SYDNEY, February 28. GREG HODGE, former Australian National High Performance Director, was defamed by a program that appeared on Australia's Channel 9, a New South Wales Supreme Court jury found late yesterday.
The jury agreed with Coach Hodge's accusation that the show, broadcast last October on Channel 9's "A Current Affair," falsely portrayed him as a pervert who was not fit to train Olympic swimmers. The broadcast was based on allegations by a former swimmer, Emma Fuller, now 21. Fuller
claimed that Hodge was "obsessed" with her and had stalked her. This obsession, she alleged, dated back to when she was 12 and living with the Hodge family. Then, she claimed, Coach Hodge would rub petroleum jelly between her breasts, adjust her swim suit and frequently kiss her.
Tom Hughes, Coach Hodge's attorney, told the jury that the program defamed his client in nine different ways, wrongly portraying him as an "obsessive, mentally sick, sexual pervert" who harassed and abused Ms Fuller. He said the program defamed Coach Hodge "with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer breaking a plate glass window".
Channel 9's counsel, Guy Reynolds, disagreed, arguing that the imputations were "cunningly crafted," and "ramped up." He maintained that the program was not based on any sexual behavior on Mr Hodge's part, but on a series of innocuous acts that made Ms Fuller uncomfortable "because she was dealing with a man who was infatuated with her".
But the jury of two men and two women weren't buying it. It took a mere 30 minutes to find that the program had defamed Coach Hodge in three of the nine ways alleged.
The case will now proceed before a judge, who will determine whether Coach Hodge should be compensated.