Pleaded not guilty to all charges: Stephen Milne. Photo: AAP
Footballers from AFL club St Kilda have infuriated club sponsors and advocacy groups for sexual assault victims by requesting donations for the legal defence of retired player Stephen Milne, pictured, who is facing rape charges.
Fairfax Media can reveal leading St Kilda players were involved in approaches to sponsors, coterie members and prominent supporters in a bid to finance Milne's legal team.
Several sources said the club's board was aware but not involved in the plan to financially support Milne, who was described as a ''loyal servant'' and a ''proud man'' in emails and text messages exchanged since October 18. It is understood Milne had previously refused an offer of a fund-raising dinner.
On November 15, Milne was committed to stand trial in the Victorian County Court next August on three counts of rape, which allegedly took place at the Highett home of former teammate Leigh Montagna in 2004. Montagna was never charged.
Milne, 33, of Cheltenham, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
One member of St Kilda's Halo Coterie group, who asked not to be named, confirmed he received an email about two weeks ago from another coterie member. He said the request for money was a ''disgrace''.
Two other club benefactors confirmed they had been asked for financial help but defended the players, saying ''they're a close bunch and they're obviously helping out a mate''.
A spokeswoman for St Kilda Football Club confirmed it was aware of fund-raising by senior players on Milne's behalf.
''The St Kilda Football Club has not been approached to contribute funds and will not make any financial contribution towards this initiative,'' the spokeswoman said.
But the decision by Saints players to seek help for Milne from sponsors and supporters has been slammed by the Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault as disrespectful to the alleged victim.
''There is a power imbalance when anyone takes on the AFL or their clubs,'' spokeswoman Carolyn Worth said. ''They have money and influence and access to high-end lawyers, which the [alleged] victims obviously won't have.''