C&S hands Varnum indefinite ban over alleged assault

SIDELINED: Michael Varnum.

VETERAN all-rounder Michael Varnum has played his last game of competition cricket until he fronts the Newcastle City and Suburban judiciary to answer allegations he struck an opponent on the head with his bat.

The Merewether B5s skipper was cited after an incident two weeks ago that left Jewells Tavern Beavers captain Peter Lalor in hospital for two nights with a head wound and concussion.

Under the competition’s disciplinary code, Varnum was charged with assault, using abusive language or gestures, and behaviour prejudicial to cricket.

But his solicitor formally advised C&S officials last weekend that his client would not attend a judiciary hearing until a police investigation into the incident had been completed.

In his absence, the judiciary suspended Varnum indefinitely on Tuesday. Unless he agrees to appear at a hearing, he will not be able to resume playing.

Under clause 26.4 of the C&S constitution: ‘‘Any person who does not appear before the relevant committee when ordered may be suspended by the relevant committee until such time as the person appears before it.’’

The constitution does not provide a minimum or maximum time frame for such a suspension.

C&S honorary solicitor Martin Trisley said the judiciary could not consider Varnum’s case in his absence.

‘‘At this point, we can’t take the matter any further,’’ Trisley said. ‘‘Without Michael Varnum appearing, the only course of action is to suspend him until he makes himself available to face the judiciary.

‘‘No matter how serious the allegations, you can’t hold the hearing in his absence. That would be contrary to the principles of natural justice.’’

A former policeman, 47-year-old Varnum was a first-grade regular for Merewether for two decades, winning the Jimmy Dickinson Memorial Trophy in 2006-07 for the best batting average in the district competition.

The incident for which he was charged occurred 10 days ago, after a collision between Varnum and Lalor when the former was running between the wickets.

It is alleged Varnum’s bat came into contact with Lalor’s head while the bowler was on the ground.

The match, which had no official umpires, was abandoned and both teams given two points.

Merewether B5s forfeited their next match, against Premier Hotel Slashers at Adamstown Oval, last weekend.

Salmonella in care facilities: now 26 infected

Health authorities are working to control a deadly outbreak of a rare strain of salmonella across Illawarra aged care facilities after a fresh case took the number of infected patients to 26 on Tuesday.

Two people have died after contracting the salmonella bovismorbificans and the fresh case dashed hopes the rate of infections was on the decline.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner said yesterday: “It’s always a concern to me when there are deaths that are attributed to salmonella or any other cause like this.

“I believe investigations are under way right across the system and I’m very pleased to know that because we take it as very serious.”

Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District public health director Curtis Gregory said there were 26 confirmed cases across 10 aged care facilities. The most recent case had an onset date of February 3.

Until Tuesday there had been six days’ reprieve since the last notification and while authorities remained cautious they had hoped for no new infections.

Staff from the public health unit have been visiting the facilities and interviewing patients, carers and staff and analysing the information collected such as cases and food histories.

“We have been providing advice and information around the incident, the pathogen involved and any likely risks,” Mr Gregory said.

“The analysis has not identified a likely source as yet.”

Cases have been confirmed in the Illawarra, Shoalhaven, ACT and south-eastern Sydney regions.

Mr Gregory said the investigation was made difficult because it was spread over a longer period of time than usual for a food-borne outbreak, involved numerous facilities spread over some distance and the menu was large – “all of which makes it harder to collect as accurate data around the cases”.

IRT have confirmed 23 cases at seven of their aged care facilities and there is one case each reported at three other facilities.

“From a health perspective one key element is to define the symptoms associated with the illness so we can determine whether patients are part of an outbreak or not,” Mr Gregory said.

“This is based off the illness and risk factors that may affect transmission.

“With salmonella it’s mainly a food-borne transmission so the person-to-person transmission isn’t really a factor and people who have had contact with confirmed cases aren’t at increased risk.”

Mr Gregory said that once the public health unit staff developed a list of people who may be ill, they confirm date of onset and what they had eaten in the days prior to becoming ill.

“We can then map or analyse the information and find out more useful data like the incidence of the disease, the scope of its spread and whether the cases may be linked.

“Confirmed cases for this incident are ill patients that have a positive result for salmonella at a laboratory.

“Once we have a confirmed case we then have it serotyped and if the infected cases return results of the same serotype it can be used as evidence that the source of the infection is from the one type of pathogen and links the cases.”

IRT said on Tuesday it was continuing to work with the NSW Food Authority, NSW Health and ACT Health to determine the source of the infection.

“The NSW Food Authority has conducted rigorous scientific testing at the affected care centre and at IRT Catering over the past two weeks,” a spokesman said.

“The authority has confirmed to us in writing that there was no evidence of salmonella at any of our sites and that adequate controls are in place to ensure the safety of our residents.”

IRT has temporarily withdrawn potentially at-risk foods from service.

Families or residents with any concerns should contact their area manager or call 1800132202.

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Luke Thompson’s fresh start with Woodville-West Torrens

PORT Campbell-raised footballer Luke Thompson says a burning desire to return to the AFL isn’t his major source of motivation for this season.

Former Port Campbell footballer Luke Thompson (left) is co-captain of Woodville-West Torrens in 2015. Picture: Woodville-West Torrens FC.

Thompson, 24, will co-captain SANFL outfit Woodville-West Torrens, having signed with the club in December following his delisting by Adelaide.

The apprentice electrician played 20 matches in four seasons with the Crows before being one of seven players cut last year.

He had hopes of being picked up in the draft — most likely as a rookie — but had little hesitation signing with Woodville-West Torrens after missing out.

Thompson said the decision to head to Woodville Oval was easy. The Eagles were his SANFL-aligned club in his first four AFL seasons.

