Wellington Rugby terminates Losi Filipo's contract after assault case outrage
Wellington Rugby and Losi Filipo have announced that they have mutually agreed to the termination of his contract.
Filipo, 18, withdrew himself from the Wellington Lions 2016 Mitre 10 Cup squad on Tuesday in a move that Wellington Rugby said he hoped would go some way towards helping the victims of his assault move on with their lives.
It came at the end of a day of increasing pressure on the union from the public and from the victims of the assault.
The solicitor-general confirmed her office would investigate the circumstances behind Filipo being let off assault charges.
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In August, the rising young star was discharged without conviction on four charges after an early morning assault on a group of four people, including two women last October.
Sentencing notes from Judge Bruce Davidson show he believed it was a "fairly serious case of street violence" but the consequences of a conviction would be "out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence", the sentencing judge said.
But on Tuesday Crown Law confirmed it would investigate the case.
That came after Family First wrote to Solicitor-General Una Jagose requesting an appeal of the decision by Crown Law.
Assistant to Solicitor-General, Jan Fulstow, said the office was now "looking into the matter" but refused to make any further comment with the investigation was underway.
VICTIM FEARS COMING ACROSS FILIPO ON STREET
One of the four people assaulted by Filipo remembers seeing his attacker's fists clenched before being punched and stomped on.
Filipo was discharged without conviction after the assault. The judge, at sentencing on August 15, ruled Filipo should be able to fulfil his potential, saying, "I have to ask myself are the courts in the business of destroying people's career prospects?".
Greg Morgan, 21, had been out with friend Olivia Samuel and two others when they were set upon in central Wellington in October.
"We were on Willis St getting our sober driver to pick us up. We were pretty much three minutes away from getting our ride... and that's when I noticed these three guys on the other side of the road, yelling and screaming and, for some reason, they chose to come on our side.
"They said something to the girls and us, which we chose to ignore. We continued to walk and next thing I know is I remember their footsteps came running up behind us and we're face-to-face with these guys and I pretty much just remember Losi fired up from the get-go.
"I remember looking down at Losi's fists and they were just clenched ready to fight. I kept repeatedly saying, 'we just want to go, our ride's around the corner'. And that wasn't enough, he was seeing red and there was no way of convincing him otherwise, really. And that's the last thing I remember."
Morgan said he did not recall being punched and barely even remembered waking up in hospital the next day. He said he was "out of it" for a few months after the assault.
His friends told him what had happened, and the photos of the girls' injuries were "sickening", he said.
"I was more concerned about them than myself than myself, even though I was getting stomped on, and it was just disturbing really."
Morgan, a builder, was off work for eight months and has only just returned to part-time duties as he continues to struggle with fatigue and headaches.
The keen rugby player, who was on the verge of a Wellington Lions contract, but can no longer play rugby after the assault, was "gobsmacked" Filipo received a discharge without conviction.
He did not know Filipo before the assault.
"He didn't even get a slap on the hand - it just annoys me.
"I think if it was someone from the public who wasn't playing rugby, who just had a normal job or something, I'd hate to think what they would have got. I think they would have got prison time, to be honest.
"I think because he's got a potential career in rugby, that's the only reason he's got off, and because of the people backing him."
The incident still affected Morgan and the women emotionally, he said
"You've constantly got to watch out for this guy because obviously he's a local guy. I'm more cautious of where I am and who's around me."
Morgan had played rugby since he was 5 and and was playing for the Paremata-Plimmerton premier side in the Wellington club competition before the assault happened.
He met with Lions management in 2013 about a potential future with the association.
Morgan said he would no longer support Wellington, or the Hurricanes, in the same way, given the association had backed Filipo.
"The fact they're supporting a guy of such character is just disappointing really. It's just horrible."
Prime Minister John Key said: "Violence is unacceptable anywhere, it doesn't matter what your profession is. If you undertake violence you should be held to the same set of rules as everyone else."
Key said he couldn't comment specifically on the Filipo case because there were rules preventing him from "commenting on judicial findings".
"Presumably what the judge is thinking is that he's been held to account in the same way that other people would, but it's ultimately for the judge to speak to his own judgement."
As to whether the Crown would appeal the sentence, Key said that was a matter for the solicitor-general to consider.
Key also said Kiwis weren't strangers to sentences that "sometimes surprise or confuse people".
Labour leader Andrew Little said he'd like to know what it is exactly that New Zealand rugby are doing to ensure players, like Filipo, don't go off the rails again.
"This was a serious assault, not only of Morgan, but there were three other victims as well," he said.
"You've got to rely on judges to take everything into account and for justice to be done."
Little said he agreed with Key that any kind of violence was intolerable and while it wasn't for politicians to criticise judges, they were entitled to ask whether the courts had done enough.
WELLINGTON RUGBY RESPONDS
In a statement, Wellington Rugby chief executive officer Steve Rogers said it was a difficult situation for all involved.
"Wellington Rugby is extremely disappointed in Losi's actions and does not condone such behaviour from any member of the organisation regardless of their position or status.
"We have been aware since late last year that Losi was involved in an off-field incident, but delayed any internal investigation to allow the judicial process to be completed.
"Based on the facts made available to us, and the court judgement that deemed a conviction out of proportion to the gravity of the offence, we continued down the path of providing Losi with a support network to assist in his rehabilitation.
"We also began an internal process that included our newly employed personal development manager working with him on a regular basis with the view to achieving a positive long term outcome."
Filipo had since completed 150 hours of voluntary work with a youth development group.
Sponsor of the Wellington Rugby Union, The Green Man pub, says they do not condone violence.
"We are making our own inquiries in to the matter. Once we have more information we will be in a position to make a comment," says director Steve Drummond.
Tui, of DB Breweries, does not condone violence of any kind and Senior Communications Advisor Simon Smith says they shared their concerns and expectations with Wellington Rugby.
"This behaviour is unacceptable and we are extremely disappointed by the actions of this player.
"We understand that an internal review process is being implemented by the Wellington Lions and we will be expecting a serious consequence for an offence of this nature.
"Until we understand the outcome of the Wellington Lions internal review, we will have no further comment."
MAYOR'S CHARACTER REFERENCE
Upper Hutt mayor Wayne Guppy wrote a character reference for the rugby player, based on his time coaching him in St Patrick's College Silverstream's 1st XV.
He had not spoken with the rugby player following the incident, but said he did not condone what Filipo had done, and had not seen him exhibit that type of behaviour before.