General El Masri: Why I said no to police DNA request.

*Kimmy*_old

Guest
El Masri tells: why I said no to a police DNA request
Email Print Normal font Large font March 11, 2007

With sexual smears again being directed at league players, in this exclusive extract from a new book by Bill Woods, Hazem El Masri explains why he refused a police request during the Coffs Harbour saga.

HAZEM El Masri made it through the Coffs Harbour trial game in early 2004 with little trouble. He ran strongly, kept up with his teammates and kicked well. The Bulldogs won the match convincingly.

After the game, the team climbed onto a bus for their trip back to the resort.

"I was a bit tired, to be honest. I hadn't played for a while," he says. "When we arrived back at our rooms we all had time to change before getting together for a team dinner.

"Then a bus was organised to take us back to town if we wanted to go. I knew the other guys were going out but I'd decided to have an early night. I just went back to my room, made a phone call to my wife and kids, and my mum. Then I watched a bit of TV and went to bed."

The next morning, Sunday, February 22, the team was to gather again at 8 o'clock for a recuperative swimming session. From the moment the players arrived, they noticed something was wrong. There were whispers and puzzled expressions as team management quizzed players about events of the previous night. Four players would remain in Coffs Harbour for questioning by police, while the rest flew home.

Versions of what happened during those preceding hours would become part of rugby league folklore, and the beginning of a distasteful reputation that would haunt the club for years. A 20-year-old woman had told Coffs Harbour police she had been gang-raped by as many as six Bulldogs players.

"We called a meeting on the Tuesday," Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes says. "We needed to know the absolute truth before we could take any action at all - which is where a few in the media got the term 'truth meeting' from. It wasn't our terminology. The media claimed it was some contrived meeting to pervert the course of justice, making sure that everyone's story was the same, which was bull****. All the players had been in different places at different times but every account tied in with the others. There were no discrepancies.

"If I suspected someone of actually doing what this woman claimed, I would have put those guys in without hesitation. I have a wife and an 18-year-old daughter. I would toss those guys up to face whatever punishment was due, not only because it would be the right thing to do, but to save the others; to save the rest of the club. Why would we risk sacrificing the entire organisation, the careers and reputations of all the decent people involved, to protect a few ******s? This was not about 'protection'. If anyone had been guilty we would have thrown them to the wolves."

Whatever the players said, it seemed to convince Bulldogs officials. Hazem, among others, was a mere spectator as the various stories were told, the uneasy, grinding feeling in his stomach refusing to go away.

Hazem's innocence had been a badge of credibility for his club and the game. He and others like him staked a lot on their decision to back the players connected with this incident. He had fought prejudice against Lebanese migrants, prejudice against Muslims and prejudice against players whose club had breached the salary cap the previous year. This was a commitment he had to be sure of, for he knew more than anyone the potential consequences.

"There were too many good men and good women in that club to allow any crime to be suppressed," he says. "Why didn't anyone consider that people like us would not tolerate playing alongside someone who had raped a woman? It was a time when we would sit in the dressing room, stand on the field and look around at each other, searching the eyes for a clue, a sign - a sign of innocence or guilt. We searched. We found it. We stuck together."

The mud was raked deep and thrown indiscriminately when 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley read on air an "incident report" from Coffs Harbour, which alleged that six to eight players were involved and that at least six of them had sexually assaulted a woman by "anal, oral and vaginal penetration". What Hadley read was not an official police statement. It was an allegation that would evolve into various other versions as the woman changed her statements. The damage, however, had been done.

"Everywhere we wore the club uniforms, people were staring," Hazem says. "You could tell they were summing us up, trying to figure out which of us was 'one of them'. Everything we did was filmed, reported, scrutinised. Every facial expression judged. 'Was that a guilty look? Was that a cheeky smile? What's he smiling about?' They were in our faces at every turn."

On March 3, chief executive Steve Mortimer said that at least two of his players would be penalised harshly for breaching the club's code of conduct. This sent the media into a frenzy, just as players and staff had begun queuing up for police interviews. The media showed some players walking up to the police station dressed in T-shirts, shorts and thongs. They were criticised for not respecting the seriousness of the situation.

Hazem was not part of that controversy. He was brewing one of his own.

"They had organised one lawyer for everybody when there was talk of the whole squad taking DNA tests," he says. "The idea offended me, so I called [my lawyer] Adam Houda. I said, 'Listen, do whatever you have to do, but I don't want to be down there. I don't want to be tarred with the same brush.' I'm sure most of the other guys felt the same way, but they put their fate in the hands of the club and that was their decision."

Houda understood. "He needn't have gone into the reasons why," the lawyer says. "To be dragged into a dirty police station and to be asked questions concerning filthy allegations when he wasn't a suspect is just moronic. We live in an age of information. Imagine his kids one day Googling their dad to learn he was dragged into this whole affair. He did the right thing."

Bulldogs captain Steve Price had been caught at the crossroads. He felt extra responsibility as leader and decided to stick with the group.

"We all volunteered to make a statement and give DNA to speed the whole process up," Price says. "Haz had decided not to and not one bloke questioned that. My wife Jo said, 'You've got nothing to hide, so why do it?' I agreed with Jo and was going to do exactly what Haz did. In the end, I thought I should stick up for the team and she was a bit disappointed about that. In a way, what Haz did showed more courage."

Hazem says: "This was not, as many people reported, about my religion. It was about my self-respect, my right not to be declared guilty by association. I had already heard of painful comments on talkback radio saying, 'It must be Hazem, because he's Lebanese'. They were linking me to those Lebanese ******s. I think a lot of wives and girlfriends would have liked their men to take the same stand as I did, but the guys weren't aware of their rights. They were just sucked into the whole thing.

