Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sports star cleared of sexual assault, but left financially ruined

The Manly Sea Eagles rugby league player was yesterday found not guilty in a Sydney court of two counts of sexually assaulting a teenage neighbour outside his unit block in Manly, in Sydney’s north, on March 6 last year.

Stewart, 25, burst into tears when the jury’s verdict was announced, ending 18 months of anxiety for the fullback, his beauty therapist girlfriend Jaime Baker and his parents, Barry and Narelle, who sat beside him in the NSW District Court.

Stewart and his family, including brother and fellow Sea Eagles player Glenn Stewart, left court via a rear exit, evading the cameras and guaranteeing an exclusive story for the highest bidder.

The Nine Network last night promoted what it billed as an exclusive interview with Stewart to run on The Footy Show.

Sources close to the player said Stewart, who is understood to earn about $400,000 a year, has spent his life savings on defending the case and was now hoping to recoup some of the money.

Stewart employed Tony Bellanto QC and legal sources say the top silk, along with a junior barrister and instructing solicitor, would cost almost $200,000 for the 10-day trial and two-day committal hearing.

The only person to speak outside court on behalf of Stewart was his solicitor, Ian Byrne. “This was a case of a girl with hallucinations and delusions,” Mr Byrne said.

The woman, now 19, alleged she was approached by a drunken Stewart who stuck his tongue down her throat and digitally penetrated her.

But in Stewart’s version, which the jury believed, the girl grabbed him by the arm and tried to kiss him. The jury concluded that this was a case of false allegations of sexual assault given the contradicting evidence presented by the girl and her father.

Yesterday’s verdict brought an end to 18 months of hell for the one time face of rugby league.