Siobhan Cattigan tragedy has the potential to bring down the Scottish rugby hierarchy
Amid the (belated) condolences paid to Siobhan Cattigan at the Scottish Rugby Union’s annual general meeting on Saturday were some poignant words from John Jeffrey.
In his chairman’s address, Jeffrey said it was “heartbreaking” to read the account of the partner and family of Cattigan, whose death last November has brought the issue of head injuries and player safety into the spotlight.
No-one who read the interview with her parents in the Sunday Times could have failed to have been moved by the horrific loss they have suffered. Neil and Morven Cattigan blame their daughter’s death on brain injuries she suffered while playing rugby.
This is looking like a watershed moment for the sport in general and the SRU in particular, with the circumstances surrounding the passing of the 26-year-old Scotland international set to be heard in court.
Jeffrey said that he was “extremely disturbed” by the allegations made by her parents, who believe their daughter’s death was caused by an undetected brain injury, which led to her succumbing to an irrational thought and impulsive action.
In the Sunday Times interview two weeks ago they said that “something catastrophic had happened to Siobhan’s brain” and link their daughter’s death 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.
“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,” said Jeffrey, before adding: “This is a complex and sensitive area and, as you will now know, also subject to the possibility of legal proceedings.”
It’s not overstating it to suggest that the Siobhan Cattigan tragedy has the potential to bring down the Scottish rugby hierarchy, with her parents having launched legal action against the SRU and World Rugby.
Balfour and Manson LLP is representing Neil and Morven Cattigan in their lawsuit against the rugby authorities which alleges that concerns about their daughter’s health were not taken seriously enough.
At the heart of the matter is the medical care received by Cattigan. Robert Holland, a partner with Balfour and Manson, told Scottish Legal News: “The central issue is whether this tragedy was avoidable if the head injury protocols brought in to protect players had been followed.
“Claims have been served on both World Rugby and the Scottish Rugby Union, and we await a response.
“It is hoped matters can be resolved so Siobhan’s family can finally get some closure and lessons can be learnt by rugby union’s governing bodies.”
The SRU’s determination to fight this was apparent when it immediately questioned the Cattigan family’s account. In a statement issued on the day the Sunday Times story was published, the union said: “We fully acknowledge the seriousness of what the family have shared, however there are details and assertions about how our people are said to have acted that we do not recognise, or accept.”
Mark Dodson, the SRU chief executive, said on Saturday that the union was “trying to establish the facts behind what happened”.
“There is one part of the story that has been out there,” said Dodson after the agm. “What we are trying to establish is the whole story.”
He confirmed that the SRU had been sent “impending notice of an action against us”.
“This may end up in court proceedings and this may be the most appropriate place for this to end up,” Dodson added.
Cattigan’s isn’t the only legal case on the horizon for Dodson. Kieran Low, the former Scotland forward who won five caps from 2013 to 2014, and John Shaw, who played for Glasgow and Scotland A in the 1990s, are reported to be part of a group of Scottish players to have joined a class action against the SRU over long-term brain health issues.
Dodson wouldn’t be drawn on the legal implications for the union, or rugby in general, but will be acutely aware of how damaging they could be.
“There is a sense of tragedy when you see any human being going through what’s been alleged in the wider case, the Siobhan Cattigan case and with Kieran and John as well,” Dodson said.
“What we’re trying to do is not pre-judge anything, look at the facts. Whether that is damaging or deleterious to rugby in the longer-term, I don’t know and can’t say yet. All we can say is that we have to deal with what we know and what we knew at the time.
“That’s where we are trying to be as objective as possible.”
Being objective is necessary but so too is compassion for the bereaved family and it was startling to hear Dodson admit that no-one from Scottish Rugby had been in touch with the Cattigans since the Sunday Times article appeared.
Following on from the claims by the parents that key SRU personnel had not attended the funeral, that no flowers had been sent and that promised specialist support was not forthcoming, the impression is left of an organisation lacking in basic decency.
Little of this seemed to make an impression at the annual general meeting on Saturday at Murrayfield where the top table of Dodson, Jeffrey and outgoing president Ian Barr faced not a single question from the assembled club representatives on their handling of the Cattigan case.
A sad footnote to a tragic story.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.