Australia’s Kurtley Beale has been found not guilty of sending a series of harassing and offensive texts to the former Wallabies business manager Di Patston and is free to join the team for their UK tour.
However, an independent three-member code of conduct tribunal fined Beale $45,000 on Friday for sending an initial text with an image of an obese naked woman, captioned “Di”, to Patston on 9 June. But the tribunal, chaired by district court judge Mark Williams SC, found a second text, deemed to be far more offensive (a naked woman, captioned “Di – who wants a go fucking this?”), was not sent by Beale after the player’s legal counsel produced IT forensic evidence proving he did not send that text and image. The ARU accepted the forensic examination reports of Beale’s and Patston’s mobile phones were indeed accurate.
In a marathon five-hour hearing at the ARU’s headquarters in Sydney, Beale’s counsel also cast doubt on wide-ranging allegations Patston had made in her formal complaint against Beale, which she made before resigning from the ARU three weeks ago citing stress. There were significant discrepancies between the texts presented in evidence by Patston and the texts Beale had actually sent from his phone.
Further, a number of texts included in the exchange between the pair had not been tendered in evidence at all, an omission that ultimately favoured Beale in the tribunal’s decision.
The fly-half’s legal advisors had sought former Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, who resigned last Saturday over the texting scandal, and Patston to attend the hearing so they could be cross-examined. As former employees, however, neither could be compelled to attend, and they failed to do so.
In a joint ARU/Beale/Rugby Union Players’ Association statement issued after the hearing, the ARU chief executive, Bill Pulver, said Beale’s fine would go to a charity “that promotes the empowerment of women”.
Pulver, who has come under strong criticism for his management of the Beale texting affair, defended the ARU’s handling of the matter. “This was a serious allegation and like any business, when we received that complaint we were compelled to investigate it and give Kurtley Beale an opportunity to present his case in an independent forum.” He confirmed the ARU would re-open contract negotiations with Beale next week. His current deal expires in five weeks.
Beale apologised for his behaviour in sending the initial text. “I’d like to apologise to Di Patston and the broader community for my behaviour, particularly to rugby fans. I have had a fair hearing and will work to regain the respect of my teammates, fans and the general community,” he said.
Beale said he was “satisfied” with the tribunal’s decision. “I’m also happy the evidence presented to the tribunal did not establish that I sent the second text and photograph. This is why I fought so hard to prove my innocence regarding that text. I am relieved there is no termination and suspension and I can now continue playing rugby,” he said.
Greg Harris, the head of the players’ union, said: “We are pleased that Kurtley, having shown remorse and incurring the penalty, will now be in a position to continue his rugby career.”
The tribunal decision finally brings to a close a disastrous month for Australian rugby with back-to-back Wallabies losses to South Africa and Argentina, followed by the resignations of Patston and then McKenzie, who no longer had the support of players who viewed Patston’s role in the team as vague and at times intimidating.
Patston worked with McKenzie when he was Reds coach in 2011-12. She joined him at the ARU when he became Wallabies coach last year. McKenzie was forced to deny he was having an affair with Patston after the texting scandal broke almost three weeks ago.
Michael Cheika, Beale’s coach at the Waratahs, was named the new Wallabies coach earlier this week. The pair are said to be close. It now looks likely Beale will join the Wallabies’ UK tour party early next week, with the team having departed Australia shortly before the hearing on Friday night.