Boys considered lying about who bashed Stephen Dudley - witness

Stephen Dudley (file)
Stephen Dudley (file)

The younger of two brothers who assaulted Stephen Dudley has wept openly while speaking of his regret and sorrow over Stephen's death.

Fifteen-year-old Stephen collapsed and died after getting bashed after rugby practice in July 2013.

The brothers were both charged with manslaughter, but that was downgraded to assault after an autopsy revealed Stephen had an undiagnosed heart condition.

They were later discharged without conviction and have permanent name suppression.

It's the first time the young man has publicly given an account of events. The 18-year-old sobbed as he read his statement, saying his actions were "cowardly".

He said he considered Stephen to be a friend, and although they fought that day, they had got on well.

"The events of that day haunt me and I think they will always," he told the inquest.

"I am not a violent person by nature... I am very sad Stephen is no longer with us."

He said a lot of the other boys had taken out their phones to record the fight, and neither he nor Stephen wanted to back down.

"I accept I shouldn't have caved into this pressure."

The former schoolboy rugby player said he hoped the Dudley family appreciated that he was "very, very sorry for my actions".

His lawyer, Ron Mansfield, attempted to comfort him and encouraged him to continue with his evidence.

The young man described how he was excluded from school after the fight and no other would take him, so he continued his education with a tutor.

He said he owed it to Stephen to keep studying and make something out of his life after what had happened, and he was extremely remorseful for the part he had played in events.

"I wish I had simply walked away."

The witness said he has never denied his part in the assault, but didn't know his brother was going to join in and had always denied his own actions contributed to Stephen's death.

He said he left the field not knowing how badly-off Stephen was, and he would have stayed to help if he had known.

Above all, he said, Stephen was "a good person who did not deserve to die".

"I am devastated and have still not recovered from the shock...I can only imagine the pain his family must feel."

Another former high school student took the stand on Tuesday to describe what led to the fatal brawl.

He's the sixth teen to testify at the coroner's inquest.

A former teammate of Stephen's, he told the inquest boys who saw Stephen being beaten up considered lying about who had hit him.

Before practice, Stephen thought the younger of the brothers was saying something behind his back. The two exchanged heated words and Stephen swore at the boy and was pretty wound up.

He said the teenager looked like he was going to punch Stephen, but teammates kept the pair apart.

After practice, Stephen was walking across the rugby field to leave when someone called him back.

The boy who'd had words with Stephen before rugby practice said "I am keen to fight" and "come here, bitch".

"Stephen replied, 'Yep, I'm waiting bitch,' and that's when the whole team came in to stop it. It was clear there was going to be a fight."

Other witnesses have told the inquest the older of the brothers involved in the assault turned up and slammed Stephen in the neck with force, before both brothers continued to beat him.

After Stephen collapsed, the witness said the rest of his teammates talked about what they should say happened. He heard them say they should tell people "a random person" had carried out the attack.

The witness said he thought they were worried about protecting the brother who had hit him.

When questioned by the lawyer for the younger boy who assaulted Stephen, the witness admitted there were a few people trying to hold back the teenagers involved but others were still urging them to fight.

An earlier witness described how he filmed the whole fight, but later deleted it out respect for Stephen.

The boys' rugby coach broke down at the inquest as he described how Stephen shook his hand after practice and said he'd see him again at the weekend.

The coach had left practice before the fight broke out. He told the coroner's inquest that he spoke to Stephen after rugby, and the teenager said "see you Saturday, sir".

He said he asked Stephen to practice his passing skills, they both laughed and then Stephen walked away. It was the last time the coach saw him.

He said he heard what had happened to Stephen when the principal called him at about 7:30pm.

The coach said the school, which can't be named for legal reasons, had zero tolerance for violence and bullying.

He said every year before the start of the season he emphasised to the players that there should be no fighting, or the rugby team would be out of the competition.

The coach said players were instead encouraged to play hard for their team, for their relatives and their mates.