Former NRL superstar Sam Burgess has made an passionate promise to stay on the straight and narrow and off his mobile phone while behind the wheel as charges he drove on a suspended licence were dismissed.
A bleary-eyed Mr Burgess was beamed into Waverley Local Court on Thursday from northern England, where he is now coaching, as charges were dismissed.
When the South Sydney great was stopped by police in Sydney’s eastern suburbs in the lead up to Christmas 2022, he had finished serving a 10-month licence suspension due to his poor driving record just months earlier.
He had initially tested positive for a roadside breath test, but subsequent testing cleared him of having any drugs in his system.
The dual international was also charged with driving on a suspended licence when his black BMW was pulled over at Kingsford on December 22, 2022.
However Magistrate Jacqueline Milledge on Thursday accepted he had a “reasonable” belief he was okay to drive.
She said she accepted Mr Burgess had an honest and reasonable belief that he was licensed.
“The matter is dismissed,” Ms Milledge said, to the clear relief of Mr Burgess, who had stayed up past 3am to tune into proceedings.
She said she was happy to see he had attempted to turn around his poor driving record and implored him to keep a clean record from here on out.
“And get off your mobile phone,” Ms Milledge said, in reference to Mr Burgess’ record of using his mobile phone while driving.
“I can promise you that,” Mr Burgess said.
The court was played police body-worn footage of the moment a shocked Mr Burgess was informed by an senior constable his licence had been suspended a month earlier.
Mr Burgess, having taken up the head coaching role with UK Super League club Warrington, appeared via videolink from the other side of the world, where it was 1am by the time he gave evidence.
The court heard that months prior to Mr Burgess being pulled over in December 2021, he had served a 10-month licence suspension which expired in October that year.
However when an officer ran his licence plate, it revealed that his driver’s licence had once again been suspended.
In a convoluted set of circumstances, the court heard that Mr Burgess’ licence had once again been suspended – but for five offences which occurred one year and nine months earlier.
To further complicate matters, he was issued with a suspension notice on November 14, 2022 – however Mr Burgess told the court he did not receive it as his Little Bay address.
His high-profile solicitor Bryan Wrench argued before the court that his client had an “honest and reasonable” belief that it was legal for him to get behind the wheel of his car.
The body-worn footage showed police pulling over Mr Burgess in his black BMW and telling him that his licence was suspended because of demerit points.
“No way,” Mr Burgess says as he explained to the officer that he had served a previous suspension period but was under the impression he was free to drive again.
“I just had a 10-month suspension, I just got it back,” he said.
Ms Milledge said that Mr Burgess had an “atrocious” driving history – including using his phone while driving – but the court heard it was accepted by both sides he had an “honest” belief he could drive.
He told the court that he was living at Coffs Harbour at the time his suspension ended and visited the Roads and Maritime Services office to confirm his suspension had ended on 6 November 2022, as well as making checks on his Services NSW profile.
“On 22 December 2022, did you ever receive at that point in time any notification of a suspension,” Mr Wrench asked.
“No,” Mr Burgess said.
“Did you believe that you’d been suspended for any other offences in 2021,” Mr Wrench asked.
“No,” Mr Burgess said.
The police prosecution argued that it was not “reasonable” for Mr Burgess to have believed he was still licensed.
But Ms Milledge said in her judgment that Mr Burgess was caught up in a “labyrinth” of a system which confused him.
“Everything that he said he did to get his licence back, I accept that he did it,” Ms Milledge said.
Ms Milledge was complimentary of the police. But in scathing comments, she said the officer in charge of the investigation attempted to get an RMS representative to come to court to explain the situation but was met with “crickets”.
“Nothing – they didn’t get back to him,” she said.
She put the blame for the saga at the feet of the system.
“They need to be a little more user friendly … Mr Burgess is a living example of that,” Ms Milledge said.
“He goes into the website and it tells him he has no problems.”