Manly NRL legend Brett Stewart opens up about finally seeking mental health help after his life was smashed forever by false accusation that he raped a 17-year-old girl
- Star was accused of attack in 2009
- Was found not guilty in court in 2010
- For support, contact Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
It’s been 12 years since he sobbed in court when he was cleared of a false accusation that he raped a 17-year-old girl but Brett Stewart has only just decided reach out to mental health professionals as he tackles the shocking effect the incident had on his life.
A jury took less than two hours to find the champion ex-Manly fullback not guilty of one charge of sexual assault and two charges of indecent assault in September 2010, with the emotion of the occasion leaving Stewart in tears.
The premiership-winning Sea Eagles icon was subject to intense scrutiny after the girl alleged he attacked her in Manly on March 6, 2009 – an accusation he always strenuously denied.
He and his brother Glenn, a fellow Manly star, were incensed by the coverage of the incident and then-NRL boss David Gallop’s decision to ban him for four matches despite the fact the allegations had not been heard in court.
Stewart has maintained a very low profile ever since, especially for a player of his stature, and rarely breaks his silence on the matter – but made an exception on Sunday.
Stewart (pictured leaving court in Manly on an unrelated matter on May 3) had his life torn apart by the false accusation, which left him reluctant to trust people
At the time he was was first accused in 2009, Stewart was one of the game’s best and most high-profile players – but since he retired he has kept an extremely low profile
‘I love the game of rugby league, its people, the mates that I made and our team’s success but sadly, my life was forever changed from the events of 2009,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald, which reported that he is being helped by medical professionals.
‘I’ve made some significant steps forward in my mental health, and that journey is just beginning.’
At the time the false allegations surfaced, the 38-year-old was one of the best players in the NRL and had a suitably high profile that placed him alongside other superstars like Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis.
But that all came crashing down when he was charged by police and his world crumbled.
He gave a rare interview on the topic in 2019 as he pleaded with the NRL to treat players accused of crimes as innocent until proven guilty.
‘It’s too big of a thing in my life to just block out. There will always be something burning inside me,’ he said.
Stewart said his heart was broken by the effect the accusations and the resulting legal saga and media scrutiny had on his friends and loved ones
Despite the toll the matter took on the premiership-winning fullback (pictured with rock star Jimmy Barnes) he still managed to feel ‘a little bit sorry’ for the girl who accused him
‘I could sit here and say I’ve blocked it out but I’d be lying. It affected me then and is probably still affecting me now.
‘I don’t trust many people anymore where before it happened I was pretty open and talked to anyone. Now I’m a bit more cut off, a closed book.
‘The hardest part was my family. I knew I was strong enough to get through it but the people it affected around you, that’s the hardest bit.
‘The people you don’t see, your loved ones, friends and family, extended friends and family. It affects them. That’s what broke my heart.
‘People probably forget about it because I’m not around or they don’t see me like they used to but it’s part of my make-up now.’
When he was finally cleared by the jury he revealed that he’d been ’empty’ inside since the night he met the girl who accused him – but also felt ‘a little bit sorry’ for the girl after it was revealed in court that she had been diagnosed with a mental illness.
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