In Parramatta Local Court, the significant show of support for May from the Cleary family stood out. When it was all over, the Clearys and May left together, ignoring the media. The game and its fans are still waiting for an apology from May.
To think we are where we are now with Cleary and May, just three months later, is inconceivable. And deeply troubling.
Magistrate Robyn Denes let May have it as she went within a whisker of jailing him on four counts of intentionally recording an image without consent. The four offences were against two women.
I sat in the courtroom. The following is an excerpt of notes I recorded of Magistrate Denes’ remarks:
- “I’ve seen no remorse from the defendant. This is more a situation he’s found himself in rather than him being remorseful. I don’t have evidence of genuine contrition and remorse. A text message to the victim the next day [after the videos went viral] is not remorse. Especially a text which read: ‘Oh f—, so sorry. I hope you are OK. I will try to keep you in the loop from my end. Thank you for being such a legend’.”
- “This [matter] does meet that standard where a custodial sentence is appropriate. The question is whether that’s the only sentence. It’s right on the borderline.”
- “I am concerned by the late plea. It’s lateness meant the complainants had an expectation they would have to give evidence in a high-profile matter. The level of anxiety in them would have been quite high. That has to be taken into account with regards to the late plea.”
- “It’s a serious offence; maximum three years imprisonment. It’s actually about violence against women; that women are play things.”
- “It’s reprehensible. Mr May’s conduct in filming it without consent is not just morally reprehensible, it’s criminal.”
- “If you don’t know that they are going to consent, why would you assume they would consent that they want this filmed? You don’t know. You ask.”
- “This is an offence which takes consensual sexual acts to another level. It does breach trust. It breaches the trust of the women; of each of the women who engaged in these acts. The bounds of their consent are to be valued.”
- “This behaviour is not only morally reprehensible, it’s criminal. And right on the cusp of a custodial sentence.”
In the end, Magistrate Denes sentenced May to what she described as a “longer, supervised community-based order” of three years, during which his behaviour would be monitored. She explained she liked the option, because “the system would be able to watch him for longer than it would if he was jailed and released”. Evidence was submitted, and accepted, that he was a risk of reoffending.
She also ordered May to engage in counselling and perform 300 hours community service.
So, after that blast across the bows, three months later May and Cleary, the only two players in the courtroom that day, are found to have lied to the NRL’s integrity unit about the Anzac Day social distancing breach, complete with embarrassing TikTok video.
The original story Cleary concocted was that he was at home when his sister and a group of friends turned up unannounced and lay all over him on his couch for a group photo uploaded to good old Instagram. They were only there for 10 minutes, he said. Police subsequently fined the group of girls for breaking social distancing rules, but spared Clearly as he had apparently “done nothing wrong” as he was at home self-isolating and it was the girls who broke the law by visiting Cleary’s home.
Now it has emerged Cleary picked them up and brought them to the house. May’s initial story was that he stayed in his room observing social distancing rules. It’s been proven he did not do that and joined the party. Both were found to be liars and banned for two matches by the NRL. The lies cost Cleary $30,000 and May $15,000 in fines from the governing body.
Considering the events of January 31 at Parramatta Local Court, coupled with what’s been happening globally during the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, it was an unfathomably treacherous act on the game and society.
Neil Breen is a sports reporter on the Sydney News Team for 9News Australia