22:36, April 25 161 0 theguardian.com

2019-04-25 22:36:05
Man cleared of assaulting rugby player awarded $100,000 over Nine's 'coward punch' defamation

An Englishman who was cleared of assaulting Australia’s former rugby sevens captain is entitled to $100,000 damages after being defamed by the Nine Network, a judge has ruled.

Sam Oliver sued the broadcaster in the federal court over its September 2018 report on him being cleared of assaulting the ex-captain and Olympian James Stannard in March 2018.

On Friday justice Michael Lee found the report depicted Oliver as being a coward who punched a defenceless man causing him grievous injury.

He also found a second meaning of Oliver being a coward who punched a defenceless man, ruining his career as a professional athlete.

A magistrate had found the 23-year-old, who had been in Australia on a working holiday visa, not guilty of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm.

He found Oliver was acting in self-defence and that Stannard threw the first punch.

The Nine report – which had the caption “No Penalty” – began with the newsreader saying “it was a coward punch that ended the career” of Stannard.

Lee said the term “coward punch” had a distinct meaning, conveying something different about the perpetrator of the act than the more benign, historical term of “king-hit”.

“No doubt the expression coward punch has come to be used as a way of signalling a deprecation of a violent act which is thought ... not to be sufficiently brought home by the use of a term such as king-hit, or, to use an Americanism, a sucker punch,” the judge said.

That is because it describes a characteristic of the perpetrator – “in hitting a defenceless person in an unprovoked manner, the actor is not only committing a violent act but also, distinctly, is contemptibly lacking the courage to act in a proper or fair way”.

He assessed Oliver’s damages at $100,000. Costs will be determined at a later date.

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