“The Eagles were the club I got drafted to in the mini-draft when I came to Adelaide. I’ve got a fair few good relationships there,” he said.

“I feel like I know them quite a bit. The last five years they’ve been good to me. It was an easy transition going from Adelaide to Woodville-West Torrens.”

Thompson, selected with pick 17 in the 2009 rookie draft, said getting delisted by Adelaide was “a bit disappointing”.

But he has come to terms with the decision and harbours no ill feelings. An ankle injury plagued much of his early years at the club.

He managed 11 matches in 2011 but featured just three times — including twice in finals — in 2012.

“Waking up in the morning and getting out of bed, the ankle was that stiff. I could hardly walk down the stairs without hobbling until it warmed up,” he said.

Surgery followed but, with only a limited pre-season under his belt, he failed to play a match in 2013. Last season yielded six further appearances.

“I rang up the Eagles while I was still a chance to get drafted and said ‘can I train out there. I want to train at a high level’,” he said.

“They let me train and I was doing my own running. I trained harder than I’ve ever trained in the off-season.”

The drafts went by without his name being called out. But Thompson was OK with that. He committed to the Eagles and has relished the summer.

“I think when a few people do come out of the AFL system, it’s a massive shock, they don’t have a lot to come out to,” he said.

“They don’t want to play footy anywhere else and have a bad year. As long as I’m playing my role for the Eagles, showing good leadership and helping them out, that’s going to be the best thing for my future.”

He has ambitions to play AFL again, but is not letting them dictate how he goes about his football.

“At the moment, the thing I want to do is do well at the Eagles.”

Thompson will co-captain Woodville-West Torrens with Patrick Giuffreda, having taken over from retired veteran Luke Powell.

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Crack down on protesters: CEO

Stephen GalileeTHE mining industry’s peak lobby group in NSW has demanded the government crack down on “extreme” activists caught breaking the law.

The NSW Minerals Council has made the imposition of tougher penalties on protesters a priority in a wish list released in the lead-up to the state election.

More than 300 protesters have been arrested in the past 18 months after taking part in “direct action” protests against coal and gas mining in the North West.

NSW Minerals Council chief executive officer Stephen Galilee said whichever party formed government must act to protect the industry from anti-miningprotesters.

“Without action from the NSW government to deter this reckless behaviour, it’s only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt – despite the best efforts of police and emergency services personnel and site workers to ensure safety,” he said.

“Thankfully, the NSW government has promised to get tougher on these extreme activists, but until we see some changes, lives remain at risk.

“We need laws that hold activists responsible for their actions and tougher penalties applied as a deterrent to others.”

During a visit to Whitehaven Coal’s controversial Maules Creek mine earlier this month, NSW Premier Mike Baird said the government would “have to look at” tougher penalties. “People have a right to protest, but they have a right to do it legally,” he said.

But Lock the Gate spokeswoman Georgina Woods said otherwise law-abiding people should not be treated harshly for trying to protect the environment.

“Rather than punishing the people of the bush for standing up for their livelihoods, the Premier should ask himself why these protests are happening,” she said.

“It’s because his government has failed to protect the people and landscapes of NSW from the mining industry.”

The NSW Minerals Council is also calling on the next government to streamline the planning system, to shorten assessment times and “restore confidence in NSW as a place to invest”.

“The message is clear – if you hurt mining, you hurt NSW,” Mr Galilee said.

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Trent Merrin to leave Dragons


Trent Merrin


St GeorgeIllawarra have been dealt a huge blow ahead of the start of the season with forward Trent Merrin deciding to depart the club at the end of the year.

Merrin’s manager Wayne Beavis confirmed the NSW Origin forward will not be at the Dragons next year and is set to make a decision on his new club when he returns from the World Club Series next week.

“One hundred per cent, it’s over,” Beavis told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.

“He won’t be at the Dragons next year.”

The decision caught the Dragons by surprise when contacted by Fairfax Media, unaware Merrin had decided to part ways with the club after this season.

Beavis admitted the 25-year-old was still weighing up three options for 2016 and beyond, with all offers now on the table for Merrin to make a decision on where he wants to play.

It is believed the Penrith Panthers are the front runners to lure Merrin to the foot of the mountains, while Cronulla and the New Zealand Warriors are believed to be in the hunt.

While Beavis wouldn’t speculate on the clubs chasing Merrin’s signature, he closed the door on any chance of his client remaining at the Dragons beyond his contract expiration at the end of this year.

Merrin is the second Dragons junior to announce he is leaving the club in the past six months after fellow 2010-premiership winner and representative winger Brett Morris was released to join his brother Josh at Canterbury this season.

Merrin, who is in England with his Dragons teammates preparing for Saturday morning’s World Club Series match against the Warrington Wolves, is yet to inform St George Illawarra officials of his decision to leave the club.

However, it is understood Merrin is frustrated the club hasn’t budged on its original offer made before Christmas and is ready to make a decision on his new club when he returns home next week.

“He’s in England now, so when he gets back he will look at his options,” Beavis said.

“We’re probably down to two, or maybe three clubs. All offers are on the table, so we’ll know when he gets back what he wants to do.”

The Dragons were loath to see the departure of Merrin, who made his debut for the club under Wayne Bennett in 2009, going on to represent NSW on 10 occasions.

The Dragons were comfortable with the offer they made to Merrin, describing it as the most lucrative deal the club has offered a forward.

It is understood Merrin is frustrated the club wasn’t in a position to offer him a better deal given the money they threw at enticing Josh Dugan, Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall to the club.

Merrin’s departure at the end of the season means Jason Nightingale and Ben Creagh, who are both off contract at the end of this year, will be the last two remaining survivors from the 2010 grand final-winning team.

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