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Brown and Ojo found guilty of misconduct
Scrum.com
July 10, 2008
England's Topsy Ojo and Mike Brown (L) leave the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Christchurch, New Zealand on June 22, 2008.
Brown (left) and Ojo leave the England team hotel in Christchurch during the ill-fated tour to New Zealand © Getty Images
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A Rugby Football Union disicplinary investigation has found internationals Mike Brown and Topsy Ojo guilty of misconduct on the recent tour of New Zealand and fined them £1,000 and £500 respectively.

Jeff Blackett, the RFU's chief disciplinary officer who conducted the inquiry, has found David Strettle and Danny Care not guilty of misconduct. Ojo was fined £500 and reprimanded after he was found to have stayed out all night. Brown was fined £1,000 and reprimanded after also staying out all night and arriving late for a physiotherapist appointment.

Ojo, Brown and Care were at the centre of sex allegations following England's 37-20 defeat by the All Blacks in Auckland. But no official complaint was made against the players, who denied any wrongdoing.

The woman at the centre of the allegations last week confirmed she would not be making a formal police complaint in order to avoid the "extensive and invasive news media" that would "threaten her privacy and personal life". Blackett, noting her desire to protect her privacy, had no direct contact with the complainant during his investigation and was thus unable to test her allegations.

But he found independent evidence provided by witnesses unconnected with the allegations that corroborated much of the four players' own account of what happened. As a result of the investigation there will be no changes to the England Elite Squads announced on July 1.

Explaining the sequence of events that led to the complaint being made, Blackett said: ''Mike Brown and Topsy Ojo (together and with some other players) visited a number of bars in the early morning after the first Test match. 'They met the complainant and she eventually accompanied them back to the team hotel some time after 0700 on Sunday morning. She went to Brown's room and was there alone with her.

''At about 0835 Brown left the room and attended a physiotherapist appointment and while he was there, Topsy Ojo (who had gone to the room to ensure Brown went to the see the physiotherapist) was in the room alone with the complainant.

''Danny Care had returned to the hotel at sometime between 0130 and 0300. 'David Strettle had returned to the hotel at sometime between 0330 and 0500.

''Care and Strettle popped their heads round the unlocked interconnecting door of the room at about 0855 and saw Ojo with the complainant. They were there for no more than a few seconds. 'Brown admitted that he was a bit tipsy while in the bars, although in control. He also accepts he was 20 minutes late for his physiotherapist appointment in the morning.

''All of the other players admit modest, but not excessive, alcohol consumption and they all attended their morning physiotherapist appointments on time. 'They believed that they could relax a little more than normal because the day following the Test match was a travelling day.''

Brown was found guilty of misconduct in that he stayed out all night during an England tour and as a consequence was late for a physiotherapist appointment. The Harlequins fullback was fined £1000 and warned in future not to put himself in any compromising situations which may lead to him bringing the game into disrepute. Ojo acknowledged that he should not have stayed out until after 0700 but did attend his physiotherapy appointment on time.

In his report, Blackett said that during discussions with the London Irish winger, Ojo accepted that ''a young woman with whom he says he had a consensual relationship has caused an allegation to be made in the media which has caused damage to the image of England rugby''.

He was fined £500 for staying out all night and was warned about his future conduct.

While Blackett reiterated he could find no evidence to support the complainant's allegations, he declared the players' conduct was unsuitable for professional sportsmen.

Blackett summarised: ''Without any credible and tested evidence of serious wrongdoing it is impossible to gainsay the players' own accounts of what occurred.

''This case has thus boiled down to no more than errors of judgement by young players on their first or second major international tour which are insufficient in themselves to effect future England selection. 'No doubt in the past England players on tour have stayed out too late, drunk excessive quantities of alcohol, invited guests back to the team hotel and missed physiotherapist appointments or training the next morning.

''But such activity is now inconsistent with the life of an elite professional rugby player in the modern era and with membership of a team seeking to be the best in the world.''

England's management - led by director of rugby Rob Andrew - drew heavy criticism following the events in Auckland but Blackett refused to blame them for any perceived indiscipline or misconduct.

The disciplinary boss declared that the players were entitled to some relaxation to ''let off steam away from public scrutiny''.

However, Blackett stated that there is a ''need for a tighter rein on players when they are on England duty and they all need to be given clear guidelines about the limits of acceptable behaviour''.

He also criticised some of the coverage that the incident and subsequent fallout had received in the press.

In conclusion the report states, "Without any credible and tested evidence of serious wrongdoing it is impossible to gainsay the players' own accounts of what occurred. This case has thus boiled down to no more than errors of judgement by young players on their first or second major international tour which are insufficient in themselves to effect future England selection. No doubt in the past England players on tour have stayed out too late, drunk excessive quantities of alcohol, invited guests back to the team hotel and missed physiotherapist appointments or training the next morning.

