Don Burke denies sex harassment claims, says he has Aspergers

Tracy Grimshaw interviews Don Burke on A Current Affair on Monday evening. Photo: Channel Nine
Tracy Grimshaw interviews Don Burke on A Current Affair on Monday evening. Photo: Channel Nine

Celebrity gardener Don Burke has admitted to behaving like a bully, but denied allegations he was a sexual predator in a bizarre interview on A Current Affair in which he also attempted to link his behaviour with self-diagnosed Asperger's syndrome.

A joint investigation between Fairfax Media and ABC detailed on Monday extensive allegations of indecent assault, sexual harassment and bullying perpetrated by Burke, which emerged from more than 50 interviews.

In an interview with ACA host Tracy Grimshaw on Monday night, Burke responded to the claims levelled against him,including that he was "sexual predator", "psychotic bully" and a "misogynist" during the 17-year run of Burke's Backyard.

The 70-year-old, however, denied the allegations made by a number of women who worked with him in the 1980s and 1990sarguing he was the victim of a "witch hunt" stirred up on social media as a result of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the US.

Male former colleagues have also told of incidents of Burke's alleged sexual harassment or abuse of women, which they witnessed or suspected.

Burke did, however, admit that he "might have been a bear with a sore head towards the end [of Burke's Backyard]" and that the "bullying may be true".

"I was this bullying figure, it was a robust environment and everybody was entitled to put in their two cents," he said.

"I'm a perfectionist that drove people very hard, and although I felt we did have a happy office, there's clearly, when you look at the people that are complaining now, there's a lot of people that don't like me, and they can't all be wrong.

"I think I deserve some of this. But not the sleazy sexual stuff."

Burke also claimed for the first time that he had Asperger's syndrome, although he admitted he had never been medically diagnosed with the condition.

He said this meant that he had trouble looking people in the eye and understanding body language.

???"I can look at a lens but I have difficulty looking at people in the eye," he said. "I missed the body language and the subtle signs that people give you. I don't see that. I suffer from a terrible problem with that. Not seeing. No one can understand how you can't see it. But you don't."

The claim came in response to an allegation that he made a lewd comment about incest to a female producer that were he to have a child with one of his young relatives, the child would be genetically perfect.

"I'm an Asperger's person and I have a lot of other failings that are genetic," he said while denying that he made the comments.

Burke admitted that he had made mistakes including a number of affairs, which had a "devastating" impact on his family.

He told Grimshaw that anyone who was accused of doing what he had been accused of was "despicable" and "should be run out of town".

"Some of those things that I'm supposed to have said are absolutely despicable," he said on A Current Affair.

"I wouldn't say those things to other people and if I said I didn't say them, I didn't say them."

He said that he thought allegations may have come from former staff who "carried a grudge", and that though "they had a reason for carrying it", it was not for the reasons alleged.

Burkeoscillated during the interview between rejecting claims and saying that he didn't remember the allegations, butmaintained that he knew himself and that he was "not that man".

"A lot of this was 30 years ago. Who remembers what happens 30 years ago? What I know is that I know what I will say and what I will not say."

Burke's Backyard aired on the Nine Network for nearly two decades and was hugely popular before it was axed in 2004.

In a statement on Monday, the Nine Network distanced itself from Burke, saying he would not appear on any programs next year and denying any plans to bring him back.

"We were not in discussions with him, he has done some occasional segments on [A Current Affair] around gardening, most recently for "Spring in September", but he is not going to be on air in 2018 and I have no knowledge of any discussions at all," the spokesman said.

Nine said that it had robust policies in place for dealing with complaints and to support staff "for some time".

"The current management of Nine cannot comment on how these sorts of matters may have been dealt with in the past; these allegations are serious and would not be tolerated at Nine today," a spokesman for Nine said.

This story Don Burke denies sex harassment claims, says he has Aspergers first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.