The West

Secrets laid bare as Essendon comes out swinging
Bombers chief operating officer Xavier Campbell (L) and chairman Paul Little leave the Federal Court after the first day of the case looking into the AFL-ASADA Investigation into the alleged use of banned substances at the club. Pic: Getty Images

The secrets and lies at the heart of the Essendon Football Club supplements saga have been laid bare in court by suspended coach James Hird, who made clear he did not, and would not, accept his punishment lying down.

The legal gambit by the Bombers and its tarnished golden boy began yesterday before Federal Court Justice John Middleton, who will decide whether the AFL and Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation into the murky goings-on of 2012 was legal.

If he rules it was, lawyers for Essendon say the club as a business will be destroyed.

The high stakes led to high courtroom drama, with revelations a confidential briefing ASADA gave Essendon players in May last year was recorded secretly by the club's lawyers and revealed only on Friday.

Lawyers for the authority claimed the club was attempting an ambush of the trial with its "covert" activity - an allegation Essendon's lawyers called a slur.

Mr Hird followed with his own revelations, repeating on oath an allegation he was instructed to keep from ASADA that former AFL boss Andrew Demetriou warned the club a drugs investigation was coming.

In an hour on the stand, the exiled star said repeatedly he disagreed with the way former club chairman David Evans and chief executive Ian Robson dealt with the early days of the ASADA and AFL investigation.

But Mr Hird said the AFL told him it would be better for him and the club to put on a united front, so he did - saying at a press conference in February last year that the club's hierarchy would take "full responsibility".

"I was told to say those words by the football club," Mr Hird said. "I did have the opportunity (to disagree) but it would have been a very difficult thing to do."

Mr Hird said ASADA interviewed him while he was still an Essendon employee - but on his admission "only just" an employee. He said he then signed a deed of settlement under which he was suspended on full pay with the promise of his job back.

But he signed "under great threats, duress and inducement", Mr Hird said.

The case of Essendon and Mr Hird hinges on whether the joint AFL and ASADA investigation was illegal.

Club lawyer Neil Young said ASADA's use of the AFL's compulsive powers went beyond its legislation and it overstepped it again by handing over material to the league.

"ASADA is intended to be an independent investigator but the Faustian pact between the ASADA and AFL circumvented all those protections," Mr Young said.

Peter Hanks, for Mr Hird, said the investigation was "infected by jurisdictional error".

He accused ASADA of agreeing with an AFL request to "tailor" its interim report so the league could use it to impose its own sanctions on Essendon.

In his opening, Tom Howe, for ASADA, hammered the alleged reason Essendon was in the mess in the first place - a governance that was toxic, abysmal and seriously derelict.

He also argued to suggest ASADA should not look into that culture as part of its investigation - which was what prompted the club to call ASADA in the first place - was "nonsense on stilts".

Mr Hird will testify again today before key ASADA operatives get their turn in the legal firing line.

The West Australian

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