WHEN Ben Sharp joined the West Coast Eagles as an 18-year-old, he says senior players gave him the choice of being “in or out” of the AFL club’s drug culture.
He chose “in”. Now at the age of 30, he will spend at least six years in prison for stealing almost $300,000 during a drug-fuelled armed robbery in Victoria.
The former ice user was on Monday sentenced to nine years in prison, with a non-parole period of six years, for armed robbery, handling stolen goods, and drug trafficking.
Sharp and two accomplices had earlier pleaded guilty in the Victorian County Court to using a shotgun and handgun in 2014 to rob a security guard who had $278,750 in cash in his van.
“Your involvement with drugs … does not in any way excuse your offending. But it does however give the court some understanding of how an intelligent and talented sportsman from a hardworking family can find himself where you now sit,” Judge Geoffrey Chettle said.
Sharp, who never went on to play a senior game for the Eagles, says his drug problems began during his time at the club.
He was drafted by the club in 2004 and claims he developed a “party lifestyle” and abused illicit drugs after moving to Perth, the court heard.
“You started using cocaine,” Judge Chettle said.
“You claimed it was part of the culture that existed at the football club at the time.”
Sharp says he was encouraged to use illicit drugs by other players.
“You claimed that senior members required you to be ‘in or out’, either you used or you left. You chose the former,” Judge Chettle said.
The judge also referred to the 2008 report into the club’s drugs culture between 2001 and 2007 prepared by former Victorian Supreme Court judge William Gillard.
“The report referred to this morning, provided by your counsel … exposes the extent of drug use at that club,” Judge Chettle said.
Four West Coast players from that era – Ben Cousins, Chad Fletcher, Daniel Chick and Adam Hunter – have all since pleaded guilty to drugs charges after their retirements from football.
Cousins was jailed for 12 months earlier this year for aggravated stalking and drug possession.
Sharp started using methamphetamine in 2006 and continued doing so after he moved back to Victoria in 2008 amid a failed stint in rehab.
His ice use intensified after he broke his leg in 2013, an injury which ended his VFL playing career with Werribee.
Sharp was using ice daily in the lead-up to the 2014 armed robbery, the court heard.
“I accept that drugs compromised your perception and judgment over an extended period of time,” Judge Chettle said.
Sharp committed the robbery with the help of younger brother Christopher, 26, and friend Nathan Lack, 35.
All three were regular ice users when they held up the security guard while armed with guns on November 30, 2014.
“The three of you were involved in a carefully planned and executed high-level armed robbery,” Judge Chettle said.
Sharp has already spent 752 days in custody.
His younger brother Christopher has been jailed for at least three years and nine months, while Lack was jailed for a minimum of seven years.