Women sought in Bastareaud investigation

Last updated 16:18 23/06/2009

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Police are looking for two women in connection with the attack on a French player on Sunday morning.

French centre Mathieu Bastareaud suffered severe bruising around his eye and needed four stitches to his face after four or five men attacked him in central Wellington early on Sunday. The attack was hours after France's 14-10 second-test defeat by New Zealand on Saturday.

Inspector Peter Cowan said CCTV footage showed two women who appeared to be accompanied by three males that police believe are part of the French Rugby Team.

"We would be interested in speaking to those two young women, as well as the driver of the white taxi that dropped this party off and to any other persons who may have seen this party at the Hotel or any other location within Wellington City, he said.

The group was dropped off at the Holiday Inn Hotel on Featherston St between 5.15 and 5.30 on Sunday morning.

Inspector Cowan said that police had visited a number of city bars and the Holiday Inn Hotel as part of their investigation.

They had also obtained CCTV footage from a number of locations.

The investigation was focused on establishing the movements of the team and Bastareaud and on speaking with any witnesses.

Bastareaud France's assistant coach, Emile Ntamack, confirmed he had been cleared of a suspected fractured eye socket.

Bastareaud, dubbed the "French Nonu" because of his dreadlocks, spoke to police from Sydney yesterday. He told them he thought his attackers were Polynesian and Maori.

He has now returned home to France.

The 20-year-old told police he caught a taxi to the Holiday Inn in Featherston St early on Sunday, but left his wallet in the vehicle. The centre, who is 1.83 metres tall and weighs 111 kilograms, ran after the taxi to get his wallet and was attacked as he walked back to the hotel.

Wellington area commander Inspector Peter Cowan said police were pursuing the investigation.

"We believe it's genuine and we are still calling out for any witnesses that may have seen this incident to come forward," he said.

Police said the attack occurred between 3am and 5.30am.

"He remembers hearing people singing behind him, but thought nothing of it and continued walking. He was then struck from behind," Mr Cowan said.

They are pinning their hopes of finding a French rugby player's attackers on cellphone footage and a passing motorist.

"He is sure someone recorded the incident on their cellphone. Finding that footage would be very helpful," Mr Cowan said.

Police would monitor the internet for footage.

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Bastareaud also told police he saw someone drive past during the attack.

Police were looking at CCTV footage and expected to know by tomorrow if they had anything. They were also talking to local taxi companies and hotel staff.

Mr Cowan said he wanted to have a thorough analysis carried out on the evidence police had gained by Wednesday.

Police said yesterday that French management and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union should have told them about the assault immediately.

"It is very frustrating to not know about the incident till 48 hours later," Mr Cowan said. "I have no idea why the team or the rugby union did not complain to the police. It would have made our job a lot easier."

BADLY SHAKEN

Ntamack said Bastareaud was badly shaken after the attack.

Ntamack confirmed Bastareaud had been cleared of a fractured eye socket, but still had heavy bruising and several stitches to a cheek.

"There is bruising about the eye, but to be in a fight like that was a big fright for him. His mind is not ready to come back into the squad and play another game next Saturday," Ntamack told reporters in Sydney.

Ntamack, who tasted a series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand as a player in 1994, stressed the incident had not soured their view of the country.

"I say again, I don't want to see a problem between the French and New Zealand people. It was just unlucky.

"The same thing can happen in France, in Paris, different places in the world."

TEAM SAFETY

Rugby World Cup organisers said the bashing would be taken into account when deciding what security measures will be taken during the tournament here in 2011.

Rugby New Zealand 2011's general manager for tournament services, Nigel Cass, said all teams would receive protocols on how to stay safe during the tournament.

"It's about letting teams know it's a very safe country, but as with most safe countries, wandering about by yourself at 2am does have some risks and they do need to be aware of that and plan for it."

Prime Minister John Key urged the public yesterday not to blow the attack out of proportion. Most supporters who came to New Zealand had a good time, he said.

"From time to time you will get isolated incidents that reflect badly on either the public or on New Zealand potentially I don't think we should blow this out of proportion," he told reporters yesterday.

"And as a general rule I think you've got to say rugby followers who come to New Zealand have a good experience. . . I'd hate to think that this would in any way tarnish our reputation given we've got the Rugby World Cup coming up in 2011."

Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton said the incident was a wake-up call for the country.

- with The Dominion Post and NZPA

 

- Stuff

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