ABC’s Four Corners has issued a statement to “set the record straight” on its recent episode “Code of Silence”, which explored sexual misconduct within the NRL:

FOUR CORNERS “CODE OF SILENCE”

Due to the high level of interest in this program, we would like to answer a number of questions that have arisen in response to the story.

Four Corners cannot control what is said in the outer reaches of the internet. We can correct some of the rumours and untruths being printed or broadcast in the mainstream media. In doing so we would also like to set the record straight on how the story came into being.

After the incident with the Cronulla Sharks occurred in Christchurch in 2002, Clare was pursued by the media to tell her story; she was offered money by commercial media in Australia; she refused all requests to speak about it. The intervening years were marked by post traumatic stress disorder and its debilitating symptoms. Two months ago, after we had begun researching a story on Rugby League, one of the members of the Cronulla Sharks tour to New Zealand told Four Corners about the events in Christchurch. Through our research we found Clare and asked her to take part in a programme looking at off-field incidents in the NRL, attitudes to women in the culture of the game and the possibility for change. On that basis and knowing there were other women also speaking out, she agreed.

A few points of clarification:

  • Clare was not paid for the interview. Payment is contrary to ABC Editorial guidelines. Her only requirement was that we protect her identity.
  • Clare has not “boasted” about the fallout from the story. She is in hiding from the media, and has made no comment about the consequences of the story for others.
  • The program was extensively researched based on police material, medical reports and the first- hand accounts of participants, not hearsay from people unconnected with the events.
  • The New Zealand police have not made any adverse comment about the programme. They have gone on the record to say that suggestion is completely untrue.
  • Most of the activity that took place during the incident is not disputed. Players and staff gave graphic accounts to police of the sexual activity. One player told police that at least one of them had climbed in through the bathroom window and crawled commando-style along the floor of the room.
  • We stated explicitly in the story that we were not focussing on the issue of consent in relation to the incident in Christchurch. We stated simply that Clare made a complaint to police. This was investigated at the time. The players say she consented and no charges were laid. The focus of this incident was the role of group sex in rugby league culture and the consequences for the woman involved.
  • As far as Clare’s state of mind at the time is concerned, when she made a complaint to Christchurch police a few days after the incident, police noted her distress in their reports. She was in tears and found it very difficult to describe what had happened. Days later, the police also noted that some comments she made suggesting she was not distressed were a mechanism for coping with what had happened.
  • The manager of the hotel in Christchurch, Clare’s boss Keith Burgess, said that Clare was “a stable person” and “the last person to be involved in that kind of thing.” Clare says she doesn’t know the owner of the hotel who has recently made derogatory remarks about her.
  • The events later in the evening at the hotel are disputed. Player Daniel Ninness said last week that Clare was not distressed leaving the hotel. Clare told police in signed statements at the time that Ninness was kind to her and came to her rescue and she relied on him for support to get home. We attempted to contact Ninness prior to broadcast but were unsuccessful.
  • Four Corners sought interviews with all the players and staff from the team that we were able to track down prior to broadcast. No one wanted to give an on-camera interview. Some spoke freely to Four Corners, others did not. We identified those people whose presence was confirmed by more than one firsthand account. They were Matthew Johns, Brett Firman, and Paul Gallen who told us he came into the room at the end.

Matthew Johns spoke to Four Corners on numerous occasions about the events and we included comments he made in the story. He declined however to give an on camera interview to Four Corners and answer more detailed questions about his role in the incident. We told Johns in advance of the broadcast that the young woman’s testimony was moving, that she had clearly suffered after the event and had been psychologically damaged by it.

Matthew Johns said before the broadcast went to air that he agreed the worst response to the programme would be for anyone to go after the girl. Clare has recently contacted Four Corners asking that the media leave her in peace.

She said this:

“I am being harassed in the most awful ways and what is being reported by jornalists (sic) is horrible and untrue. They have got people speaking of me that are not my friends or people I have never met. It feels like I am living in a nightmare. All I wanted to do was to make people aware of the culture and stop it happening to other girls.”

  • In relation to the Newcastle Knights section of the story, the Knights were frequently updated during the making of the story, up to and including just before broadcast. No comment from any one in any part of the programme was taken out of context. Four Corners has received no complaint or question from anyone actually involved in the story suggesting the contrary.

Peter Fray

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