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Briton cleared of 'king hit' on Australian rugby star

Sky News logo Sky News 12/09/2018

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A British man accused of a one-punch attack on a former Australian rugby captain has been cleared in court.

Sam Oliver was accused of flooring James Stannard with a "king hit" outside a kebab shop in Sydney in the early hours of 30 March.

The 35-year-old player hit his head on the pavement and suffered a fractured skull. He spent two nights in hospital and was unable to compete at the Commonwealth Games.

Mr Oliver, a 23-year-old from Newcastle, had denied recklessly causing grievous bodily harm and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

He claimed Mr Stannard had hit him first, and that he was acting in self-defence.

James Stannard speaks to the media during a press conference at Hitchcock Park on April 2, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. © Getty James Stannard speaks to the media during a press conference at Hitchcock Park on April 2, 2018 in Sydney, Australia.

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", the judge added: 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."

In his ruling, he added that many of the witnesses had "blurred memories" of what actually happened on the night in question.

During his evidence, Mr Oliver claimed he had been hit in the eye by Mr Stannard "out of the blue" - and said he had reacted "instinctively".

He also alleged that Mr Stannard, a former captain of Australia's Rugby Sevens team, had approached him outside the kebab shop and called him a "pommy c***".

Mr Oliver had said: "When I said something back he got more aggressive, more F-ing and blinding... His whole body language changed and I was hit.

"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."

Mr Funston said Mr Oliver had told the police it was self-defence at the "earliest opportunity" and seemed "pretty unwavering" in his evidence that he had been hit first.

Mr Stannard announced his retirement from rugby in June - and denied having a "degree of dislike for Englishmen".

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.

"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 judge's decision, adding: "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."

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