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 Willliams on Friday upheld Burgess’ appeal, saying the former footballer’s version of events were “at least, reasonably possible”.
He found “of little relevance” the evidence of the only third-party witness, Mr Hooke’s daughter and Burgess’ sister-in-law Harriet, who had come upon the men arguing but 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.
Burgess gave evidence accepting the argument occurred but that Mr Hooke was the aggressor.
As Burgess was driving out of Mr Hooke’s driveway, he took photographs of Mr Hooke and other people outside the house which he said showed why he’d been loathe to leave.
But the Moss Vale magistrate proposed Burgess had become conscious of his offending conduct and made the snaps wanted to “arm” himself with material to defend himself.
“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,” the judge said.
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.