Former England cross-code convert Sam Burgess's intimidation conviction appeal upheld
Former South Sydney NRL captain Sam Burgess’s conviction for intimidating his father-in-law has been quashed after a judge said there was reasonable doubt the offence occurred.
A magistrate in February found the 32-year-old Burgess had yelled “f*** you, I’m going to get you” 20 centimetres from Mitchell Hooke’s face during an expletive-riddled rage, sparked when Burgess was asked to leave the Hookes’ Southern Highlands property in October 2019.
Goulburn District Court Judge Mark Williams on Friday upheld Burgess’s appeal, saying the former footballer’s version of events was “at least, reasonably possible”.
He found “of little relevance” the evidence of the only third-party witness, Mr Hooke’s daughter and Burgess’s sister-in-law Harriet, who had come upon the men arguing after the alleged threats were made.
“This was a case of the word of Burgess against the word of Hooke,” he said.
Judge Williams said the onus remained on the Crown at all times to prove beyond reasonable doubt that an offence occurred.
An accused person “does not have to prove that his version is true” but if the court thinks it “might” be true, he must be acquitted, the judge said.
“The Crown has not eliminated the reasonable possibility that the reasons given by Burgess are true,” the judge said.
While accepting the argument occurred, Burgess denied swearing in the home and cast the father of his estranged wife Phoebe Burgess as the aggressor.
The incident was sparked after Mr Hooke told Burgess to leave the home when a two-hour agreed visit came to an end, with each man accusing the other of inflaming the situation and continuing it onto the driveway.
As Burgess was driving out of the driveway, he stopped to take photographs of Mr Hooke and other people outside the house he said showed why he’d been loath to leave.
The Moss Vale magistrate instead proposed Burgess had become conscious of his offending conduct and snapped pictures to “arm” himself with material to defend himself.
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“There is no basis for that proposition in the evidence in my view, and the reason Burgess gives for the photographs appears to be a credible one,” Judge Williams said.
Mr Hooke in October testified his own calm words were rebutted with “f*** you, I’m going to get you, you orchestrated all of this”.
“Six foot five, 118 kilograms, threatening to hit me, I was terrified,” the now-65-year-old told the court.
“I had never felt fear like it. My whole body went cold.”
Burgess retired in 2019 after a 270-game NRL and English Super League career and stints with England’s national rugby union and rugby league sides.
He stood down from roles as a commentator and South Sydney assistant coach in October.
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