotional fortune that is unquantifiable.

This young man was innocent from the get go.  NO question.  These charges should have been thrown in the garbage at the outset.  It took two weeks of trial and months of torment for this family to get things right.  This trial was an utter disgrace and all who prosecuted it should be ashamed of themselves.

Thankfully, on the legal front justice has been served.  Brett had his day in court and has been exonerated of any implication of wrong-doing.

However, in the court of public opinion he has yet to receive justice, nor is he likely to.  Stewart was previously known for his charity work far beyond the realm of most players.  His character and exemplary behaviour saw him chosen to be the face of the game, one of the many honours unfairly stripped away from him in the wake of the bogus allegations thrown his way in March 2009.

Brett Stewart court caseFor twenty months he has been forced to silently endure the shame of being referred to as “disgraced footballer Brett Stewart”.  The disgrace was not on Stewart, it was on a media, and NRL leadership that hung him out to dry.

I particularly want to single out David Gallop in this.  He is the one who slapped a 4 week suspension on Stewart and a $100,000 fine on the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, at pains to say it was not because of the charges Stewart faced, but for leaving premises intoxicated.  The only problem for Gallop is that the court case has shown, via witness statements from police at the scene, that Brett was not as affected as Gallop led the public to believe.

At the press conference to announce the suspension Gallop had quite a bit to say that now, in light of Brett’s innocent verdict and the evidence at the trial, looks astonishingly hollow.

In using his powers to suspend Stewart Gallop leaned on a rule that binds players to “sober, professional and courteous behaviour” while consuming alcohol to justify his intervention.  The problem for Gallop now is that the court case has clearly demonstrated that in the opinion of most, if not all, police on the scene Stewart did indeed present as sober, professional and courteous.

At the time of the suspension Gallop plucked on the heart-strings, suggesting he’d “paced the hallway for three hours contemplating what to do”.  Oh the anguish.  This piece of self-gratifying theatre took place after a “robust” conference with the Manly Board.

Now we know what really went on.  The Manly Board, who were far from united at the time, were united on this point.  They knew Stewart had done nothing wrong, and they already knew the very grave reservations about the case that has now been exposed for all to see in the court room these last few weeks.  They had every right, and were entirely correct, to stand behind Stewart and back him to the hilt, and told Gallop as much.

Weasel words are not enough. Apologise, now!

Gallop’s anguish was not about Stewart’s misdemeanor.  His anguish was purely about self-preservation, pacing the hallways because he needed to make a tough statement to save face with a rabid media peddling fanciful lies about Stewart and suggesting Gallop lacked gumption.  Gallop admitted that NRL staff had reacted to the Stewart allegations after so many dramas in recent years that had not received stiff penalty.

There was a battle-hardened response – which is not where we want people who work at the NRL to be,” he said.

Something like this should come as a major shock, but unfortunately we’ve had a lot of experience in recent years.

Sorry Gallop, but you picked the wrong horse to whip.  Brett Stewart and Manly had not done anything wrong.  And you haven’t been consistent either.  No one had received such a penalty previously, and since the initial media kerfuffle died down, no one has since.  As recently as three weeks ago, and at a time when it could have prejudiced a jury when Stewart’s case was in session, the Australian half back was put in lock-up!  No suspension there (yet).

And now the whipped horse has been shown innocent on all counts.

When Gallop imposed his suspension he said “Brett Stewart had a big responsibility to the code and he is now Mr Double Demerit“.

Well Gallop has a far bigger responsibility to the code, and he has a responsibility to justice.  He has no option but to apologise to Brett Stewart and his family and return the $100,000 fine he imposed on Manly for doing the right and just thing.

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