"Such activity is now inconsistent with the life of an elite professional rugby player in the modern era and with membership of a team seeking to be the best in the world. I recommend to the new England management that they consider my recommendation in paragraph 51 above very seriously."

In the lengthy report, released by the RFU, Blackett states:

"There was no specific tour code of conduct or rules about drinking or prohibiting players inviting guests back to their hotel, and there was no curfew. Rules were issued in advance of the second test match relating to curfew and guests. An EPS Code of Conduct had been issued to the EPS squad in January 2008 and those players who had not been selected for that squad were generally aware that their conduct must not bring the Union into disrepute."

It continues:

"Mike Brown accepts that he should not have stayed out until after 0700 and that he was late for his physiotherapist appointment. He also acknowledges that he was a little tipsy, albeit always in control. He said that since he knew that Sunday was a travelling day with no scheduled training he was more relaxed than he would otherwise have been.

"He also does not believe he did anything wrong in taking a young woman back to his hotel although he accepted my homily about not doing anything which could find its way into the media and bring the Game into disrepute. In this case a young woman with whom he says he had a consensual relationship has caused an allegation to be made in the media which has caused damage to the image of England rugby.

"In these circumstances I find Mike Brown guilty of misconduct in that he stayed out all night during an England rugby tour and was thereby late for a physiotherapist appointment. In those circumstances the appropriate sanction is to reprimand him; and to fine him £1000.

"In addition he put himself in a position where allegations could be made against him and I warn him to be careful in future not to put himself in any compromising situations which may lead to him bringing the Game into disrepute."

The report continues:

"Topsy Ojo accepts that he should not have stayed out until after 0700 although his alcohol consumption was fairly modest and he was not at all inebriated. He too thought that since he knew that Sunday was a travelling day with no scheduled training he was more relaxed than he would otherwise have been. He did not take the complainant back to the hotel although he was in the group with her and other players and he went back to his room on return.

"He attended his physiotherapy appointment on time. He also does not believe he did anything wrong as regards his relationship with the complainant although he accepted my homily about not doing anything which could find its way into the media and bring the Game into disrepute. He accepts that a young woman with whom he says he had a consensual relationship has caused an allegation to be made in the media which has caused damage to the image of England rugby.

"In these circumstances I find Topsy Ojo guilty of misconduct in that he stayed out all night during an England rugby tour. In those circumstances the appropriate sanction is to reprimand him; and to fine him £500.

"In addition he put himself in a position where allegations could be made against him and I warn him to be careful in future not to put himself in any compromising situations which may lead to him bringing the Game into disrepute."

Blackett also stresses the need to review such arrangements of England players when on international duty.

"There is clearly a need for a tighter rein on players when they are on England duty and they all need to be given clear guidelines about the limits of acceptable behaviour. This is most important in relation to very young players who do not yet have the life skills to cope with sudden stardom. As a very minimum a future code of conduct should:

+ Warn players to avoid potentially compromising situations which may become public and thus bring discredit on the players and the Game;

+ Prohibit players from bringing unknown guests back to team hotels (without management approval);

+ Set limits on the amount of alcohol a player may drink; and

+ Make clear the limits of post match entertainment.

In clearing Care and Strettle of any wrongdoing, the report says:

"Danny Care asserts that he has done nothing wrong. He only spent a couple of hours at the Pasha bar and returned to the hotel at sometime between 0130 and 0300. He did not drink excessively, nor did he miss any team appointment. There is no evidence that he was named or identified by the complainant or that he committed any criminal act.

"He only became involved in the inquiry because he popped his head round an unlocked interconnected door to remind Mike Brown that it was time to leave for the rehabilitation session and saw Topsy Ojo with the complainant. With justification he feels very aggrieved that he has been identified in the press as a potential suspect, and this has caused him and his family some discomfort.

"In all the circumstances I have found that Danny Care was not guilty of any misconduct.

"David Strettle also asserts that he has done nothing wrong and, apart from returning to the hotel later than Care is in the same position. However, his case has been muddied by the salacious story which appeared in the News of the World in relation to Sophie Lewis.

"That report has caused him and his family considerable personal distress. I have considered whether someone who is the victim of this sort of "kiss and tell" story, whether true or not, is guilty of any misconduct and have taken the view that unless the story highlights breaches of a code or conduct or some other misconduct then it, on its own, does not merit any sanction. Strettle, like Danny Care, only became involved in this investigation because he popped his head round an unlocked interconnected door to remind Mike Brown that it was time to leave for the rehabilitation session.

"He saw Topsy Ojo in Mike Brown's room and he effectively came forward as a witness to support Mike Brown and Topsy Ojo against serious allegations. He was not one of the four people the police wished to interview.

"In all the circumstances I have found that David Strettle was not guilty of any misconduct, but I do warn him to be careful in future not to put himself in any compromising situations which may lead to him bringing the Game into disrepute."

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