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A former AFL coach has pleaded guilty to stalking, but been spared further time in custody after repeatedly calling a woman and sitting in a car outside her home.
Dani Laidley, formerly known as Dean Laidley, on Wednesday pleaded guilty after making dozens of calls and text messages to the woman between April 25 and May 2, and watching and photographing her from outside her home.
A sketch of Ms Laidley at an earlier hearing.Credit:Nine News
The 53-year-old former North Melbourne player and coach, who has recently undergone a gender transition, was on Wednesday put on an adjourned undertaking to be of good behaviour for 18 months but avoided a conviction, fine and more prison time.
Laidley spent nine days in custody after she was arrested outside the woman's home, and photographs of Laidley wearing a blonde wig and make-up while being interviewed at a police station were taken and published by some media outlets.
Victoria Police's professional standards command is investigating the release of the photographs.
Melbourne Magistrates Court heard Laidley's conduct – which also included taking a photograph of the woman's car and leaving flowers on it while the woman was at work – had caused the victim fear and apprehension.
The victim wrote a statement on the impact the offending had on her but it wasn't read to court.
Laidley's life was in turmoil at the time of the stalking, defence lawyer Rob Stary said, as she was "excessively using" the drug ice and in the process of gender transitioning. Laidley had previously been treated for mental health problems.
Mr Stary said the messages Laidley sent to the woman showed she was "clearly emotionally attached to her". One of the messages mentioned marriage and said in part, "We are meant to be together."
Magistrate Jack Vandersteen acknowledged Laidley's early guilty plea, her lack of criminal history and the steps she had taken to turn her life around.
"Ultimately you, Ms Laidley, have done the right thing. You have accepted responsibility for your behaviour towards [the victim], which has had a very significant impact on her," Mr Vandersteen told Laidley, who watched the hearing on a video link but could not be seen.
"You've affected her sense of security and wellbeing."
Since her arrest and release on bail, Laidley had undergone treatment for her drug problem and mental health, Mr Stary said. The release of the photographs taken in the police station had caused Laidley and her adult son and two adult daughters "considerable distress".
The son and daughters had reconciled with Laidley and accepted her identity as a woman.
Mr Vandersteen also acknowledged the distress the photographs caused Laidley, "of you being outed in a way that was not appropriate", and the support provided by the AFL community.
Former North Melbourne player Anthony Stevens was a constant source of support to his former teammate and coach, the court heard, as was Mark Brayshaw, the chief executive of the AFL Coaches Association. North Melbourne had also offered its former coach support.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan had also expressed a willingness for the league to help Laidley, the court heard.
Her guilty plea comes a week after she appeared before the court on drug possession charges.
Those charges – related to the discovery of a small bag containing white crystals found in her bra – are to be struck out if the former coach is of good behaviour over the next four months, under the court's diversion program, which spares first-time offenders a criminal record if they acknowledge their wrongdoing.
Mr Vandersteen told Laidley she was required to continue her treatment with a drug clinic and her endocrinologist.
If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline on 131 114, or Beyond Blue's coronavirus mental wellbeing support service on 1800 512 348.
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