"[My wife] Arwa backed me the whole way. She was crying when I returned home one day. She had been at the shop and one of the ladies there asked her how she was handling it all. She said, 'Oh, we're OK, thank you.' Then the woman asked, 'Your husband's not involved in this, is he?' It was very hurtful."

Arwa says she was insulted. "I went home crying over that," she says. "Imagine someone saying your husband is a ******. We received horrible calls on our mobiles, people yelling '******'. No one seemed to stop and consider that he was never a suspect … He is a decent and respectful husband and loyalty has never been an issue."

On the second day of interviews, Houda and Hazem made their way to Surry Hills police station after the other players had turned up. They went to the interview room where police and club officials lined the walls, standing, seated and frowning through their embarrassment. Houda stepped up to the plate. "Is he a suspect?" he asked, of Hazem.

"Absolutely not."

"Right then, he doesn't need to give you any DNA. He doesn't need to be here."

One of the officers argued, threatening to take the matter to court. Houda responded calmly with: "We'd blow you out of the water."

There was no DNA test for Hazem but he answered all their questions about that night. He explained that his room was about five minutes walk from the pool area where the rape allegedly took place and he could not see the area from his room. He explained how he had gone straight to bed and could tell them nothing else. It was over.
 

*Kimmy*_old

Guest
As they walked out, the other players waiting their turn were looking at them in disbelief. "I think they were shocked," Hazem says. He had been there for about 15 minutes. His teammates had arrived at the station in the morning and would be kept there until late afternoon. The walk back to the car did not go quite as smoothly. The media swarm came to life. They called out, "Hey! He's got his own lawyer!"

Cameras and microphones were thrust from all directions. Questions rang out: "Why don't you tell the truth? Are you part of this? Why do you have to have your own lawyer?"

They made him feel like a criminal. He was acutely aware that, without inside information, the public sympathy would be for the woman involved, who had, according to the police, shown all the symptoms of a sexual assault victim.

Hazem could not understand why the media gave no consideration to the fact that, even if the worst had happened, at least 19 members of a 25-man squad were innocent.

"I remember someone from Channel Ten barking, 'What have you got to hide?' " Houda says. "Hazem just wanted to smack him in the mouth. One radio host, Steve Price on 2UE, was particularly scathing. He spent about an hour talking about Hazem. Sports commentator Peter Bosly walked out of the studio in protest. Price argued that if his namesake in our team, the captain, had agreed to take the DNA test, why couldn't Hazem? So I rang him to explain the situation."

It made Arwa squirm. "It was embarrassing hearing Adam having to defend Hazem on the radio," she says. "He was saying Hazem doesn't even fornicate - meaning he doesn't commit adultery, according to his faith - but Steve Price, the announcer, said, 'Well, I feel sorry for his wife then' - completely misunderstanding what Adam was talking about. All these private issues about us on the radio; it was horrible. I don't discuss intimate issues about our physical relationship with anyone. To have Steve Price question and criticise it on talkback radio was not only disrespectful but vulgar."

Two weeks after the scandal broke, the Bulldogs re-elected their entire board. A few weeks later Bulldogs football manager Garry Hughes was sacked and Mortimer resigned.

Captain Price says people looked at him strangely everywhere he went, "especially when I took my kids to school".

"You could see the parents were thinking, 'Should I keep my kids away from him?' " Price says. "Haz copped that as well and it was very upsetting when, during the investigation, the players were banned by the state education minister from visiting public schools. That broke our hearts."

El Magic The life of Hazem El Masri by Bill Woods Published by HarperCollins. RRP $32.99
 

*Kimmy*_old

Guest
BEST ARTICLE EVER!!

Man I love Folksey!! and Hazem!!

That article actually states the truth.

The media are so friggin scum! Imagine how hurtful it must of been, for Hazem, people just assuming he was "the one" because he is Lebanese. Its bloody sick!! :mad:

I'm so buying his book!
 

Northern_Union

Guest
Assumption is the mother of all f**k ups.

Luckly police don't work on assumptions.
 

*Kimmy*_old

Guest
I'm still waiting for an apology from the NRL, and our money back which we lost.

And the sad thing is, people don't look at the facts, therefore the damage has already been done.

I LOVE this bit from Folksey:

"If I suspected someone of actually doing what this woman claimed, I would have put those guys in without hesitation. I have a wife and an 18-year-old daughter. I would toss those guys up to face whatever punishment was due, not only because it would be the right thing to do, but to save the others; to save the rest of the club. Why would we risk sacrificing the entire organisation, the careers and reputations of all the decent people involved, to protect a few ******s? This was not about 'protection'. If anyone had been guilty we would have thrown them to the wolves."
I <3 you King Folksey!!
 

*Kimmy*_old

Guest
In that case the Warriors could sue the NRL for lost earnings last season.

Woudn't bother imo, the NRL probably still wouldnt give you any money, and if they did, you'll be waiting 3+ years.

04 was fantastic, all the boys pulled together, and showed all those haters whos the best! and that year it was us! :):D
 

Northern_Union

Guest
The fightening in the stands and out side the ground....and not to mention the bomb in the stands sure showed those haters who the real Bulldogs supports are lol
 

*Kimmy*_old

Guest
The fightening in the stands and out side the ground....and not to mention the bomb in the stands sure showed those haters who the real Bulldogs supports are lol

Yeh and those dickwads who fought in the stands, and let off that firecracker, clearly are not true fans.

Bloody dropkicks take advantage of getting to go to games, whilst there are people out there (like myself) who are true passionate fans, and don't get to go to games :mad:
 

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