Suspended Essendon coach James Hird has revealed in court he signed a deed of settlement with the AFL last year aft er charges were laid over the Bombers' controversial supplements program under "duress, threats and inducements''.
On the first day of the trial in which Essendon and its coach are claiming the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority acted unlawfully in running a joint operation with the AFL, Hird sat in the witness stand for the last hour of the day and said he disagreed with some of the things the club's then leaders divulged on February 5 last year when they confirmed the club had self-reported to ASADA.
Hird also twice implied to the Federal Court that it was former AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou who told then Essendon chairman David Evans, the night before – on February 4 last year – that the club was being investigated by ASADA for possible for anti-doping violations.
James and Tania Hird leaving the Federal Court on Monday. Photo: Eddie Jim
Demetriou has repeatedly denied leaking ASADA's investigation of the Bombers to Evans, and has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Australian Crime Commission.
"I was never present when Essendon made a request to ASADA,'' Hird said when asked about Essendon selfreporting to the anti-doping body.
"I was only present when Andrew Demetriou rang David Evans.''
Five things we learnt in court.
The first witness called in the trial, Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell, told the court he knew nothing of the Bombers' plans to selfreport to ASADA in his then role as the club's chief financial officer.
Hird told the court he disagreed with what Evans and then Essendon chief executive Ian Robson told the media in announcing the Bombers had selfreported.
He said he was told by Gillon McLachlan, the AFL's deputy chief executive last year and now the head of the league, that he, Hird, should appear next to Robson and Evans at the press conference, "for the look of the club and my reputation”.
Hird and Essendon argue ASADA was not authorised under its Act to run a joint investigation with the AFL, and that the show-cause notices issued to 34 players should be declared invalid. The antidoping body maintains it was entitled to run a joint investigation and that the World Anti-Doping Agency encouraged sporting bodies to work with investigators.
Hird, with wife Tania watching, said he did not want to settle with the AFL in August last year on charges of bringing the game into disrepute, for which he was suspended for one year. "I signed a deal of settlement under duress, threats and inducements,'' he said.
The court was told Hird was reluctant to meet ASADA investigators but did so once he knew he was contractually obliged to, and in April last year met with two ASADA investigators and an AFL investigator.
Under cross-examination from Sue McNicol, QC, representing ASADA, Hird again brought Demetriou's name into the fold. "I was told to tell the truth but not what Andrew Demetriou said to David Evans on the 4th of February,'' he said of being told he had to undergo an interview with investigators.
Under the sanctions imposed by the AFL in August last year, Essendon was fined $2 million, kicked out of the 2013 finals series and stripped of draft picks. Hird was suspended for one year, his then assistant coach Mark Thompson was fined $30,000 and Essendon's then football chief, Danny Corcoran, was handed a six-month ban, suspended for three months.
Towards the end of Monday's evidence, Hird said he did not breach anti-doping rules. Dr McNicol then asked him who had if he had not, but the question was not permitted by Justice John Middleton after Hird's lawyer, Nick Harrington, objected.
Hird is scheduled to return to the witness box on Tuesday and will be asked about statements the club gave to the media last year.
Earlier, lawyers for Essendon, Hird and ASADA outlined their opening arguments on the legalities of a joint investigation between the anti-doping body and the AFL.
Lawyers for both the Bombers and Hird argued ASADA, an independent body, acted outside its powers in conducting the investigation through "improper purposes''.
This purpose, they argued, was to assist the AFL in laying charges against Essendon for governance breaches and to impose sanctions on the Bombers, Hird, Thompson and Corcoran.
Neil Young, QC, representing Essendon, said that a finding against his client could "effectively destroy its business''.
Tom Howe, QC, for ASADA, also warned of possible ramifications if a ruling went against his client, as future anti-doping investigations would be potentially compromised.
The day's proceedings were also told of a secret recording of an ASADA official addressing Bombers players, that was made by Essendon solicitor Tony Hargreaves.
Daniel Star, for ASADA, said Essendon had "begged'' the anti-doping body to speak to the players because the club had concerns for their health and wellbeing, and that the Bombers now wanted to have a transcript of that recording tendered as evidence.
Justice Middleton will rule on that point on Tuesday.