Jack de Belin, who is currently suspended by the NRL, has started defamation proceedings against The Daily Telegraph over a front-page story, cartoon and tweet labeling de Belin as a rapist and a “despicable person”, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.
Lawyers for de Belin are seeking damages, including aggravated damages and legal costs for a story that was published on February 21st last year which was headlined “Rub Out the Grubs: League Immortal draws line in sand on NRL shame.”
The front-page story, which featured an interview with Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga, said that Meninga “wants the NRL to bench stars charged by police during the code’s summer of shame until their cases are heard by courts”.
“Meninga told The Daily Telegraph yesterday accused rapist Jack de Belin should be suspended immediately while he contests a rape charge and the NRL had to act on violence against women,” the report said.
De Belin is also suing over a tweet which linked the story as “Kangaroos coach says NRL bad boys should be stood down from playing.”.
Lawyers for de Belin say that the story and tweet defamed him by making suggestions that he is “a rapist” and a “despicable person in that he raped a woman”.
Those same accusations that were conveyed by the front page together with the cartoon, featured Meninga grabbing the throat of a man who is wearing a football jersey with the word “creep” printed across the chest. The man in the jersey is in turn grabbing the throat of a woman.
De Belin’s lawyers also state that the front page in combination with the reports on pages 4 and 5, also defamed him by making allegations that de Belin “so conducted himself by raping a woman that he deserved to miss out on being picked for the Australian rugby league team”.
De Belin lost a federal court challenge last year against the Australian Rugby League Commission’s no-fault stand-down rule, meaning de Belin has been sidelined since until his case is heard.
The Telegraph report which labeled de Belin as a rapist, was published before de Belin’s suspension was announced.
De Belin and Shellharbour Sharks player Callan Sinclair were charged with aggravated assault on a 19-year old woman last year in December, in which both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Both were set to face a two-week jury trial on February 3rd, but Wollongong District Court Judge Andrew Haesler delayed the pre-trial commencement until April 8th to allow an anonymous witness to recover from an illness before giving evidence.
Judge Haesler has now also said that due to District Court scheduling issues, de Belin’s trial may not begin before August.
De Belin’s lawyers are also trying to get the story and tweet permanently removed from the internet.
De Belin’s legal party are seeking aggravated damages on a number of bases, including that the Telegraph did not look for a response from de Belin before the article was published online, and that the material was presented in an “over-sensationalised manner noting the language, tone and production style”, which was seen as an “intent to injure” him.
Both parties are set to appear in court for the first of a number of preliminary hearings on March 30th.