Siobhan Cattigan: Mark Dodson dismisses call for external review into death of Scotland player and gives full backing to coach Bryan Easson

Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson has dismissed calls for an external review into the death of Siobhan Cattigan and given his full support to Bryan Easson, the coach of the women’s national team.

Chief executive Mark Dodson addresses the Scottish Rugby agm at BT Murrayfield. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Chief executive Mark Dodson addresses the Scottish Rugby agm at BT Murrayfield. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Cattigan, a forward who was capped 19 times by Scotland, died last November, aged 26. Her parents think that their daughter’s death was caused by an undetected brain injury, which led to her succumbing to an irrational thought and impulsive action.

In an interview in the Sunday Times last month, Neil and Morven Cattigan said that “something catastrophic had happened to Siobhan’s brain” and believed their daughter's death was linked directly to two serious concussion incidents she had suffered on the rugby field over the previous 18 months which they say had a profound effect on her personality.

The Cattigans have begun legal proceedings against the Scottish Rugby Union.

Siobhan Cattigan was capped 19 times by Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

One of the most serious claims made by Cattigan’s partner Ann Taylor and the family is that Cattigan told them she heard a member of the coaching staff on the sidelines shout “get her f***ing back on that pitch, get her back on” while she was receiving treatment for a head injury during an international match against Wales in April 2021. She is alleged to have heard the shout through the earpiece of one of the medical staff.

The SRU is “categoric that this phrase was not heard or said” and Dodson has offered his full backing to Easson, the head coach who is due to lead the Scotland Women team at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next month.

“He’s got our complete support taking this team to the World Cup finals,” said Dodson.

“I have confidence in Bryan Easson as a coach. As far as any allegations are made against Bryan we will look into those and establish facts as time goes past.”

SRU chief executive Mark Dodson. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

Speaking publicly for the first time about the death of Cattigan, the Scottish Rugby chief executive offered his sincere condolences to her family as he addressed the SRU’s annual general meeting.

After the meeting at Murrayfield, Dodson confirmed legal action was pending.

“We’ve been sent impending notice of an action against us, which is normal in this kind of area,” he said. “It alleges certain things around Siobhan’s care.

“This may end up in court proceedings and this may be the most appropriate place for this to end up.”

Ken Scobie, a former chairman of the SRU’s executive board, has called for an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Cattigan whose father, Neil Cattigan, told the Sunday Times: “I am also convinced that if someone had referred Siobhan to a neurologist at any point during her illness she would still be with us.”

Dodson, however, said an external inquiry was not required and said the SRU would “try to establish the facts” internally.

“There is one part of the story that has been out there,” he said. “What we are trying to establish is the whole story.”

When it was put to him that an external body might be better placed to look into the Cattigan case, Dodson said: “No, because at the end of the day they will have the same issues we have, patient confidentiality and GMC guidelines.”

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Dodson said he was unsure how long it would take to establish the facts.

“It is complex. There are a number of people looking at a number of things at the moment. There are records we need to examine and have a look at. It may be the courts is where the information actually emerges.”

Dodson said he had not been in touch with the Cattigan family since their allegations were published.

“We are establishing the timeline and trying to respect the family’s privacy,” said the chief executive.

“We reached out to the Cattigan family directly after the incident happened in various ways and we never heard anything from the Cattigan family then. Then they asked for their privacy to be respected so we are doing that.”

Dr James Robson, Scottish Rugby’s chief medical officer, set up a brain health clinic for former Scotland rugby players earlier this year. He wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the Cattigan case but underlined his ambition to make the sport as safe as possible.

“The worst nightmare for me is failing in anybody’s care and if there is a failure then that is a true nightmare,” said Dr Robson

“I’ll never stop striving to make our game and sport as safe as possible.

“Any loss of life, in fact any illness, is always distressing to me. If we’ve let somebody down we need to learn that lesson and make it better for other people but I can’t comment on the specifics of this case.”

John Jeffrey, the chairman of the Scottish Rugby Board, said the testimony of Cattigan’s parents had had a profound effect on him.

“The account, as relayed by her parents Neil and Morven, was heartbreaking, whether you are a parent or simply someone connected to rugby,” Jeffrey told the SRU agm. “Many people across Scottish Rugby continue to be deeply affected.

“Scottish Rugby takes everyone’s welfare as a priority and our medical team (who have led on concussion and brain health) and management teams are leaders in the world game, of which we are rightfully proud.

“Having said that we were extremely disturbed to read the allegations two weeks ago in the Sunday Times. This is a complex and sensitive area and, as you will now know, also subject to the possibility of legal proceedings.

“This means we cannot be as open in responding to allegations made or some of the contents of the article as we might otherwise wish.

“Our medical personnel continue to be bound by obligations of patient confidentiality under legislation and medical guidelines.

“I hope that through time and a thorough examination of the facts a more accurate and complete picture will emerge.”

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