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No charges over Ackerman death due to fears of hurting footy

AFTER rugby league player James Ackerman's death, police decided not to charge anyone, in part because of what prosecution "could do to the game".

A blurry line between criminal assaults and rugby league tackles was discussed at an inquest into the death of Mr Ackerman, who died after a June 20, 2015 on-field collision.

But police investigating the Sunshine Coast Falcons player's death had no training in how to deal with criminal offending that occurred in a sporting context.

Mr Ackerman, 25, died two days after Norths Devils rugby league player Francis Molo shoulder-charged him.

The response of league authorities and police to the fatal incident was under discussion at Brisbane Coroners Court this week.

Detective Senior Sergeant Anne Vogler said after Mr Ackerman died, police formed the view Mr Molo's actions did not meet the "sufficiency of evidence test" conducted before deciding on prosecution.

But police also felt prosecution would not meet the public interest test.

"We thought about it. It was actually thought about in the context of the sport and what it could do to the game, and the fact that unfortunately tackling like this, rightly or wrongly, happens often."

Ms Vogel said by Monday June 22 that year, police knew the prognosis for Mr Ackerman was not good.

Uniformed officers had contacted the Criminal Investigation Branch over the weekend.

"This matter was obviously going to be a high-profile incident, so I believe that's why we were contacted," Mr Vogel said.

As Mr Ackerman lay in an intensive care unit, his family were surprised to see police officers turn up.

On Tuesday, the court heard one police officer decided, after viewing footage of the game, there was no criminal intent in Mr Molo's tackle.

"Basically every tackle in a game of rugby league is an assault, but [this] was just a hard tackle, that's my opinion," Detective Senior Constable Christopher Melit said.

"I believed there was no criminal element. I believed it was very hard-hitting tackle. I didn't see any fists or anything in the tackle," Mr Melit told the court.

No further inquiries were made, Mr Melit told Ackerman family lawyer Peter Boyce.

Mr Boyce suggested every tackle involved "some form of consent" but there were limits to what was necessary and acceptable in a league game.

It appears police were told Mr Ackerman was likely to pass away before the 25 year-old's family received any such indication.

The Ackermans were "somewhat taken aback that they were being called out of intensive care" while James, a father of two, was gravely ill, Mr Boyce said.

Plain clothes Senior Constable Jocelyn Ablett also visited the hospital.

Her job was to see if anyone witnessed the incident after a "possibly" criminal offence.

But she told the inquest she had no training in how to identify criminality that might arise during sports.

Police were told Mr Ackerman's parents did not see the collision.

The inquest also heard police had no access on weekends to the QPS legal division, which provided operational and general legal advice.

Later, plain clothes Senior Constable Lauren Gower was also asked to investigate.

Mr Molo declined to be interviewed. Police wanted him to clarify issues emerging from an earlier statement he had provided.

Ms Gower was to investigate whether the tackle might be the basis of a homicide, manslaughter, or criminal negligence charge.

"When we looked at the elements of the offences it was pretty clear to us ... we couldn't prove these elements beyond reasonable doubt."

She too had no prior experience or training on criminal offences that might arise in a sporting context, although the court heard plain clothes officers had special training in how to investigate deaths.

On Monday, the inquest heard evidence from witnesses including some of Mr Ackerman's former team-mates.

-NewsRegional



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