England World Cup Fallout
RFU attempted to pay off Dunedin maid
November 25, 2011
Haskell reportedly insisted on his innocence and refused to pay off the hotel worker in question © Getty Images
The fallout from England's troubled World Cup campaign has been hit by fresh controversy with reports that the Rugby Football Union pressured players into paying hush money to a Dunedin chambermaid who was at the centre of one headline-grabbing allegation.
In the latest of a series of revelations published by The Times newspaper, it is understood that James Haskell, Chris Ashton and Dylan Hartley were urged to pay $NZ30,000 (£14,350) to compensate Annabel Newton for alleged verbal sexual harassment and to prevent her from selling her story to a newspaper.
The newspaper reports that the England trio, who admitted to an inappropriate joke, refused to pay the money, insisting that they had done nothing wrong. One of the players, quoted anonymously in the confidential Rugby Players' Association report into the World Cup that The Times claims to have seen, said: "Two days before the Scotland game, WC [believed to be Will Chignall, the RFU's head of media] says you've got 24 hours to decide whether to settle with the girl for NZ$30,000 or not. Paying the money seemed to be the advice. Another option wasn't really given.
"We refused to pay because we hadn't done what she claimed we had done. So we went to find our own lawyers in NZ because we felt the RFU QC was interested in defending the RFU's reputation rather than ours."
A complaint was made and investigated by the hotel manager, the RFU and local police after Newton claimed that she had been traumatised - a claim dismissed by one of the players in the report with a video of the incident in question reportedly showing her with her thumbs up and smiling. "The girl had claimed we were half naked, intimidated her, tried to trap her in the room, that x had grabbed her by the hips," the player said. "She also told her lawyer that she had it all on video, but retracted this when we said that was great because we too had the whole incident on video so we could prove she was lying."
A dressing down for the trio followed with one player quoted as saying, "We had the law laid down to us and were criticised in front of the team in a meeting and that was fair enough. We felt awful that we had let the boys down through creating unwanted headlines."
Newton eventually sold her story to the press while the police decided there was no case to answer. Haskell and Ashton were later fined £5,000 by the RFU for breach of conduct, suspended until December 2012, while Hartley was cleared.
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