Former All Black Bryce Robins walked from court a free man yesterday after a judge threw out a charge of serious assault due to insufficient evidence.
Outside the Whanganui District Court, Robins said he was relieved at the decision but frustrated he had to defend his name.
"I never really should have been here from the start," he said.
"I think a few people involved set me up and I have been telling the truth from day one.
"There was a vendetta against me right from the start."
He said he wanted to come back from Perth and clear his name.
"I'm relieved for my family, my wife - she has been through hell - and my kids," he said.
"I would like to thank all the supporters who believed in me."
His comments came after Judge David Cameron discharged the jury on the fourth day of the trial.
The court heard evidence from seven witnesses and two medical experts, as the Crown tried to build a case that Robins, 55, was part of a group of men who assaulted Michael John Hardgrave outside Robins' Central Tavern in Eltham in 2010.
Robins, an All Black wing in the 1980s, was charged with causing Hardgrave grievous bodily harm with intent of causing him grievous bodily harm.
Two other men - Noel Lee Bland and Robert Douglas Clement - were found guilty for their part in the attack in separate trials.
Both are serving six-year jail sentences.
Mr Hardgrave and friend Jason Dunlop went to the tavern on Easter Monday in 2010 to play pool, pokies and have a few drinks.
The pair left the tavern later that night after Mr Hardgrave and Robins had a disagreement.
Mr Hardgrave then broke two of the tavern's windows.
Shortly after, Mr Hardgrave and Mr Dunlop were confronted by two men around the other side of the tavern.
The two men launched a salvo of punches, knocking Mr Hardgrave to the ground. He suffered multiple fractures to his cheeks and broken false teeth.
Robins then forced Mr Dunlop inside to pay for the damage.
In surveillance footage played to this jury, Robins could then be seen punching and felling Mr Dunlop. In 2010, Robins was convicted and ordered to pay $1000 reparation for that assault.
Although Robins' defence lawyer, Philip Morgan QC, tore holes in most of the witnesses' accounts in the trial, it was Bland's significant change in testimony from his earlier story that undermined the Crown case.
Last year, Bland had given evidence that all three drinking mates had attacked Mr Hardgrave.
But in the witness box on the second day of this trial he told the court that after Robins took Mr Dunlop inside, Robins did not leave the tavern again until the police arrived.
At the end of the Crown case, addressing the jury, Judge Cameron said the Crown "responsibly concedes that there is insufficient evidence against the defendant to ask you to consider a verdict".
He then acquitted Robins.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should ratepayers fork out for increased security to keep vandals at bay in Pukekura Park?Related story: Cameras set to catch vandals