The British man accused of a one-punch attack on a former captain of Australia’s Rugby Sevens team has been cleared at court.
Sam Oliver, 23, was accused of flooring James Stannard with a “king hit” – Australian slang for a single punch – outside a kebab shop in Sydney in the early hours of March 30.
The 35-year-old player struck his head on the pavement and suffered a fractured skull, spending two nights in hospital. He was unable to compete at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April.
Mr Oliver, from Newcastle, had denied recklessly causing grievous bodily harm and the alternative charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, claiming Mr Stannard hit him first and that he had acted in self-defence.
Following a three-day hearing at Sydney’s Downing Centre, magistrate Richard Funston found he was “not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt this very serious charge made out”.
Describing it as an “unfortunate incident”, he said: “There’s no doubt alcohol played a huge part. I’ve no doubt we would not be here if it wasn’t for the fact that alcohol was such a huge issue for both the complainant and the defendant.”
He added that many witnesses showed “blurred memories” in their accounts of what happened.
During his evidence, Mr Oliver said he had been hit in the eye by Mr Stannard “out of the blue”, and that he had reacted “instinctively”.
He alleged the sportsman had approached him outside the Erciyes kebab shop in the suburb of Coogee and called him a “pommy c***”.
He said: “When I said something back he got more aggressive, more f’ing and blinding … His whole body language changed and I was hit.”
He added: “I didn’t expect to be hit. I didn’t see it coming … I reacted pretty much straight away. It must’ve been like instinctively to protect myself.”
Prosecutors disputed the claims that Mr Stannard had thrown the first punch, and said Mr Oliver had launched an “unsuspecting attack” on the rugby player.
Prosecutor Burton Ko suggested alcohol had affected the Briton’s memory and that he was guessing about what had happened.
In his findings, Mr Funston said Mr Oliver had claimed it was self-defence at the “earliest opportunity” – to police at the scene – and seemed “pretty unwavering” in his evidence that he had been hit first by Mr Stannard.
He added that the “critical finding” was that Mr Oliver’s own injury – a black eye – “must have” occurred when he was arguing with Mr Stannard, and not when Mr Oliver had been chased and tackled by the rugby player’s friends.
Mr Stannard, who announced his retirement from rugby in June, denied having a “degree of dislike for Englishmen” and said his last memory before waking up in hospital was of the band finishing playing at the Coogee Bay Hotel.
He had spent part of the evening at the venue with teammates and friends, and left at about 3am.
Mr Oliver, who was on a working holiday visa and living in Coogee at the time of the incident, had left the same hotel at a similar time.
Following the hearing, Mr Oliver said he was “very relieved”.
When asked what he would learn from the incident, he said: “Nothing good happens after 2am. I just hope it never happens again.”
His father Chris, who has been supporting him throughout the hearing, said: “Sam has never been in trouble before and I think he will not be in trouble again.”
He added: “As a family we’re just relieved it’s all over and can get Sam back to the UK now. Obviously we wish James Stannard all the best… and his family for what they must have been through.”
Mr Stannard said he was “very disappointed” in the decision.
“I feel like the truth did not come out in the hearing,” he said.
“There’s no excuse for violence in this community at all and I don’t condone it.”