Two ranked police officers have been charged over a brawl at a Central Coast pub made famous by involving NRL star Tom Starling, after a three-year battle to clear his name and get justice.
On December 5, 2020 the Canberra Raiders player went with his parents and his brothers Jackson, aged 27, and Josh, aged 22, to the 21st birthday party of a family friend at the Shady Palms at Avoca Beach.
According to evidence tendered in court, security guard Khan Morris told Joanne Starling, mother to the three brothers, to sit down – in line with COVID restrictions at the time.
The situation escalated and authorities were called. Footage shows multiple officers arriving to deal with the incident.
The brothers were all charged with offences relating to assaulting and hindering police. In December 2022 they underwent a hearing that lasted for 11 days.
But the court found Tom and older brother Jackson not guilty of the charge of resisting police in the execution of their duty.
Josh Starling was found not guilty of two counts of assaulting police, but was convicted of resisting police and assaulting the security guard and given two 18-month good behaviour bonds.
In February 2023 the footballer’s charges were dropped.
Now aged 25, he spoke out in a column about the emotional and financial pressure the ordeal put on his family, who put up a “large amount of money required to get me and my brothers through”, and of the negative public opinion he endured while facing the might of the state authorities.
“I can assure you it’s a daunting task trying to clear your name when you go up against the NSW Police Force, with its endless money and resources. That’s to say nothing about the physical, financial and emotional burden you are put under in this situation.
“It has still been financially devastating, and the police have declined to reimburse us our legal costs. Hopefully, as a matter of fairness, they will revisit that decision given that officers have been charged.”
An investigation was undertaken in 2023 by the Professional Standards Command, with CCTV footage played in court showing Starling being restrained by several officers and repeatedly punched in the face by one officer.
The inquiry led to two police officers being charged. A northern region 49-year-old male senior constable faces one count of common assault, and a 37-year-old male sergeant with specialist command was charged with two counts of common assault.
Both officers are to see their employment status reviewed, and will appear at Gosford Local Court on 7 March.
The hearing also resulted in the guard, Morris, being charged with assault causing actual bodily harm of David Starling, the father. Morris has pleaded not guilty. He will see a hearing later this year.
Starling relayed how everyone at the Raiders, from coach Ricky Stuart and the players to the CEO and board, have supported him through the battle and he thinks himself fortunate to be at a club that “cares deeply about its players”.
Solicitors for the Starlings have revealed the family will be seeking damages of up to $1 million against NSW Police, through a civil case.