Country football leagues furious killer inmates are allowed to play

Victorian football clubs say they are unaware of the criminal records of prisoners playing for local clubs following revelations a killer was among those being freed on day release to play footy.

Dylan Closter was sentenced to nine years and three months jail with a non-parole period of six years after a one-punch attack which killed David Cassai, 22, in Rye on New Year’s Eve in 2012.

On Monday it was revealed he’s been allowed out to play senior local football for the Rushworth Football and Netball Club in central Victoria.

Convicted one-punch killer Dylan Closter was allowed to play country football. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

Rushworth plays in the Kyabram District Football and Netball League (KDFNL) – the only league in the state to allow prisoners to take part.

When asked about Closter’s participation, league operations officer Sharon O’Dwyer said they received no details about the fielded prisoners.

“We don’t know anything about individual players,” she said.

“You need to speak to the prison.”

Longwood football club president Ricki Shiner said he was shocked to learn violent criminals were among those drafted to play.

His team played against Rushworth in round 14 and lost 41 to 91.

He said clubs in the league were led to believe they were low-level criminals nearing release.

READ MORE:Footballer on parole leaves teen with broken jaw

“It’s not the news you want to hear. We were led to believe the crooks were in there for tax fraud and that type of stuff not violent crimes,” he said.

“Now we’re hearing more of these guys have been playing against us with similar records.

“Three clubs in the league have had this granted to them and it’s really unfair to the other clubs.”

Premier Daniel Andrews has called on Corrections Victoria to undertake an urgent review of the decision to allow a one-punch killer to take to the football field.

“I was like most Victorians, I think, shocked to learn that somebody who had been convicted of such a serious offence, a cowardly offence, was being allowed to play football,” Mr Andrews said.

“The government has directed that an urgent review of those arrangements be made … That’s not treatment that aligns with the proper punishment that that person should be getting, the time they should be serving for the cowardly, evil act that they undertook.”

Corrections Commissioner Emma Cassar told 3AW that there were three football clubs using prisoners to bolster their teams with an internal review of the practice now under way.

Football clubs who use prisoners include Rushworth, Merrigum and Murchison-Toolamba.

Murchison-Toolamba football club president Craig Thompson said his club had allowed three prisoners to play at a time for the last two seasons with no issues.

Contrary to concerns, he said he’d found the prisoners to be “model members” of his club who used the opportunity as a vital rehabilitation resource.

“We have three that play and three that come strictly as volunteers who help with the scoreboard and take water bottles around. It’s been happening for a long time, since the ’80s, but we’ve only resumed it in the last two years,” Mr Thompson said.

“During the preseason we go and watch them play at the prison with the two other teams and select three players each.

“We understand there’s two sides to every story but we’re giving these people an opportunity and they’re great support for us.”

The player code of conduct for Kyabram League states players must ensure their behaviouris consistent with the principles of good sportsmanship, both on and off field.

Players must also conduct themselves at a “high level of personal behaviouron and off the field in such a manner so as not to bring your club or the game of Australian Football into disrepute”.

Rushworth has deleted its Facebook page and turned off the club’s mobile phone overnight.

Mr Cassai’s mother Caterina Politi said she had been informed by the media that Closter had played a dozen games in a local league as part of a rehabilitation program run by Corrections Victoria.

The decision has left her “horrified” and compounded the anger she felt over the “lenient” sentence.

“It threw a dagger in my heart and I’m in shock to think a killer who is not even four years into his sentence is on day release” she toldThe Age.

“To think, we weren’t even advised.”

Ms Politi’s comments come days after a man on parole after holding a gun to the head of a shop assistant during an armed robberyinjured a 17-year-old in an off-the-ball incidentduring a senior football match several weeks ago.

Victim, Branxholme-Wallacedale’s Sam Lambevski, suffered a broken jaw.

Heathmere’s Will Pickett, 28, wascharged late Friday nightwith recklessly causing serious injury, recklessly causing injury and breaching parole.

In that case the parole board has decided to take no immediate action.

The Corrections Minister and Corrections Commissioner have both been contacted for comment.

The Age withAlexander Gluyas

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