WHEN Andrew Kelly walked into Bunnings at Glendale in November seeking information about Newcastle City and Suburban Cricket Association's account, he had no idea it would set off a chain of events to end his 36-year passion for playing and administering cricket.
Still stunned at receiving one of the longest suspensions in living memory from the organisation's judiciary, and being sacked from the association's management committee just months after being elected secretary, Mr Kelly said he was "extremely disappointed" and planned to appeal.
The 51-year-old, who will have to relinquish his position as president of Warners Bay Cricket Club, was accused of breaching the code of conduct and competition rules.
At an NCSCA judiciary hearing last week, Mr Kelly was banned from any participation in the game for five years, with an additional two-year suspended sentence imposed. He was also removed as secretary of the NCSCA and given a life ban from holding a board position.
His penalty has plunged the already crisis-ridden administration into deeper turmoil, with some players calling for a vote of no confidence in management.
Mr Kelly said he refused to attend the hearing last Thursday, because he did not believe it was a judiciary matter.
"As far as I am concerned this was a board issue, not a judiciary issue," he said. "It had nothing to do with on-field activity. My crime was trying to access information that the members have a right to know."
The latest crisis comes amid growing concerns about the association's management and questions being asked about expenditure under previous boards.
Mr Kelly said he was "simply trying to find out what members' money had been spent on" and "it hurt" being rubbed out of the game for seeking information "that should not be kept secret".
"They don't like it when people ask questions, the treasurer had said we need to look into the expenditure and that's exactly what I tried to do," he said. "I've played cricket since I was 10 years old and I've never had a blemish on my record. I've always played cricket the right way, this isn't the right way and it's disappointing to see where the association has ended up."
Events in the still-murky affair are disputed and come at a time when the board is bitterly divided. One side alleges there is a "lack of transparency, particularly around financials", the other side has labelled the claims a witch hunt.
According to Mr Kelly, he attempted to access records from the Bunnings account for a financial audit carried out this year because there were no receipts or records detailing what had been purchased. The NCSCA's constitution requires an annual financial audit, but one had not been carried out since 2004.
Association bank records obtained by the Newcastle Herald reveal more than $3000 was spent at Bunnings from March last year to August.
Mr Kelly said when he visited Bunnings to find out what had been purchased, staff directed him to call the accounts department. He called, identified himself as the secretary of the association, and signatory to the organisation's bank accounts, and was given the Bunning's trade account number.
Mr Kelly said he was told he could access the now closed account details online, but informed he would only be granted access if the person who opened the account approved it.
"Then I did something stupid," he said. "I tried to access the account on the internet and used a different name."
He wrote his name down as Billy Bingjang, taken from an old personal email account, listed that gmail account and instead of providing his work mobile number, gave a personal mobile number, that he pays for, but is used by his son.
"It was silly and I regret it, but as soon as an email went out informing people that someone had tried to access the account records, I stuck my hand up straight away," he said.
"Another board member got suspended a few months before after asking a lot of questions and after what happened to him, well that's why I put the other name down."
Mr Kelly concedes that he should have used his own name, but said he didn't understand why the expenditure details could not be made available to the board or why his punishment was "so severe".
"Cricket has been a huge part of my life and for something so trivial I can't play anymore or be involved in any way," he said. "I ran for a board position because I wanted to see the association be the best it can be."
According to the judiciary decision, Mr Kelly was found guilty of engaging in conduct detrimental to the spirit of the game, or likely to bring the game into disrepute, and engaging in behaviour considered harmful to the interests of cricket or in breach of the rules.
In a letter outlining the findings, judiciary commissioner Stuart Brien wrote that Mr Kelly was "aware that he needed to obtain the board's written approval to gain access to any of the board's accounts".
Mr Brien said because Mr Kelly used a false name and different email address, and another person's mobile phone number, the panel was "left with no option but to determine that this was done, not to obtain the information solely for the auditor, but to obtain the information to disseminate to the members and by using false details protect himself from being charged with leaking confidential information".
"The panel noted that in the statement provided by Andrew Kelly he made no mention of the actual charges and his defence against them but used the document to accuse unnamed board members of misappropriation of funds and 'other nefarious activities'," Mr Brien wrote.
"The panel noted that even after the audit cleared the board of any misappropriation or theft, he still stated that he knew better and intended to pass on his beliefs to the general membership of the association."
Mr Kelly said he wrote the statement before the audit report findings were issued to members.
"It was before I knew about the audit report findings and I didn't go to the judiciary because it never should have gone there in the first place," he said.
Cricket NSW Hunter general manager Neil McDonald said associations were responsible for governing themselves, but should always be transparent to their membership.
"I find it odd that a committee member would be brought before his or her judiciary, especially on an administration matter," he said.
"It is odd to be suspended from playing when you have been charged with a non-playing offence.
"Associations should be transparent, provide good governance, increase participation and provide a vibrant competition, and we are here to help."
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